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American Board Teacher Profiles

Here are just some of the American Board certified teachers who are in the classroom making a difference. If you’re an American Board teacher, we hope you’ll share your story too and help inspire others to pursue a career in teaching! You can also view video profiles of American Board teachers on the American Board YouTube Channel.

Debra Richerson | Peter Ragona | Judith Martin | Stephanie Clark | Deanna Weierholt | Lisa Mayo | Heather Herd | Bridgette Blake | Lauren Masino | Vanessa York | Wanda Champaign-Martin | Heather Miller | Kelly Bow | Nick Gastelecutto | Angela Moore | Patrick McDonald | Keria Morton | Kirti Khilnani | Blake Hedden | Sequita Sands | Norma Kennedy | Traci Brown | Walter “Udo” Lutes | Clark Sarge | Errol Forsman

Debra Richerson

What began for Debra Richerson several years ago as a desire to spend more time with her two children landed her in a classroom and eventually, the principal’s office. While stationed in Germany—one of nearly 30 countries she lived in during a military career that spanned more than 20 years—Richerson volunteered at her children’s school and a surprising thing happened; she found that she really enjoyed the classroom atmosphere and helping young children to learn. “The DoD has excellent schools abroad, but I really got into it,” says Richerson. “Finally, one of my kids’ fourth grade teachers mentioned, did I ever think of teaching?” Richerson, who worked as an Air Force logistician and helped to develop aircraft parts, received her bachelor’s degree in industrial technology while in the service. On her final military job in Qatar, she began researching ways to become a certified teacher which were inexpensive and flexible when it came to the time commitment. “I did not want to return to school,” she says, “and the cost of American Board was great.” She also wanted to live in her native Idaho and the state was one of the first to accept the American Board program. After returning home to Idaho, Richerson began interviewing for full-time teaching jobs and was eventually hired as a long-term substitute teacher of a fifth grade elementary education class. When that ended, she became the PE teacher, since her elementary education option included physical education training. She had also had great experience as a PE instructor in Germany. That summer, after her positions with the school were completed, she was again looking for work, interviewing for jobs in local towns. The only openings she found were in a junior high school, as a seventh and eighth grade general education teacher. She had set her sights on teaching fourth and fifth graders, a position she soon landed and held for three years at Salmon River Junior/Senior High School in Riggins, Idaho. During that time, having completed her American Board certification, she started another online program, studying for a master’s degree in Education Administration. She had been encouraged to pursue the degree by her principal, a “brand new 29-year old” who suggested an education administration degree, since that opened up more possibilities for an ambitious teacher. The principal position at Salmon River eventually became vacant and she was invited to apply for it. Richerson enjoyed being in the classroom, but she liked the idea of administration and dealing with the curriculum and teachers. She was offered and took the job as principal a year ago and says she loves it. Originally half-time, the position has since become full-time and, although she says she misses the face-to-face interaction with the students, she is learning more aspects of education. She says she may not always know all the answers, but “I know where to look, and I know how to handle situations.” Richerson credits both her military experience and the American Board certification program for the rapid success she has enjoyed in her new career. “The military played a great part, but I believe thatAmerican Board was terrific for me because the program recognizes different life experience and the rigorous exams play a major role in letting future employers know you’re serious and capable,” she said. She’s encouraging others to look into the program. “Right now, we have a couple of other teachers in this school that I’ve turned on toAmerican Board. They like the flexibility and the range of subjects offered. So you see, we’re everywhere!”

Peter Ragona

New Florida resident Peter Ragona was accepted into the Teach & Inspire program this past December to pursue his certification in General Science. Ragona passed his PTK exam last month, and just yesterday took his final step towards becomingAmerican Board certified by passing his General Science exam. Growing up, Ragona was surrounded by family members working in local schools, from his lunch lady grandmother, to his school account mother, to his father, a high school automotive teacher. Ragona says, “When I was older, I began to understand the impact my father had on his students. Mechanics were never thought of as the ‘A’ students, but, if they had the right teachers, could be brighter than their classmates. Years later, he is still friends with many former students that proudly state that he made a major impact on their lives and that they would not be the men they are today if not for his guiding influence. To be able to make the same positive impact on others’ lives would make the job so very satisfying.” Ragona began thinking about a career in teaching as a nursery school assistant teacher in New York, but didn’t think he could commit to living there through the harsh winters. After relocating to Florida, the idea of staying in a classroom yearlong began to look more appealing. “I wanted to grow roots down here and that is what I did,” explains Ragona. “I took steps to ensure that my ‘vacation’ to Florida in the winter of 08-09 would be permanent. And now, with the opportunities afforded by American Board and teaching, I can become a permanent Floridian. Not only that, but I would be able to work in a career that I have an almost genetic proclivity towards and that I enjoy.” When asked what inspires him to get into the classroom, Ragona says, “I imagine myself in front of a classroom and having big eyes looking at me, big ears hearing me and minds like sponges absorbing my words, making their brains work in ways that are new to them. I imagine making a positive impact on a child’s development and being one of those people that they remember in their adulthood as a positive force in their lives.”

