She didn't set out to be a teacher, but that's where Nancy Fox ended up. After years of floundering in more than 25 jobs, she found her niche.
"I wouldn't trade that for the world," she said.
Fox, 43, a special education teacher at Perryville High School in Cecil County, recently earned her national certification, making her one of five Cecil County instructors to achieve this status.
Fox and former colleagues Margot Massie, an eighth-grade science teacher, and Darryl Calloway, a sixth-grade social studies teacher, worked together at Sudlersville Middle School to become nationally certified educators.
"She is a dynamo herself and seizes opportunity," Calloway said. He and Massie passed the exam the first time around, and although Fox did not, she remained supportive.
"She would leave notes around the school for us, and it showed how much she cared about others even when it wasn't going well for her," Calloway said.
By working as a team, the three teachers accomplished what had not been done before at Sudlersville Middle: passing the certification program, an intensive yearlong effort, made of four 90-minute tests.
Long, grueling process
The application process was the easy part. It was the tasks that were hard, Fox said. It seemed simple enough, she said: "You had to fill out a form and complete a task."
A couple of months after filling out an application, Fox received a package that detailed the tasks to be completed. There were four core subjects: reading and writing; math; social studies; and science. In addition, she had to document professional accomplishments and reach out to families and community.
For each of the core subjects, Fox designed a lesson and analyzed the work of her pupils and her teaching. She collected the data and submitted copies to the certification panel. She then wrote an 11-page paper on the effort for the first core section and a reflection on her lessons.
"It felt like I was writing a 160-page paper," Fox said, explaining that each part had to be perfect and had to fit the criteria. This same procedure was duplicated for the other three core subjects. The social studies and science parts also required a 20-minute video of her teaching.
"It was more stressful than just teaching the class," she said.
She began feeling very tired in the middle of the certification process, and it took her longer to comprehend information. She learned that she had a thyroid condition. "I knew there was something wrong," she said. "I felt like I was in a fog."
'Not a quitter'
Despite her condition, she continued in the program and was the last one to return her package. "I am not a quitter," she said. "I could have bailed out because I wasn't at my best."
Fox failed the exam, but she was able to bank the parts that she passed and redo the parts she didn't.
She said she learned that you don't have to be perfect the first time. The next year, on her second attempt, she was more successful and received notice that she passed the exam on Nov. 21.
"It's the ultimate level of teaching," she said. "It is a reflection of professionalism and dedication to the profession."
As a result of her accomplishments, she will receive a $4,000 raise each year for the next 10 years. She is certified as an early-adolescence generalist, which is recognized throughout the country.
Appetite for teaching
Before finding her niche in teaching, Fox worked at more than two dozen jobs. After high school, Fox didn't know what she wanted to do with her life, and instead of taking the traditional student track, she went to cosmetology school and then married her high school boyfriend, Arden Fox.
She worked a couple months, but she didn't make enough money and went into banking.
With the birth of her first son, Christopher, she became a stay-at-home mother. A year later, her second son, Brian, was born.
Her children fueled her appetite for teaching, and Fox began to look for more children-oriented jobs. To gain experience, she worked part time as an aide for a Sexual Abuse Treatment Center in Queen Anne's County and studied business at Chesapeake Community College. After her job at the Sexual Abuse Treatment Center, she switched majors to elementary education.
"When I got into the abuse program, I saw different types of students," she said. "Their struggles were not being addressed, and I got more interested in development."
She graduated from Chesapeake Community College with an associate's degree in education and then attended Wesley College for her bachelor's degree in elementary education.
Right out of college, she began substitute teaching in schools in Delaware and Maryland. Her first teaching job was at Hill Haven Center, a private school in Odessa, Del. She recalls the experience of working with disabled children for the first time as overwhelming.
She worked at Federalsburg Elementary School in Federalsburg and in Appoquinimink School District in Middletown, Del., before landing a permanent position at Queen Anne's County High School in Centreville.
She then moved to Sudlersville Middle School and began working in Cecil County in August.
Her thirst for knowledge continued in 2000 when she received her master's degree at Western Maryland College for curriculum and instruction in administration. "My goal was by the time I was 40 to get my master's," Fox said.
This summer she plans to write her first children's book about the Chesapeake & Delaware Canal and to get her doctorate before her 50th birthday.