Why Arizona Educational Foundation’s 2019 Teacher of the Year is pursuing National Board certification
As Arizona Educational Foundation’s 2019 Teacher of the Year Kareem Neal works towards achieving National Board certification, he shares the support he’s found along the way, and how he hopes his students will benefit.
Neal’s 20-year career in education is nothing short of impressive. With a B.S. in chemical engineering and an M.A. in special education, the special education teacher at Maryvale High School developed the curriculum that the district uses for the self-contained special education classes, acts as sponsor of his school’s diversity club, is vice president of the Phoenix Union High School District’s Black Alliance, and earned Arizona’s top honor in education as the 2019 Teacher of the Year.
Professionally speaking, what more is there?
For Neal, it’s achieving National Board Certification, a rigorous process he’s currently in the middle of.
Here, Neal tells us about his path to certification, the support he’s found along the way, and how he hopes his students will benefit.
Q: Why did you decide to pursue National Board Certification?
A: I decided to pursue it because of Kathy Wiebke at the Arizona K12 Center. About 10 years ago, I did a photo shoot for the Center, and Kathy came up to me and said, ‘I’ve heard good things about you. You should consider getting your National Board Certification.’
So I took the pre-candidacy class. And that was it. That was all I did. I was totally not ready. I had a lot of things going on, and it was not the right time for me. But then last year, I was again working with the Arizona K12 Center, and I didn’t need any prompting. I was ready.
Q: What’s the process like?
A: Reflection is a big piece of it. The process asks you to reflect on your teaching, and the outcomes of your teaching. As teachers, we do this anyway, but this requires you to be specific in how intentional you are with observing your lessons and your tools for assessment.
It also asks you to reflect on how you collaborate with other teachers: how you function as part of a learning team, what kind of leader you are, and how you work with others to determine the best results for the students.
Q: What’s the most surprising thing you’ve learned about yourself as a teacher?
A: I thought of myself as a self-contained special education teacher who is always thinking of how to put together a lesson that includes everyone. But what I learned is that I wasn’t actually doing the greatest job of differentiating instruction. It was humbling. I’m learning that I have a lot of work to do to figure out the needs of the whole child.
Q: How do you see National Board Certification impacting your classroom?
A: It’s taught me to be more considerate when giving lessons, and it’s led me to expand my practice. The lessons might not be as comfortable for me to deliver, but it’s the best thing for my students.
Q: Do you have mentors guiding you on this journey?
A: Every person who pursues National Board Certification through the Arizona K12 Center will get lots of mentors. Josh Meibos, Beth Maloney, and the Center’s many volunteers — they’ve all been mentors to me.
Q: What support exists for teachers wishing to pursue certification?
A: The biggest resource is the Arizona K12 Center. If you use the tools from the pre-candidacy class, you’ll have a better chance of getting through. The writing camps and workshops have people from your area who already certified, and they help to make sure you’re on the right path.
Q: Any words of advice for other educators?
A: If you decide to pursue National Board Certification, make sure you have the time to give yourself fully to this process. It’s a fun and challenging process, but it’s also a time commitment.