Judith Martin

According to Judith Martin, the key to earning her American Board certification was to “focus, focus, focus.” Judith enrolled with Teach & Inspire in October 2009 and earned her American Board certificate in English Language Arts this February. Like many American Board participants, Judith is making a career change by becoming a teacher. Despite her experience as a manager and supervisor in various industries, Judith explains, “I was looking for a challenging yet rewarding job. Having the opportunity to educate students so that they may be able to achieve personal and professional goals truly inspired me. So, I tried substitute teaching and to my great surprise, I found the perfect fit!” One of Judith’s greatest assets is her determination and willingness to work hard for her goals. When preparing for American Board exams Judith made flashcards for every term in the Prepare to Teach Workshops and used her required and recommended study resources. She also checked in with staff regularly to track her progress and maintained a strict study schedule. “In the last three weeks prior to exams, I was very focused on what needed to be done and did not get distracted by other personal tasks.” Judith found motivation by remembering the big picture—we are here to make a difference for our students! Judith currently lives in Pike County, MS and is pursuing a full-time position as a secondary English Language Arts teacher with the local school districts.

Stephanie Clark

Stephanie Clark worked as school counselor for a year before becoming a 5th grade teacher in Wasatch County, Utah and choosing American Board has her route to certification. “I was given the option to do American Board or two years of coursework through a university. I had just finished my masters degree in counseling a year earlier and had no desire to commute and attend classes again, being away from my children,” explains Clark. When she first started teaching, Clark describes feeling “overwhelmed, scared and incompetent,” something not uncommon for any new teacher. But Clark says, “I learned a lot about classroom management from the books American Board recommended.” She’s also enjoyed the rewards that come as a new teacher begins to see the difference they are making. “I received a note from a student who said she loves being in my class and that she has learned more this year than any other year in school,” says Clark. “She said she especially enjoys the methods I use to teach math and the variety. This was special because her mother is a high school math teacher.” Clark enjoyed being a student herself and draws on her own experience in school to help those learning from her today. “I remember how I felt at 10 years old, which aspects of school were fun, and who the strugglers were and why. I try to get to know each student on a personal level. Once I know what excites them outside of school, I can bring that into the classroom and our discussions on a smaller level,” explains Clark. To those considering a career in teaching, Clark says “Do it because it is satisfying to you and you love it—not for the paycheck.” She also seems pleased with her decision to have chosen American Board as her route to certification, saying “Thanks to American Board for giving me the skills to become a great teacher!”

Deanna Weierholt

The staff at American Board hears time and time again about how someone’s prior experience in the business world has helped them in the classroom. Often career-changers are able to apply the skills they acquired in a previous profession to manage their classroom and have a positive impact on students. Before becoming an elementary school teacher in Utah, American Board teacher Deanna Weierholt worked as a teacher’s aide, a literacy director and, prior to that, as a manager in a retail environment. “My management skills are what have prepared me the most for teaching. I have to deal with all kinds of people and I can maintain good relationships with everyone I come into contact with,” explains Weierholt. “I am also not afraid to confront someone in an appropriate way. My management positions have also helped me with conflict resolution, which is something I deal with on a daily basis as a teacher.” But having management experience does not mean the transition to the classroom comes without challenges. “I was very nervous when I started teaching, but was well-prepared because of my fantastic district and school that I work for, and also the skills I learned through American Board,” says Weierholt. “I learned some great classroom management techniques from the online videos American Board provided. It was also a great brush-up on content knowledge.” Weierholt also enjoyed the flexibility that comes with the American Board program. “I entered the Alternative Routes to Licensure program and learned that the state of Utah had just adopted the American Board program. That would save me about two years of class work and about $4000.00 dollars in tuition. It was an easy choice for me,” says Weierholt. “It was a lot of studying but I was successful on each test I took the first time.” “If you have the patience to teach and love children, then this is a perfect job,” says Weierholt. “It provides a great schedule and I love my work environment.”

Lisa Mayo

“My worst day at school is still better than my best day in the office,” says Lisa Mayo, a mother and former office manager who used the American Board program to transition into a new career as a teacher. Before discovering American Board, Mayo first tried to become certified through a traditional route, but found they were “not very welcoming to a nontraditional student interested in teaching certification who was not available to be a fulltime student.” Then a friend received a postcard from American Board and passed it along to her. “It just sounded too good to be true,” says Mayo, “and for once that adage was false. Once I saw the Pennsylvania Department of Education had a link to American Board on their website, I knew American Board was for real.” Mayo spent the next year completing the American Board program, eventually resigning from her day job to become a “day-to-day substitute to gain classroom experience.” A few months later a long-term substitute position opened up, which allowed Mayo to fulfill her mentoring and obtain her Pennsylvania teaching certificate. “I could not have accomplished this without American Board. Today, I have a fulltime teaching position at Penn Manor High School in Millersville, PA. I am teaching sophomores and freshmen and have never been happier in my life.”

Heather Herd

Heather Herd of Branson, Missouri recently received her certification in math, earning the distinction of receiving American Board’s 2000th certification. A former controller, Herd looks forward to embarking on a new career and bringing her real world experience as a controller into the classroom. “I’ve always liked math and took classes in it during college while pursuing a minor in it,” says Herd, who attended Oklahoma State University. “I gravitated toward accounting and convinced a boss to let me do the books. He let me become controller for his business of three hotels.” “As a controller, I had to juggle and improvise. I was required to think on my feet,” explains Herd. “I had to figure out how to explain something to a controller versus a salesperson. Students also learn in different ways.” Herd is currently substitute teaching in the Branson school district and plans to begin applying for full-time teaching positions. Had it not been for American Board, Herd would likely not be to this point in her career path. “I chose American Board because the traditional way of getting certified was going to take two years if I went full-time, cost $8,000 and it would have taken an hour each way to drive to the college campus,” says Herd. “Because I have a family, it wasn’t feasible.” “With American Board, you do it when you have time, at home on your computer,” explains Herd. “I could do it while the baby was sleeping and that was great. I didn’t have to lose all my family time.” You can also read about the recipient of American Board’s 1000th certification, Traci Brown.

