The process of becoming a National Board Certified Teacher (NBCT) was the most collaborative, valuable and pertinent professional development of my career.

NBCT teacher Laura Nunn.The first thing that comes to my mind to share about the National Board Certification process is the same thing I’d share about the teaching profession in general: it isn’t for the faint of heart. The work is philosophical and pedagogical, both an analytical reflection-of-action as well as a reflection-in-action. However, just like the teaching profession, it’s a labor of love that’s 100 percent worth the struggle. The process of becoming a National Board Certified Teacher (NBCT) was the most collaborative, valuable and pertinent professional development of my career.

I chose to pursue National Board Certification (NBC) because I was seeking responsibilities and leadership roles beyond my classroom and school walls, I wanted to improve the learning of English by my students, I wanted to work with other teachers of culturally and linguistically diverse students (CLDS) on a larger scale, and I hoped to learn different and new strategies and techniques that I may not have been using in my current practice. I had spent the majority of my career in bilingual education, language arts and Multi-tiered Systems of Support (MTSS) and, at the time of my candidacy, I was an MTSS coordinator in a diverse school community of CLDS students where I provided additional English language instruction in small group settings to limited English proficient students who were not meeting grade level academic standards.

The students I worked with spoke 24 different languages such as Spanish, Arabic, Tagalog, among others. I was looking for opportunities to collaborate with peers and mentors who support students from a large range of language backgrounds because often, large scale professional learning only focuses on bilingual environments, but not those where there are students who speak many different languages in one setting. I’d consistently engaged in professional growth opportunities on my own, but when I evaluated my learning, I knew I needed something more. I wanted professional development that more directly reflected my problem of practice, to improve my effectiveness and expand my knowledge of how to foster CLDS student success because I knew that my students needed to develop their academic and social English skills in order to be more successful in their grade level classrooms while maintaining and valuing other languages they use in their daily lives.

In essence, I wanted to be the best educator I could be for the vibrant, school community that I loved so dearly. I knew about NBC and how it would benefit my career, but I didn’t know many NBCTs and was weary of the workload. I ended up seeking out support for my National Board Certification journey in the English as a New Language (ENL) Certificate with the CTU Foundation Quest Center’s Nurturing Teacher Leadership (NTL) program.

I had over a decade of experience of teaching in grades PK-8 and I was certified in bilingual education, ESL, social science and foreign language instruction. With ENL National Board Certification, I would become an English language acquisition specialist for early and middle childhood. In reading through the ENL standards of the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS), what really resonated with me was the asset-based approach to viewing CLDS students in which I would focus on student language and cultural strengths and enhancing these skills to target learning goals rather than focusing on weaknesses. The English as a New Language certificate prioritizes strengths and potentials, valuing and honoring our students’ rich cultural and linguistic diversity, rather than a focus with a deficit lens on what is being learned — English.

This approach appealed directly to my practice: much of my work at my school was centered on advocating for an equitable, culturally responsive education through inclusive curriculum and specific instruction focused on individual student language needs. After the years of virtual learning and sheltering in place due the pandemic, I felt it more important than ever to support emergent language learners (students in their early stages of learning a new language), and I knew I could do that through NBC.

During my two years of NBC candidacy, I participated in weekly sessions with my ENL mentor, an NBCT and fellow CPS teacher. With her help, I built curriculum plans using ENL standards, reflected heavily on my instructional practice and workshopped through my plans for each individual component. The most beneficial part of our time together was collaboratively reading through my work, line-by-line, prompting me to push my thinking to new levels. My mentor helped me seek out professional texts to supplement my learning and held space for me while I talked through my ideas. In this way, my professional learning was directly connected to my classroom practice, which made my professional development experience inherently relevant.

In each session, we discussed my students, my data and my school. For example, I learned how to triangulate data between different assessments that measure language acquisition and content learning to determine next steps in planning instruction for my student groups. I also participated in bimonthly collaborative sessions with other CPS teachers pursuing certification in other content areas, during which we deconstructed the National Board portfolio components which we would be submitting to the NBPTS each of the two spring semesters while in NTL. Meeting as a community helped me feel supported during the process and, when I felt overwhelmed with the logistics of portfolio organization or simply wanted feedback on an idea, my peers were always there for me.

The ENL National Board Certification area empowered me to more efficiently and critically evaluate the ways in which my students acquire a language and helped me to better design supportive learning environments. For example, I learned that creating “language partners” was an excellent way to build the confidence of emergent language learners who were in the same classroom as more linguistically developed students with similar language backgrounds.

Pedagogically, I found myself more capable of planning for high-quality language instruction while also promoting content. This maximized my students’ language development by exposing them to engaging, relevant, and meaningful language, in ways I hadn’t considered previously. At school, I felt more confident speaking to my peers school wide on the value of cultural diversity and how to support all students to succeed academically while maintaining their cultural identities in general classroom instruction (where my colleagues taught and I supported).

The knowledge I gained from the ENL certification area supported me to create an even stronger environment in which all students and their families felt more connected, valued and included. For example, I increased my focus on cultural practices and values by bringing in literature and informational texts that directly aligned to the students in my class and invited those same students to bring in their own materials and supplies, or family members, to share their cultural identities.

NBC certification also has given me confidence to take on leadership roles: I’ve taken on a coaching role and soon will be teaching a Quest Center course on expanding literacy instruction by tutoring English learners.

If you teach English language acquisition to CLDS students and are also searching for a way to better advocate for them and their families, please consider pursuing National Board Certification in English as a New Language. The NBC process through the Nurturing Teacher Leadership candidate support program will help you learn how to reflect on your practice and determine what will work best within your teaching context. This is because NBC recognizes that every context is different, every school community and classroom is complex and rapidly changing, especially in an ENL classroom setting.

Like I said, it wasn’t easy but, beyond measure, it’s worth it. ENL teachers are often unrecognized for their accomplishments, but NBC helps highlight what they do every day to improve their students’ learning and to address racism, inequity and insufficient resources. Every time I see NBCT after my name in my email signature, I feel proud, confident, and centered in my practice.

NBCT Laura Nunn is an English as a new language teacher in CPS.