Mid-career crisis results in commitment to students
By Roger Morris Western News Publisher
Nearly two years ago Linda Shilling was considering a career change after teaching high school math for 10 years.
Within the past month, the veteran math teacher became the first Libby teacher to receive national teaching certification. There are 40 teachers in Montana who have received national certification and 40,203 in the U.S.
The state began recognizing national certification about five years ago, said Libby school superintendent Kirby Maki.
³She¹s the first one that I¹ve had in a school district I¹ve worked in,² Maki said.
³I¹m just excited we have teachers interested in improving themselves and making that kind of commitment,² Kirby said. ³It¹s quite an honor. You know there¹s very little money involved.²
Teachers are paid a small stipend for the accomplishment. But that wasn¹t what motivated Shilling.
³I was really having a bad year at school,² the Libby High School teacher said. ³I was having a tough time with a class.²
Shilling was questioning her motivation and ability to connect with students.
³I really feel there are a lot of students I help and I think I do a great job of teaching math but I just needed to figure out how to reach more students,² she said.
She felt it was mid-career rut.
³I always felt that I didn¹t want to be a professional just putting in my time until retirement. I¹m there to help the kids in my classroom.²
But Shilling found herself questioning whether she was connecting with those students anymore.
³I wanted to teach math to every student but I didn¹t feel they wanted to learn math,² she said.
Shilling decided it was her problem not the students. She considered a new career, which left her husband in disbelief.
³I decided to do something to motivate me,² she said.
While attending a state teachers association meeting in Helena, she heard a teacher give a presentation of National Board Certification.
³I looked at it and realized it would help me,² she said.
That was a year and a half ago. She applied to the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards to commence the effort. Because there is a $2,300 fee, Shilling applied for and received a scholarship for half of the fee from the Montana Educators Association.
³It¹s a huge, huge commitment,² she said. ³They (other teachers) need to realize it¹s not just taking a class at the local college. It takes a lot of time and introspection. I highly recommend it.²
Having two children of her own who were involved in numerous school activities, Shilling found herself getting up at 2 a.m. each morning to work on the certification.
One of the first things she had to do was tape herself teaching her classes and then watch those tapes and write an assessment of her teaching.
³It was interesting,² Shilling said. ³I let my students watch the tape and see what was going on in the room. They didn¹t realize what was happening or that anyone would notice what they were doing.²
Also, she had to prepare for a national test on algebra, geometry, calculus, discrete mathematics and technology. The tests are administered at Sylvan Test Centers. She took her test in Helena in May 2004. She got notice of certification in November.
Shilling is not sure the process is for every teacher.
³It¹s something you do if you need to do it,² she said. ³I did it because I needed to evaluate why things weren¹t working for me.²
What¹s changed for Shilling?
I¹m more motivated to stay current,² she said.
More importantly, Shilling now recognizes the individuality of each student.
³I make an effort to smile at and contact every student I can every day,² Shilling said. ³It might be the only smile they get that day.²