Bridgette Blake

Bridgette Blake was working in public relations before becoming an English teacher in Florida through the American Board teaching certification program. When the hours in her PR job became too much, taking her away from her family too often, Blake began looking at other options. “I began substituting and really liked it. I realized that I could actually do it, that I could actually make a difference with the kids.” While working for Hillsborough County Schools, Blake was offered a permanent position and she began looking at different routes for earning her teaching certification. “I found out about American Board through Hillsborough County and [my] principal was quite familiar with the program.” Having the support of her principal was helpful as Blake began the process of pursuing her certification, but what became even more instrumental were the course guides and helpful tips from American Board. Blake was able to complete the program in six to seven months. “The wonderful thing about American Board is the flexibility,” says Blake. “You just log onto the site…you’re able to get all the information that you need, all the course work. And you have the customer service reps at your fingertips and they’re always really good at getting back to you and getting you through the program.” Looking towards her future with the school, Blake is excited for what is in store, “It’s been a really fun three years. I teach language arts, so we do a lot of literature and the fun part about teaching literature is acting or dramatizing what we’ve read.” She’s also seen results from her students. “At the end of the year, whatever reading scores they came in with have increased from two to three or three to four, so I’m really making a difference and preparing them for high school.” “Hillsborough County really knew that this program would definitely prepare me for the classroom, so it made me feel at ease,” says Blake. “It was really a great choice for me.”

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Lauren Masino

Working as a speech therapist in a Florida school, Lauren Masino wanted the opportunity to spend more time with the students, rather than only seeing them in 30 minute intervals. “I never really got to see their overall progress and that was something I really felt I was missing out on,” explains Masino. “But since becoming a teacher, I get to see where they start from in the beginning of every school year and how much they grow. It’s so rewarding.” As her route to having a classroom of her own, Masino chose American Board’s Teach & Inspire Scholarship Program. Already having earned a college degree in speech therapy, Masino was hesitant about going through another degree program in order to teach full-time. Then one day while driving, she heard an ad. “I found out about Teach and Inspire on the radio,” says Masino. “Then I saw an article about a meeting at a library downtown. I went to that, got great information and was really relieved that there was a way to go from what I was doing into a teaching, without having to go through a huge college campus.” Funded by a U.S. Department of Education Transition to Teaching grant, American Board’s Teach & Inspire Scholarship program recruits and prepares highly qualified individuals, providing accepted participants with a full scholarship toward American Board certification. Once American Board certification is obtained, Teach & Inspire candidates are eligible for a $1000 stipend for completing classroom observations. Participants then make a three-year commitment to teach in a high-need subject and school. Florida, Mississippi and—since late 2009—South Carolina participate in the program. The American Board certification process was quick for Masino and allowed her to enter the classroom with new skills to add to what she already had gained while working with students as a speech therapist. As a teacher, Masino quickly saw how spending more time with her students was paying off, while working with a student on their reading skills. “A student that started the school year feeling so defeated, always telling himself and telling me he couldn’t do it, went from that attitude to ‘well if I have someone re-word something for me or if I have another classmate work with me in another way, then I can understand.’ That realization and seeing his eyes tear up made everything worth it,” states Masino. Even though she had to study rigorously for the American Board exams, Masino believes that the benefits greatly outweigh any difficulties that one encounters along the way. “To those who are thinking about ‘Maybe teaching is for me, but I’m not sure’ I would say to definitely work with Teach and Inspire. It makes everything so accessible; you know exactly which steps to take.” Masino found the experience so satisfying, she recently referred a friend to the program.

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Vanessa York

With a degree in chemistry, Vanessa York was contemplating a career in the science field after college, but decided that she would be happier in a classroom. York attributes a considerable amount of her interest in education to her mother. “I’ve always loved school and especially since my mom was a teacher, I always thought it would be a good fit for me,” says York. York started out as a substitute teacher, which helped her to pinpoint exactly which age group most appealed to her. “I taught at all different schools, all different grade levels, all different subject areas just to narrow it down to see what areas would fit with me. I found that I enjoyed high school and, in particular, high school biology and chemistry.” With target subjects and an age group determined, York quickly set out to pursue a full-time teaching position. “In the state of Florida you can obtain a temporary teaching certificate for three years and that allows you to teach a subject area…without going through a subject area exam. After that three year period was up, I needed to get my professional certificate.” And that’s where American Board came in. According to York, the American Board program found her at just the perfect time. “I was actually attending a convention where new teachers were looking to get certified and American Board was one of the representatives present,” explains York. “American Board was a good fit for me because it allowed me to continue teaching full-time, not to sit in a classroom for several hours a week on top of the job I was already doing and it allowed me to set the pace myself.” York says that she is constantly rewarded by the efforts she has put into teaching and the knowledge her students gain, apply and value. “I try to bring my knowledge, my background and try to connect it to them on a level they would understand, whether it is automotives, weather or technology.” “Several of my students have thanked me for allowing them to learn the material, not just teach them,” says York. And sometimes the rewards of teaching even come from past students who still recognize what York did for them. “My students come back, 2-3 years later and are still thanking me for these concepts they are still applying today.”

