Certifiably Certifiable (On Professionalism and Certificates)

Rafranz Davis’ reflective post today on her rejection from Google certification got me thinking about the past year in which I’ve been in the midst of three types of certifications of my own: Math for America, National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, and my book, This Is Not A Test: A New Narrative on Race, Class, and Education.

Math for America (not to be confused with Teach for America or Master of Fine Arts) is a program dedicating to the recruitment and retention of math teachers. They have all sorts of levels and programs, but, for math teachers, it’s another way to create a community with other math teachers and enhance their own classroom practice. And NBPTS doesn’t really need explaining, but it’s worth mentioning that, up until recently, few teachers I knew from New York cared much for becoming National Board certified for reasons I don’t quite understand. My book was a passion project turned bombshell, and, even though I’ve written a lot, including Teaching 2030, my published book would pick up my writer credential one notch up.

I started my MfA application about in March of last year. Long story short: I completed the app, but ETS messed up my test registration so I didn’t make it to the next round. Devastated, I said, “I really don’t need this. I have enough plaudits, right?” In the middle of my anguish, Haymarket Books e-mails me to tell me that my manuscript would be part of its Spring 2014 catalogue, and yelled “I DONE DID IT!” I also didn’t know that, even after having 55 thousand words, the actual writing / re-writing / editing process had just begun. Sometime in October of last year, a few months after signing off on my publisher, I also decided to start the National Board process, because the city and my union had helped make a clearer path towards National Board.

And I was also prompted to jump on the MfA wagon again.

So if you’re keeping track at home, I was doing MfA, NBPTS, and my book at the same damn time, in shifts, along with being a father, teacher, partner, etc. If you’re asking when I had the time, the answer is: I didn’t. And frankly, I didn’t care. Putting my money where my mouth was mattered more than sleep. In an age where teachers have to fight (in more ways than one) to be considered professional, I have a feeling I’m far from the only one who loses sleep trying to do the best job possible.

As April (the month for the math state exams) approached, I finally took my own math exam for MfA, started the spontaneous book promotion for my book release the following month, and started to do the heavier writing for my writing. In the last week of April, my last recommendation letter was submitted for MfA. The next week, my book was released, selling a thousand copies in the first week. The next week, with about a few minutes to go, my full application, including videos and essays, were electronically submitted for the National Board.

For what? How does having an MfA, NBCT, or a widely-released book make me better than a teacher who can’t or won’t do any of these pieces? It doesn’t. Then again, perhaps the challenge isn’t so much about competing with others, but yourself, and the preconceived notions that teachers don’t feel like they have to get better, or won’t demonstrate efforts towards excellence.

Of course, the incentives help, too. These things, regardless of what we say, do help us. The grants, the pats on the back, the awards give us a certain recognition that opens doors. That’s how prestige works. Yet, I always think of so many of my colleagues who’ve gone through either NBCT and / or other processes and tell me how much better they’ve become for having done that.

Professionalism is funny that way.