I am one of thousands of teachers who tried to reach for the brass ring of National Board certification this year. I had told myself repeatedly that if I didn’t pass my first time through, I was still in good company. I have heard between 50-70% of teacher do not pass their first time through. (That is quite a wide margin of rumor-mill error – I would like to confirm this, but to what end?)

On a sleepless Friday morning, a cold blue and white computer screen electronically handed me the news – I missed the mark by five points. One entry, number four, was scored the highest, but not weighted the same as the others. The one entry that really mired me was the one that to me, provides the most sour-grape bitter taste– teaching reading and writing. At first glance at the comments, the sting of not “knowing my students” or “not knowing how to teach writing/reading” are going to leave a mark, that’s for sure.

Well, I know I know my students. I know them inside and out. I know their hopes, dreams, worries, and abilities and potential. But articulating that? Perhaps not. If I can’t succintly surmise this big concept in the framework of the certification process, then perhaps I’m not the writer I thought I was, but more importantly, perhaps I’m not seeing my students as clearly as I thought.

St. Sebastian attended by St. Irene
St. Sebastian attended by St. Irene

This morning a student came in whose grandmother just passed away, asking for my help with an eulogic poem. She asked her grandmother’s children and friends to sum up her character in one word. The words shared by the family are powerful and just by reading those, I had a strong sense of who this woman was in life, and I wish I had met her. Perhaps it is not MY skill at being a teacher, but at being a listener, and a fellow human, and those who want my guidance will seek it, just as I seek knowing who they are. What is the essence of guidance? It can’t possibly be knowing a tired, worn path and trudging through it, like a trail horse who’s never going to gallop again, unless it’s just to get back to the barn. It can’t be reading the same script, doing a daily matinee and evening performance without nuance and change. I am not a robot.

Perhaps the essence of guidance is keeping the lamps lit, the shoes dry, and the gear in good repair. It’s having a roadmap, but also a compass, and GPS, too. But it’s also allowing students to explore on their own, find their own path, and mark new territories, because they will never come this way again. I will reflect once again on what it means to be a ‘master teacher,’ and play the guessing games on how others define it, too. This shouldn’t be a second-guessing process, but it is, and is for everyone I know. Not a single colleague has said they nailed it, they know it, and they get it. Those who passed are sitting on a big fluffy cushion of relief, but hopefully are still humble. Though I wish I was sitting at the big kids’ table too, I am not alone:

4 thoughts on “Pass/Fail

  1. Dear Virtual Colleague,
    I could be your mother, but as far as I know, I am just another teacher who has been around since the 60’s. I love your writing – you write from the heart. I admire your openness, your compassion, your resolve, your integrity… Your writing and thinking has inspired me; I been compelled to share it with my Middle School buddies. You have made me become a better teacher.
    I have been there: raising my kids and teaching, paying the bills and teaching, pushing the envelope and teaching, and ultimately trying my darndest to making a difference. Your posts make me laugh and cry and remember.
    Hang in there.


    1. Your words give me more strength than I can express- thank you. Now – (pants being dusted off, adjust self) –time to get back on that horse that done threw me! 🙂


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