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Wanda Champaign-Martin

Wanda Champaign-Martin’s journey to the classroom serves as a lesson in how doors can open when you get in front of decision-makers. “Before I became a teacher, I was in sales all my life. While I was waiting on a pharmaceutical job, I actually started subbing,” explains Champaign-Martin, who lives in South Carolina. “I went to the principal, sat down and talked to him for a few minutes. I had never taught before, and he said he would like me to teach in a class where a teacher went on maternity leave. I thought, ‘I’ve never been in a classroom.’ He said, ‘but I still think you’d be great.’” Champaign-Martin took that job and worked as an assistant for three years before deciding she would go back to school and get her masters degree. “I went for one year towards my masters of education. Then I found out about American Board and that I could take the test—so long as I knew the content and had the knowledge to pass it—and become certified. That’s what I did, as opposed to finishing graduate school and paying $12,000. I paid $900 [for American Board].” The American Board exams turned out to be far more rigorous than Champaign-Martin expected. “I thought, ‘Oh this will be a piece of cake!’ I would take the exam and probably pass the first time. In order to take the math exam you have to know algebra, geometry, probability, statistics, trigonometry and calculus. So I thought ‘Well I’ll study everything else except trigonometry, knowing four out of five I should pass that way.’ That did not happen. They were very comprehensive.” Champaign-Martin passed the math exam on the next attempt and sees an upside to not passing the first time. “I’m glad that happened because it made me a better teacher so now I can’t just hide from what I’m not comfortable teaching. I had to actually go back and learn and study it in order to pass the test.” To current candidates in the American Board program, Champaign-Martin offers this advice: “If you’re looking for a job, go to your district’s website and find out what are the most needed positions, what they are looking for; that’s what I did. If your district is hiring in Science and Math, then choose one of those subjects. Go out and meet the principal in person, call them on the phone, you want to go the extra mile.” This approach has paid dividends for Champaign-Martin, who received one job offer after attending a job fair this spring and following up with an in-person visit to the hiring principal. She has since been offered a second position after impressing the principal at the school where she’s teaching this summer. As she teaches summer school and considers her job offers, Champaign-Martin is already enjoying some great teaching moments and looks forward to more. “In the classroom there is nothing to me more rewarding than having students tell you how much you have impacted their lives. I have taught summer school for a week now and I had one little girl tell me that I am the best teacher she has ever had. I am well prepared. I have all the knowledge and skills that I need to be successful.”

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Heather Miller

First-year Idaho English teacher Heather Miller was working in a school library after college when she realized teaching was her calling. “I fell in love with the kids. But I wanted to be involved more in teaching them,” explains Miller, who then took the next step towards becoming a teacher by looking into earning her teaching certification. Miller researched online and university programs but was unsatisfied with most of what she found. “We have a college in town and I talked to the education department there to see what I would have to do to get my teaching certificate that way and it would have been another year and a half to two years of full-time class work.” Then she found out about an American Board seminar in her area. “I found American Board and I talked to someone who had gotten her certification this way. I really felt like, for me, it was the best opportunity out there because I could work at my own pace and I could keep working [my current job].” Thanks to her commitment to studying American Board course resources and with the help of her American Board advisor, Heather was able to complete the program in six months. “I hurried because I interviewed for a job in May and they offered me the job contingent on whether or not I passed the exams by the time school started. I had a great advisor and she provided the tools necessary for me to get going and get started. I did everything she told me and I passed every exam on the first try.” In the classroom this year, Heather has found herself relying on techniques she picked up from American Board preparation materials, crediting them for helping her through potentially difficult situations. “I had one student who had disciplinary issues. I was able to use the skills that I learned from this program to sit down, make a plan with him, he agreed to it, I agreed to it, we brought [his] mom in and I have not had a single problem with him for the rest of the year. He is one of my favorite kids now, he is always on task; he has always been a smart kid.” Miller has found that through the American Board program, she’s received more training in classroom management than some of her peers who went through other certification routes. “They’ve talked to me about how as they went to school, they didn’t have a big focus on classroom management and wished they had had more information on it,” explains Miller. “The American Board program had a focus on how to manage a classroom with simple techniques and I have used them and they have worked.” Wrapping up her first year as a teacher, Miller says, “I have really enjoyed it and found it very rewarding. I have had the opportunity to work with kids who didn’t think they could succeed and then been able to watch them do things they didn’t think they could do.”

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Kelly Bow

Spend just a few minutes chatting with Idaho first-year American Board teacher Kelly Bow and something is very clear: she loves math and the challenge of finding new ways to help students learn. Recent test scores by her students also make it quite evident that Bow’s passion and approach to teaching are producing results. Twice in recent months, state tests have shown that Bow’s 8th grade students at Gooding Middle School have made major strides this school year. On the state’s Direct Math Assessment tests, Bow’s students’ scores were some of the best in her region. “For the above average and advanced category, my students beat every school in the area including the very small private schools, two charter schools and a very wealthy district,” she explains. Just recently, Bow got more good news, as her students increased their ISAT scores by 22.5% versus last year. Prior to making the career-change to teaching, Bow owned her own behavioral health agency. “I had been working in the schools for four years doing psycho-social rehab with students and I noticed that as their behaviors improved, all of their grades and test scores improved. I was a little bit enamored with the idea that if you can address behavior, learning follows.” Bow then approached the principal at Gooding, where she’d been working. “I said ‘With what you’ve seen of my work ethic and how I interact with students, would I be somebody you would at least consider for a teaching job?’ And he said, ‘Absolutely, I would consider you.” Last summer, Bow took the next step toward a teaching career through the American Board certification program. “I started roughly mid-June and passed the math test August 20. I studied a minimum of 10 to 12 hours a day, doing math problems over and over and I went from basic through calculus. I started looking at texts that I thought summarized concepts really well and that would give me a lot of practice. I also did the practice tests through American Board, which were exceedingly helpful. With that technique, I passed the test on the first try.” On the PTK exam, Bow credits her fours years in the classroom for helping her as well as American Board’s online workshops. “I had witnessed both effective and ineffective approaches to assessment, and then American Board has video lessons about classroom management. I also took the practice exam several different times. Every time I took it, I got better at understanding clearly why the answer was the answer. I passed the exam on the first try.” For the essay portion of the exam, Bow relied on business writing skills she developed in college and also purchased practice materials on writing and writing skills. Now, less than a year after completing the American Board program, Bow is in the classroom making a difference and earning a reputation for having some of the most well-behaved students. “They’re learning all the time. As a teacher you just have to figure out, how do I get them to learn what they’re supposed to be learning and not how can I make a ceiling tile fall down. I love my job. I’m thrilled that I went through American Board.”

