The phone rang. I didn’t recognise the number that came up on the dashboard but it was a welcome distraction.
“Hello,” I answered.
I listened as the caller, a colleague who had supported me over the last twelve months through the development of my Highly Accomplished Teacher application, told me that my application had been successful.
“You are now a highly accomplished teacher,” he said.
I couldn’t speak. I began to sob. Only moments ago I had been questioning whether or not I was cut out for my new teaching position and here he was running off statistics.
“As of the 30th January there were only 114 Highly Accomplished teachers in the state”, he said. “You are now one of them.”
Teaching is all I have ever known. I left school, went to uni and began teaching at twenty-one. I have dedicated many hours, and much of my heart, to teaching over the past eighteen years, yet a part of me still questions whether or not I am good at it. It’s silly isn’t it? However, teaching is one of those professions where professional recognition or acknowledgement is hard to come by. That is why I undertook the accreditation process. I wanted to prove to myself once and for that I was damn good at what I loved doing.
The accreditation process was not easy. To become a highly accomplished teacher you need to submit packages of formal, annotated evidence. I had 14 packages of evidence to prove 37 standards across a breadth of areas including knowing my students, knowing my content, implementing effective learning, mentoring, assessment and reporting, community engagement and much more. Additionally you need up to 8 referees attesting your ability to meet these standards, plus two internal teaching observations and one external observation where a representative of NESA shadows you for the entire day. This all goes to a panel at a system level, and if you get through this stage, it goes to another at a State level. It was one of the most challenging and gruelling processes I have even experienced.
I know what you are thinking. Is all this worth it? I don’t need a piece of paper to tell me I can teach! And you are right, you don’t… but here is what becoming Highly Accomplished has given me.
Firstly, through the development of my application I was forced to analyse my teaching practice in depth. I was able to rejoice in the areas I knew I was doing well in and give myself a pat on the back. However, it also highlighted the areas in which I needed to do better. The holes in my practice became clear as day. For example, analysing data to inform practice is not my thing, but it is now something I am conscious of and have made an attempt to embrace. Reporting was another area in which I needed to lift my game and to complete my application I had to really change up how I was doing this. It is a critical process and a process that forced me to improve my practice.
Secondly, becoming Highly Accomplished has now given me a professional voice. The NSW Education Minister, Rob Stokes, at the award’s ceremony last week said that being recognised as a Highly Accomplished Teacher is like a lawyer reaching the level of Senior Counsel. In the past week I have been featured on Channel 7 news and met with Rob Stokes where I had the opportunity to advocate for alternative schooling and increased mental health supports in our schools. I have also spoken with the head of NESA about the challenges disadvantaged students have in completing an overcrowded curriculum. I am being heard and this is just the beginning. I am hoping this level of accreditation will give me a voice in education across our country and I am now set to seek out ways to maximise the potential of this.
Lastly, my accreditation has given me newly found confidence when things get tough. I am currently teaching in a very challenging environment. Some days I feel like a beginning teacher again, unsure what to do in the new situations I am encountering. However, that one phone call in March, on one of my toughest teaching days, is a reminder that you can be a great teacher and still stumble. You don’t have to be perfect all the time, in fact you can’t.
According to NESA, "Highly Accomplished teachers are characterised as advocates of the profession, who contribute to the professional learning of peers, act as mentors to new teachers and demonstrate strong engagement with the school and local community." I know many teachers that come under this banner and I am writing this to encourage them to undertake the Highly Accomplished Accreditation process. It is a lot of work, it does cost you money and it will take up time, but I can assure you it is worth it. We need to recognise quality teachers and the impact they are having, not only in our profession, but across our nation. Teacher quality is the best indicator of student success and this process encourages good teachers to be great teachers. So take a risk, carve out some time and set the bar for yourself. After all, as Romain Rolland once said...
“If one is to shed the light of the sun upon others, you must first of all have it within yourself.”