Why Do I Need A Certification Program?

By Jeanne Thomas Howard, NAN-Certified Teacher

This article first appeared in the NAN newsletter, in winter 1990.

“What in the world am I doing in a Certification Program?” This must be a question that every candidate asks at least once.

I had been teaching canvas embroidery for a number of years and felt quite satisfied with what I was doing. As I went to guild meetings and seminars, no one asked me why I was not certified by a national organization. Then, why was I willing to take on all the research, lesson planning, etc.? I may not have put the answer into words, but the self-confidence that ensued was part of the answer. Knowing that my teaching came from solid preparation was also part of my answer. Perhaps the most important answer was that this was something good that I was doing for myself, and that it would eventually help others.

I suspect that many of the people who enter certification programs anticipate that they will be ‘taught’ how to become great needlework teachers. Fortunately, I knew that this was not the objective of the program.

Teacher Preparation (now Year 1) was a groping process. Perhaps it could be called ‘Teacher Unification’ because this is where teachers from every type of teaching situation become aware that there really is a basic way of preparing for each level of expertise. Of course, I discovered that I didn’t know as much as I thought I did. I also learned that working under pressure, with a deadline, could be difficult. Somehow, as I progressed, an essence of self-discipline began to emerge. This is perhaps one of the most important happenings that occur during the certification process.

Teacher Prep was also the period when certain ‘buzz’ words began to creep into my consciousness – words like SEQUENTIAL ORDER, VALUE RELATIONSHIPS, VISUALS, STITCH PLACEMENT. These words may seem like a foreign language at first, but this communication about terminology is important to the new candidate who is entering a profession that must depend upon a common language.

A key part of certification is research. Not all were English majors accustomed to spending countless hours reading and searching for more and more information. I must admit that, more than once, I wished that I had been a Fine Art major! However, the research time spent is invaluable. One book leads to another, and you want to continue even after the particular project is finished. As each level of certification is passed, I gained more insight into myself and others. These levels were not designed to teach me how to teach or to teach me how to design. This was something I had to do for myself. However, each level gave me the inspiration to continue with the program. I was discovering within myself how to grow as a person and a teacher.

There is something about certification programs that invites all the gremlins and their cousins, the glitches, out of their little closets. They then conspire to throw roadblocks at every turn, and all manner of disasters occur to put the candidate off course. It seems that when they succeed in putting the candidate “On Hold” – that is to say, ‘in limbo’ – these little creatures are happy. Eventually I learned that it is possible to make these little imps disappear. Then, designs seem to stitch themselves, fingers fly at the typewriter, and goals are met. During each level of certification, I found myself Defining and Redefining every aspect of my teaching BC (Before Certification). This is a necessary and very important part of the process. It is also exciting to interact with other candidates, to discover new ways and new ideas.

As the time came closer to having those letters after my name, what expectations did I have? Did I think that the certified teacher is suddenly catapulted onto the “National Scene”? or immediately is a “Travelling Teacher”? These thoughts quite naturally come to mind. However, I had to be realistic. What had occurred during the past few years was that I was now better qualified to teach on all levels, and what better place to start than the place where I was before the certification process began. Unless certification has enlarged one’s hat size, the students at home are thrilled to have qualified teachers as members of their guilds and so easily accessible. If chosen to enlarge one’s horizons, it is only because of continued hard work and the development of every bit of talent that may be present.

To all certification aspirants, my unsolicited advice is to find your strong qualities and develop them, and then work on the weaker areas. It is important to have successes but accept the fact that no one finds everything easy. Remember that certification programs are not assembly lines. They really are interested in having the candidates remain individuals. No one ever told me that I must teach like ‘Madame X’. However, I have always realized that I liked certain teachers’ ways enough to want to do as well as they. Probably this has been true for many of us. However, we must be true to ourselves.

I am grateful for the curiosity that took me into the certification program, grateful for what it has done TO me and FOR me. My sincere hope is that other candidates will find that their lives are as enriched as mine has been.