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Nick Gastelecutto

A fisheries biologist with Idaho Fish and Game before becoming a biology teacher through American Board’s program, first-year teacher Nick Gastelecutto is now bringing his real world experience to the classroom in an Idaho Title I school. “I have a lot of great pictures and a lot of great stories to tell the kids. It brings a relevance to the science classroom that they haven’t really seen before,” explains Gastelecutto, who is a first-year teacher at Nampa High School. “A lot of times, I think you get teachers who come straight out of school without a whole lot of life experience and they just go from the book and go from the curriculum. If you have the outside, real world experience and you can relate the material to what you’re talking about, I think it brings a whole new aspect to teaching,” says Gastelecutto. Sharing his real world experiences with his biology classes is far from the only way Gastelecutto is making a difference. He’s also coaching football, wrestling and baseball in his first year as a teacher, and has had the opportunity to profoundly help shape the future for some students. “The impact I feel I’ve had on the kids – I have numerous stories. One kid was going to drop out, but he came to talk to me before he did it. Now he’s going to graduate here in a couple weeks.” Before deciding on American Board, Gastelecutto looked into other options for earning his teaching certification. “I talked to the local college and it was going to take another two years of school on top of what I already had in a general biology degree,” he explains. “American Board was a lot quicker – not necessarily easier, but it was a faster route to getting in the classroom.” “I treated it like a job and studied for about eight hours a day,” says Gastelecutto on preparing to take the American Board exams. “I took the biology review course and that was really helpful. I took the practice tests…saw what I was weak on and then I went back through, studied the questions I got wrong and took the second [practice test]. After that, I felt comfortable I was going to pass.” Just a few months after earning his certification, Gastelecutto had a classroom of his own. “I feel good about being here and I feel I’m making a difference with these kids.”

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Angela Moore

Angela Moore worked several jobs, including serving in the military, before entering the teaching profession through American Board’s Teach & Inspire Scholarship Program. “I was drawn to teaching after having my own children,” says Moore. “I realized that money was not everything and that I had the ability to shape the future through the minds of children.” Moore is now doing just that, as an English teacher in a high-need Mississippi school. “For people like me, the American Board program was perfect. I was able to go at my own pace, and get a job before I was even finished with the program. The school district already had two teachers going through American Board, so they were familiar with it. Everything has worked out so far and I’ve never been happier with my choice to teach,” explains Moore. Without the flexibility of an online program, Moore would have had a much tougher time changing careers to become a teacher. “My life is hectic with three children and a husband who is often deployed, so I needed to do it at my own pace. The most useful thing about American Board was that everything was so accessible. There were so many links to resources to help you get ready for the exams.” But Moore warns future American Board teachers not to take the tests before they are ready. Like 60% of those who take American Board exams, Moore did not pass the first time. “I had to take both my exams twice. I wasn’t ready the first time, but fooled myself into thinking I could ‘pass’ without being fully ready. In my opinion, it was much harder than the Praxis exams. Some people think American Board just gives out certification and this simply is not true. I thought the program was very challenging.” Though Moore enjoys her job, it is in no way free of adversity. “Working in a high-need subject and school district has been challenging. I never really thought about what high-need district meant. Now that I am here, I am enlightened. Different cultural backgrounds all mixed together makes for interesting classes and I am constantly on my toes trying to keep children’s attention by making lessons more geared towards them.” “Sometimes it is more rewarding than I expected, and sometimes it is more stressful than I expected,” says Moore. “One thing is clear though: I love the kids. Even the ones who stress me out. I thought having my own children taught me patience, but being a teacher is true patience.”

