I’m Just Sayin’

About 8 years ago I embarked on the rigorous journey toward National Board Certification. I hope it’s OK to speak for others when I say that those of us who were able to successfully complete it  would agree that, in the end, it was worth every single meltdown.

We learned to reflect on our practice so deeply, and prove that our kids were learning (or not) that we knew we had reached the absolute top of our game. At least I did. The years following my NBC year were, no doubt, my best, and I have  artifacts to prove it. For the first time in over ten years, I could articulate what it was that I wanted my students to know and be able to do, how I was going to measure if they were knowing and doing those things, and what I would do in response if they neither knew or did what I wanted them to. It was like magic.

We also may agree to having had fantasies about our houses burning down, or our computers crashing. I remember wishing for a flood about 3/4 of the way through the process. I would go to school the next day and tell my colleagues that I wasn’t able to finish it because all my work had been ruined. At certain points it felt so exacting that a personal disaster felt preferable to having to finish the damn thing.

There is one more thing that has really stuck with me for the past few years: I learned how to pack a box really well. I had to stack my papers in just the right order, put my candidate number in the upper left hand corner of each page, and follow the most detailed packing instructions known to man. The box-packing alone took two days. How on earth were these skills going to serve me as a teacher? That part seemed so gratuitously bureaucratic. I had never experienced anything like it before. It didn’t make sense.

Until I left the classroom.

Only three years after achieving National Board Certification I became full-time director, and eventually principal, of the school I co-founded. I don’t have the current research on how long after pursuing NBC some teachers leave the classroom, but I don’t think I was alone.

Two weeks ago, after administering the AZELLA test, I found myself reading a detailed list of packing instructions: the tests go here, then the school report, then the district report, and so on. Failure to pack the box just so would result in something terrible happening. And then I had my flashback to 2003, and that BOX.

I’m generally wary of folks that seem extra interested in conspiracy theories. They seem…well…crazy to me. But I can’t help but notice some connections here. Yes NBC helped me to become an excellent and reflective practitioner. I learned the important and direct connection between parent involvement and student achievement. I fully understood the importance of using data to support assumptions about student work. And I also learned how to pack a box.

Don’t get me wrong. I love being the principal of my school. I get to help my colleagues and I know all of the the kids and their parents. I get to visit classrooms and see incredible teaching. I know that what I do is important, but I don’t always feel that what I do is as important as what the best teachers in schools do. When I see an amazing teacher teach, I always hope that he/she will stay in the classroom forever; but something tells me they’ll leave for an administrative position one day, like I did.

If Teach For America can figure out how to lure close to 5,000 bright young people with ZERO experience into the classroom for TWO years, then maybe the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards can take some of that box-packing energy and figure out how to proportionately do the same: get folks with FIVE years to stick around for another TEN; folks with SEVEN years to stick around for another FOURTEEN.

Does that seem crazy?





Eve Rifkin

Eve Rifkin

Tucson, Arizona

I have been an educator for over 20 years. As a founding co-director of City High School, I have held a variety of leadership and teaching roles, including academic director, humanities teacher, and principal. I am currently the Director of College Access and support students as they envision their lives after high school.

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