F. Scott Fitzgerald said,

"There are no second acts in American lives."

Most people think he was crazy.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Doing the Best We Can

The National Board of Professional Teaching Standards' website has had difficulty posting this years' winners--and I'm not upset.
Last year I attempted to become nationally board certified, which is something many teachers here in North Carolina do. It required a lot of detailed documentation, evidence, and reflection. It also requires an on-line test of content-specific knowledge (in my case, English) and case-study reflection and recommendations.
In short, it's a butt-load of work.

I was happy to do it, because I think I'm a pretty good teacher. I have always claimed to do the best I can with what I have--in terms of supplies, equipment, and kids. I think I bring something to the table that other teachers may not--enough knowledge to integrate information from other content areas--art, history, psychology, business...even science--to make kids understand that everything relates in one way or another and that learning and understanding should never occur in isolation.

But those details--page numbering, word and time limitations, video quality? Those things kicked my ass. And I didn't pass. The things I did well, I did very, very well. But the things I failed, I failed miserably.

So I decided (to the tune of a month's mortgage payment) to re-try. And as I put the last piece of evidence in the envelope to send away to be judged, I realized that it just didn't matter.

On my first attempt last year, I was assigned a mentor, a teacher who was already board-certified, to help me wade through the myriad crap and read my entries. After I had the first entry done, I contacted my point person to see if she would read it and make suggestions. I e-mailed her through our school contact list (she was at another school in my district) and didn't hear from her for nearly three weeks. At that point she apologized, said she'd been out for two weeks, and was just checking e-mail when she saw mine. She explained that she was going to be out again, but that I could send it to her at home and she would read it there and make notes.
I learned in subsequent e-mails that she was fighting breast cancer--in her thirties--with two preschool-aged children and a husband who was as in need of attention as she was, thinking he was going to lose her. She couldn't work, and didn't have the energy to both care for two active children and fight the disease and I wasn't going to add one more thing to her plate. So I told her not to worry about my national boards, and asked if I could do anything for her. She politely declined, said her mom was staying with them, and that was the end of our connection.

I plowed through the plethora of instructions, scheduling and minutia, determined to get the stuff done and in on time, worried less about the quality and more about the rules and put the other teacher's troubles out of my mind. I knew I would have the opportunity to re-do anything that was sub-par and sent it off. I took the computer test, realizing part-way through that I had bungled the first half by not doing the second page of some of the selections and running out of time on other parts and knew that I could take it over if necessary.

But when I saw a familiar name in the obituaries, I knew that the teacher who was to be my mentor was not getting any more do-overs. That her time had been cut short NOT by a computer test, but by a disease that had left two small children without a mother, a scared young man without a wife, and grieving parents without a child.

I am not a great teacher. I hope I am a good one. But if I don't get a passing score, I really won't care. Because now I am less about doing the best I can with what I have and more about doing the most I can with the time I've got.