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Patrick McDonald

Missouri resident Patrick McDonald decided it was time for a career change. “My current occupation as broker/owner of a real estate firm had gotten too stressful,” says McDonald. In late August of last year, McDonald – who has spent hundreds of hours substitute teaching – enrolled in the American Board certification program for general science. In October, McDonald earned his American Board certification and has since secured a teaching job for this coming fall at a small school in Jameson, MO, located about 80 miles northeast of Kansas City. As for the American Board certification process, McDonald says “the most helpful program provided by American Board was the online review course. I studied this and bought some books covering the various areas of general science. The practice exams were also very helpful in identifying areas that I needed to concentrate on.” To current candidates in the program, he says, “go after it hard and with a lot of energy…study, study, study to pass the tests.” McDonald also found it helped to be certified in a high-need subject, saying “math and science teachers are difficult to attract to the small schools in my area.” He also recommends that American Board candidates work as a substitute while going through the program. “Find work in the schools as a substitute teacher as soon as possible. This gave me experience and provided a very useful introduction of my capabilities to the school administrators,” explained McDonald. “I did run into one superintendent [while applying for jobs] that really talked down to me and kept hinting that I needed to look at ‘smaller’ schools, implying that hers was too good to consider alternative path teachers,” says McDonald. “However, most of the administrators were positive about a teaching credential, whether obtained through American Board or the traditional path.” “There are also a few teachers that are disgruntled about alternate path certified teachers. Their professed problem is with training and qualifications, however their real problem seems to be that someone was able to get certified without having to attend all of the college classes in education,” explained McDonald. But none of these small obstacles were enough to stop McDonald from pursuing a career he says he expects to find enjoyable and rewarding. “I have always needed to have fun at what I do,” says McDonald. “I have told some of my students [while subbing] that I feel like a child in a candy store. I get to read and study about things that interest me and someone is paying me to do it. And yes, I do enjoy most of the youth in high school, especially when you are successful motivating them.”

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Keria Morton

Until the American Board program became an option for her last year, it looked as if Keria Morton might never be able to gain her teaching certification. Morton got her start in teaching in 2005, after spotting an open position at a small rural school in her Missouri hometown. She started teaching there in the Southern Reynolds County R-II district with a temporary certificate and enrolled in a night program at a community college located about an hour and a half away. “I was to attend classes two nights a week. With a four month old baby and a husband at home, not to mention starting my first teaching job, it was more than I bargained for,” said Morton. During her second year teaching, Morton entered an alternative certification program through a university located about three hours away from her home and continued to face adversity. “The program was supposed to be all online,” explains Morton. “I spent two years trying to get into the online courses, which always seemed to fill before I could get enrolled, not to mention the requirements for the degree changed regularly with course offering rotations and new changes within the university. I was always told I was free to enroll in courses on campus if there was an issue with online courses, but driving three days a week for three hours one way did not fit well with my teaching job. Then it came to be that some of the courses I needed for my area of certification could not be taken online after all. Any university I checked with seemed reluctant to take transfer courses, but I could enroll in their program and commute. Through all the frustration of these dealings with universities I began to feel it was all a money game.” Morton began to have doubts, but knew teaching was her calling. “I wondered if it was all really worth it. I had been teaching for three years now though and really loved my job. No matter what any other job had to offer, I knew I was doing something good in teaching. Despite the time it took away from my family, the stress, and all the extra duties—I knew this is where I should be.” It was just a matter of finding a reasonable way to gain her teaching certification, which was becoming quite the challenge. Then, there was a glimmer of hope. “It was toward the end of my third year, around March 2008, while searching for online programs available in my content area that I found where Governor Matt Blunt was considering the American Board program for Missouri. I awaited the decision eagerly and enrolled soon after the program became available in my state,” said Morton. For Morton, next came the realization that—while flexible and affordable—the American Board certification progress is quite rigorous. “After teaching for three years, I knew I had the content knowledge and teacher know-how to pass the tests. After all, I passed the Praxis test with no preparation and I did not figure the American Board tests could be much harder, despite what they told me.” Morton took the American Board Professional Teaching Knowledge (PTK) exam and “missed the cutoff by two points. Boy, was I unprepared for just how difficult these tests were.” Morton passed the PTK on her second attempt and, after taking the content knowledge test “a bit more seriously” and using the practice test CDs, she passed the Biology content knowledge exam on her first attempt. “No random person could just come in and pass these tests,” explains Morton. “I am not even sure a few months of diligent studying could accomplish it. You have to know your material to meet the challenge the American Board program offers to you.” Now with her American Board certification, Morton continues to work at the small rural school where she got her start. She teaches grades 10-12, offering courses in biology, zoology, human anatomy and physiology, and chemistry. She also serves as the sponsor for both the science club and the junior class fundraisers, heads the school’s recycling program, and is planning for the Junior/Senior prom in April. “I am thankful for the program. It has kept me here for my family as they needed me. With all the time teaching alone takes from me and my family, I am glad the extra hours I do have were not spent commuting to classes the teaching experience had already given me. I am now working on my master’s degree through a cohort program offered to my school district from a reputable university. I could not be where I am today without American Board. I may not make as much money as some professions, many of which take less time and brainpower to complete, but my plate and my heart are full.”

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Kirti Khilnani

Twenty-two years into a successful career as a sales professional, Florida resident Kirti Khilnani had a decision to make: continue in a job where he felt completely comfortable or try something entirely new and become a teacher. Khilnani chose the latter, was accepted into the American Board Teach & Inspire Scholarship Program in early 2008 and, in December, was hired to teach special education at Orchard Villa Elementary School in his home district of Miami-Dade, Florida. “One of my biggest obstacles to overcome in becoming a teacher was leaving the cocoon of comfort and venturing into the unknown,” said Khilnani. “I could have soldiered on in the career I have known, enjoyed and prospered in for some twenty-two years. My decision to teach is not one of safety, but rather a calling to serve the next generation.” Khilnani serves the next generation not only as a teacher, but as one in a high-need subject area, in a high-need school. “The fact that the school and the subject area I have selected are labeled as high-need is to me, literally, an invitation to make a difference. What more rewarding feeling can one enjoy at the end of a work day?” And teaching in the area where he lives gives Khilnani “the opportunity to be part of building a positive environment in my own community.” Khilnani credits American Board with helping to get him where he is today. “The American Board Teach & Inspire Scholarship Program was absolutely crucial to me pursuing my teaching certification,” explained Khilnani. “Although I had earned my Bachelor’s degree, I was short a few college courses that the State of Florida deemed essential for me to teach. With a full-time job and small children at home, the opportunity to make up those courses by going back to college bordered on fantasy—and that does not even take into account the expense involved. The American Board materials gave me the flexibility and portability to pursue my certification. I was able to manage demands of family and work while maintaining a rigorous study program.” Now—less than one year after applying for American Board’s Teach & Inspire Scholarship Program—Khilnani has overcome all roadblocks in his path to becoming a teacher and goes to work each day focused on helping others overcome their own obstacles. “Kids in high-need schools need as positive an environment as possible in order to flourish. There are many areas of influence in modern society that compete for the hearts and minds of our young people, particularly in high-need areas. An environment of positive reinforcement allows kids to develop the confidence and skills necessary for learning.”

