National Board Certification was my pathway to being my best teacher self for my Black and Brown students
I am a special education teacher. I am a National Board Certified Teacher. And, I am a Black woman.
I became a teacher because I loved being a student and wanted to foster a love for learning in young people. As a child, my parents coached me to exceed expectations and “go the extra mile” in everything I did because I was a Black woman. I was taught that in my world, to have the same opportunities as my white peers, I had to be more educated, more experienced, more decorated. My mom was also a teacher, so education has always been dear to me.
On my first day as a teacher, I walked into my classroom and found a dark, unfurnished, and lifeless space with no books, supplies, or technology. There was no curriculum, and I didn’t know where to look for resources. I reached out to the admin team for guidance on what and how to teach and was asked, “Didn’t you learn how to do that in college?” I did learn how to do that, but always with a pre-selected curriculum to guide my planning and instruction.
Next, I learned that my first IEP for a student was due in three weeks, so I reached out for support again and was told, “Just do your best, most parents don’t read it anyway.” I also learned how to do this in college, but the format was different and the data I needed was already gathered and neatly bundled together. In reality, I was expected to go and collect all of that data from a variety of sources. Each time I asked for support, I was made to feel like I was either underqualified for not knowing what to do or overly eager for wanting to go above and beyond.
I needed a mentor. I needed someone with experience who was willing to patiently answer my questions and provide me with a blueprint for success. I needed new teacher induction support. There was none at the time. I needed a program like We Care, the teacher mentorship program that the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU ) now facilitates to provide new CPS educators of color with opportunities to build connections and receive specialized professional development aimed at increasing their capacity, independence, and resilience.
There I was, a Black, female teacher, teaching Black students with disabilities, in Chicago’s Englewood neighborhood, at a mostly Black charter school, being given permission to fail. I felt like a placeholder plugged into a vacancy for the sake of compliance and all that was expected of me was to show up. It wasn’t until years later that I recognized the lack of materials and expectations in mostly Black schools as racial microaggressions. Deeply embedded in the culture in many public and charter schools across America, they perpetuate low expectations for students and teachers of color in mostly Black and Brown schools.
Because of the values my parents instilled in me, I vowed to continue striving to be more. I left my non-unionized, state-run charter and began teaching in a CPS school with 100 percent students of color, and became a proud member of CTU. As I grew in my teaching, I wanted to be more involved in teacher leadership so I participated in CTU’s Organizing Institute, became a union delegate at my new school, and joined CTU’s Political Action Committee.
Because I wanted to grow even more as a leader, I applied for CTU’s Education Policy Fellowship. After graduating from the program, I felt validated and empowered as a Black woman taking on so many leadership roles. And, yet, I wanted more. I realized that I also wanted more for my students with special needs. And where else to turn for support but my union? I was guided to pursue National Board Certification through the CTU Foundation Quest Center. Best decision ever!
As I sat in the Nurturing Teacher Leadership (NTL) recruitment meeting to learn about National Board candidate support and professional development, I was overwhelmed with emotion because I’d finally found what I’d been searching for: a path toward becoming my best teacher self and providing my Black and Brown students with the best educational experience possible.
In NTL, I learned how to collect data to drive instruction, create a positive learning environment, differentiate instruction based on knowledge of students, collaborate with others to improve student outcomes, and develop assessments that were appropriate for my students. The experience was mentally challenging — and a serious time commitment — but I became so effective as a teacher that even though I was teaching remotely, my students with disabilities were able to show significant growth during my two years as a candidate. I finally felt equipped to provide my students with the support and tools they needed to succeed because of my experience during the National Board Certification process.
After achieving National Board Certification last year, I became a mentor with the Quest Center’s National Board support program for Exceptional Needs candidates because I wanted to be a role model for other teachers, especially Black women, in my district. I wanted them to see someone that looked like them being a highly accomplished teacher and a leader in the field, making a difference in the lives of Black and Brown children. I also wanted to use my new platform to share the positive impact that this personal journey has had and continues to have on my students and their academic achievement.
If you are a teacher of color or teach students who are persons of color, I implore you to consider becoming a National Board Certified Teacher (NBCT). NBCTs have the tools to fight microaggression, systemic racism, and suppression. NBCTs demand the respect of colleagues, administrators, and policymakers. They elevate our profession and they impact students’ lives for the better. I know I do!