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National board certification began as a concept to reward teaching excellence. Today, it has grown into a national system of judging superior classroom practice. But what is it like for teachers going through the national board certification process? This week, Education World explores the reality behind the rhetoric as we ask educators around the nation to describe their experiences.
When Donna Morin peeked into the large red and blue box she had just received from the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, she almost closed it up and sent it back! Inside were all the materials she would need to become a national board certified teacher -- mailing labels, standards for her discipline, and a notebook full of requirements. "It was quite overwhelming," the Pulaski Middle School teacher in New Britain, Connecticut, told Education World.
"If you are a procrastinator, you probably should not pursue this. If you are expecting a baby or have very young children or any major life change, you might want to reconsider," cautioned Leslie Coleman, director of a support program for certification candidates at Jackson State University, Mississippi, and a national board certified teacher. Before a teacher takes on this process, "make sure you can fit in eight to ten hours a week to work on your portfolio."
Candidates for national board certification not only complete very extensive written and videotaped documentation of classroom instruction but also take a test that covers a demonstration of applied knowledge and some subject-specific content. That test lasts six hours, and the entire process will cost a candidate $2,000.
"Teachers anticipate getting the box, but when they open [it], many shut it up quickly with that overwhelming fear of 'I can't do this,'" Peggy Swoger told Education World. Swoger is director of a support program at Mississippi State and a founding member of the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS), creators of the national board certification process.
SUPPORT IS ESSENTIAL
In some states, national board certification candidates navigate the process alone. In others, they receive support, the amount and type of which varies from state to state.
'BANKING' YOUR TEST POINTS
Those who do not certify the first time can "bank" the points earned and then take up to three years to redo the weak areas. Some teachers have already sought national board certification at least three times, and many are on their second attempts.
"I am a 'banker,'" Joyce Walker, a teacher at Rock Lake Middle School in Longwood, Florida, told Education World. "I tried for certification, and didn't make the coveted 275 [points necessary for certification]. The process can rip your soul right out and throw it on the floor, then jump up and down on it in high heels," said Walker. "You think you have what they want, then you read the standards and scoring guide and see you did it all wrong. Then when you get your scores (I didn't have a mentor then) and didn't get the 275, you just want to wail."
Support does make a difference, added Walker.
INCENTIVES SWEETEN THE POT
Some states cover the national board certification fee, but not all do. Some states offer incentives for those who certify, but not all states do.
"My school district gave me no recognition whatsoever," Deborah Gilbert, a teacher at Angola (Indiana) Middle School told Education World. "The state also did nothing to show appreciation or anything else [when I certified]. This was a personal goal, and they regarded it as that alone.
"It saddens me that it is such a large undertaking, and my state and school district don't understand," added Gilbert. "The two other teachers I went through this with and I are all looking for jobs outside of teaching."
WHY DO TEACHERS SEEK NATIONAL BOARD CERTIFICATION?
"I really feel I am a better teacher now than I was one year ago when I started the process. Watching yourself on video makes it plain where one excels and where one needs to improve," Karen Cox, a national board certified teacher in suburban Cincinnati told Education World. "On the whole, I think writing the portfolio was a valuable experience, but not one I would recommend to all teachers."
Cox continued: "I put in over 200 hours of effort, forsaking the rest of my life for six months to concentrate on my teaching. It is not an experience for everyone, but neither is climbing Everest."
Some go through national board certification hoping it will improve their teaching. Others, feeling challenged, want to prove they are committed professionals, using the standards as benchmarks against which to measure their levels of competence.
"I see the national board process as a means of validating the expertise and professional standing of those who achieve certification. The possibility of certification also creates an avenue of real growth within the teaching profession," Bret Harte Middle School (Oakland, California) teacher Anthony Cody told Education World. "The best teachers should not have to leave and become administrators if they are ambitious. For the first time, it is possible to achieve recognition without leaving the classroom."
IS NATIONAL BOARD CERTIFICATION FOR YOU?
In 1986, a task force of the Carnegie Forum on Teaching as a Profession produced a report, A Nation Prepared: Teachers for the 21st Century, that called for the establishment of the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards. The organization was formed a year later.
The national teacher certification process was created in the hope that it would improve teaching skills, make it easier for mobile teachers to work in different states, bolster weak state teacher training and staff development systems, bring esteem to the profession, and provide professional recognition for superior teaching.
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