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Blake Hedden

This time last year, Blake Hedden was working as an instructional aide in the Oconee County school district. Now, he’s teaching Science at his old high school, getting rave reviews and inspiring others to pursue a teaching career. Hedden began pursuing his teaching certification last spring through American Board via the Oconee County school district’s new “Grow Our Own” program. Hedden passed American Board’s rigorous program—which takes most candidates 8 to 10 months and includes both a subject area exam and a professional teaching knowledge exam—in just four months, becoming Oconee County’s first American Board-certified teacher. “The American Board program has afforded Blake an opportunity to enter the teaching profession. Blake worked diligently throughout the certification process and is now making a positive impact as a physical science teacher at Walhalla High School, his alma mater,” said Rob Rhodes, Coordinator of Teacher Quality for the School District of Oconee County. At Walhalla, Hedden is finding the adjustment to his new career to be a smooth one. “Most first time teachers have to deal with getting used to the area in which they end up finding a job and taking the time to establish themselves in the community,” explains Hedden. “In my case, I was born and raised right here, walked the halls of this school, sat in the very classroom I now teach in, and have the opportunity to work as contemporaries with some of my own teachers. Hedden cites American Board’s certification program as one of the things that has helped set him up for success in the classroom. “Even though I have some previous experience in the classroom as an instructional aide, during these last few months I have found myself using different strategies to maintain and control the atmosphere in my classes, often times drawing from the theory and instruction from American Board,” said Hedden. The classroom is not the only place Hedden is putting his skills to work, according to Rhodes. “We are very proud of Blake. He was an ideal candidate for our district’s new “Grow Our Own” program and is already assisting other candidates as they navigate this pathway to certification. Blake recently spoke at one of our District School Board meetings, communicating the merits of this program. He discussed how American Board afforded him the chance to give back to his students, school and community and realize his dream of becoming a teacher.” More than anything else, Hedden is in his new job because he seeks to make a positive impact on the lives of students. “I try to make a point every day to go a little further than simply teaching the material of the day,” he explains. “I try to speak positive words into the lives of my students and give out good advice that will most likely serve them better than knowing the definition of an isotope or ion. These are the things I remember from my favorite teachers coming through and my hope is that I will be able to impact my students in the same way.”

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Sequita Sands

Teaching in high-need schools and subjects often involves mentoring students on how to overcome major challenges in order to succeed. Recent American Board Teach & Inspire Scholarship Program graduate and new Florida teacher Sequita Sands knows a thing or two about being knocked off course but never giving up. “When I was 18 years old, one month after the start of my college career, my mother—the only parent I ever knew—died of breast cancer. As a result, my academic performance suffered and I lost my scholarship,” explained Sands. “I could have easily given up and dropped out of school but I did just the opposite. I worked hard to improve my grades, my scholarship was eventually reinstated and I went on to obtain my Bachelor’s degree.” Now, thanks to American Board’s Teach & Inspire Scholarship Program and a career change from working as an Economic Self-Sufficiency Specialist with the Florida Department of Children & Families, Sands is teaching sixth and eighth grade science at Crystal Lake Middle School in Lakeland, Florida. “Without American Board’s program,” said Sands, “I probably would not have pursued my teaching certification. I was able to work a full time job and still pursue it, and the scholarship I received through Teach & Inspire made it even more affordable.” In addition to making the career change possible from a financial perspective, American Board also helped Sands in preparing for the rigorous tests required to receive her certification. “The refresher courses were very helpful because they covered a lot of the topics that appeared on the exam. I particularly found the practice exams useful because I was able to do a ‘practice run’ at home to have an idea of what the actual exam would be like,” said Sands. Now in the classroom, Sands strives to be “a dedicated, passionate teacher who leads by example.” “I always thought I would be happy teaching,” said Sands, “but I have now come to the realization that teaching is indeed my calling.”

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Norma Kennedy

Recent Teach & Inspire Scholarship Program alumnae Norma Kennedy knew at an early age that teaching was her calling. “As a child I was profoundly impacted by a particular teacher I had in the fifth and sixth grades—Miss Ella Gilkerson,” explained Kennedy. “I knew by age 11 that I was going to pursue a career as a teacher. I wanted to be able to do for my students what she did for me.” Kennedy saw in Miss Gilkerson someone who exercised “a great deal of care and patience” and Kennedy strives to do the same as she pursues opportunities to teach in high-need schools and subject areas. “These students need special attention from teachers who truly believe in them and their ability to succeed,” said Kennedy. “While it may be an easier task to teach students in ‘better circumstances,’ I feel that society is much better for it when we focus on students in high-need districts. Conveying to these students through your actions that you are fully committed to their success and that you believe in their ability to succeed can make them view themselves in a more positive light and begin to believe in themselves. This can only pay dividends for everyone.” Following in the footsteps of one of her childhood role models may never have been an option for Kennedy had it not been for American Board. “Very possibly, I would not have pursued my teacher certification if American Board’s program did not exist. American Board made it convenient for me to prepare for my examinations by making study material available in various forms and by making the material pertinent to what is required for success,” said Kennedy. With her American Board certification now complete, Kennedy has begun the process of looking for a teaching job in Florida and looks forward to having a classroom of her own. “I plan to teach for the rest of my working life,” said Kennedy. Considering she’s been focused on becoming a teacher since her own elementary school days, Kennedy leaves little doubt that she’ll have anything other than a long, inspiring career. Learn more about the Teach & Inspire Scholarship Program. This fall’s deadline for applications is November 15, 2008.

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Traci Brown

Growing up in inner city Los Angeles and moving to Florida during high school, Brown overcame many obstacles in order to reach her goals. She lived in a community where gangs, drugs, and teen pregnancy were common occurrences. Despite these distractions, Brown was able to rise above the negative environment and stay focused on her education. She feels well equipped to motivate students in high-need schools, having faced some of the same situations in her youth. Brown says, “I can give children the inspiration and encouragement to confront their own challenges, overcome negativity and persevere.” Brown received her Bachelor’s degree from the University of South Florida. She worked 36 hours a week while going to school full-time, eventually graduating with a degree in Natural Science with an emphasis in Biology. After working in business sales and consulting for almost 8 years, Brown was ready to pursue her goals to help children discover their academic abilities and enrolled in American Board’s Teach & Inspire Scholarship Program. “Without this program,” says Brown, “I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to pursue teaching.” Brown earned her American Board certificate to teach Biology and is currently teaching in Hillsborough County. “I’m so excited about being the 1,000th certification. As an African American woman, I can serve as a positive role model for students of color,” says Brown. “I look forward to embarking on this new and exciting journey.”

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Walter Lutes

When Walter “Udo” Lutes decided he needed a change from his career as an engineer, he switched his focus to teaching. After a decade’s experience as a tutor, classroom aide and private school teacher, Lutes decided he wanted to enhance the lives of public school students. However, even with all of his education experience, his only option for teacher certification was to enroll at a university for additional coursework. With a degree in mechanical engineering from the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, New York, Lutes was frustrated by the elementary coursework he encountered in his university math and science classes. Then one day one of his classmates told him about the American Board teaching certification program. Lutes quickly enrolled in the program and started preparing for American Board’s examinations in professional teaching knowledge and mathematics. Saving him both time and money, Lutes earned his American Board certificate and was hired to teach math and science in the Emmett School District. “Going through the regular certification channels, it would’ve taken me three or four extra years,” he told Idaho’s Spokesman-Review. “This let me get into the classroom a lot sooner.” Walter’s dedication is now evident every day to his students. He has developed an innovative way to teach math that inspires his students to actually ask for more homework. “American Board certification was put into place partly because we need to broaden and replenish the teacher pool.” said Lutes. “And they’re getting much more than a beginning teacher with me.”

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Clark Sarge

A Pennsylvania native and graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy with a degree in mechanical engineering, Clark Sarge dedicated his time and talents to the U.S. Navy for more than ten years. He served as a submarine officer for seven years and a systems engineer for three. With such a committed schedule, Sarge found it difficult to pursue his post-Navy dreams of becoming a certified school teacher. Fortunately, he discovered the American Board teaching certification program. “This affordable and convenient alternative option was a perfect complement to my busy work schedule,” said Sarge. “The American Board program allowed me to work full-time and pursue becoming a teacher.” “The American Board process was not only accommodating, but it was also a great way to prepare me for the classroom,” stated Sarge. “The online study materials and books were helpful for general knowledge and test preparation.” Currently, Clark is teaching 9-12th grade mathematics at Hughesville High School in Hughesville, PA. “I love being a teacher,” said Sarge. “Interacting with the students and watching them grow, learn and grasp new concepts is an amazing and indescribable joy of my job. American Board allowed me the option to have another career and I look forward to helping my students find their paths in life.”

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Errol Forsman

Errol P. Forsman currently teaches second grade at Rampello Downtown Partnership School K-8 in Hillsborough, Florida. He obtained his Elementary Education (K-6) teaching certificate through the American Board for Certification of Teacher Excellence. He also holds a certificate in Business Education (6-12) from the State of Florida. After Forsman’s first year of teaching, he was invited to return as the Second Grade Team Leader for the 2007/08 school year. Under his sponsorship of the 5th grade Math Bowl Team, he was able to lead his group to third place in the SDHC Divisional Math Bowl competition. With over 20 years of experience in the United States Air Force, Forsman served as a personnel superintendent where he assisted in the development of an Advanced On-The-Job Training System for the Air Force’s use worldwide. As a result of his constant dedication to his unit, he was recognized as the Mobility and Contingency Operations expert within three months of his assignment. In addition to his stand out performance among his unit, Forsman was selected as the Unit Senior Non-Commissioned Officer of the quarter for the most significant contributions to mission accomplishment. Forsman’s ability to captivate and report to an audience awarded him the Public Speaking Award from the Non-Commissioned Officer Leadership School. Forsman holds a Bachelor of Science in Management from Park College. In addition, he has obtained an Associates of Science in Education and Training Management and an Associates of Science in Resource Management. He is also a member of the Air Force Association, National Rod Association, American Legion, and the Air Force Sergeants Association.

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