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National Board Certification: Is It for You?

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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.

  • In Arizona, "We establish a personal relationship with each of our candidates. We meet regularly in large group sessions [all Arizona candidates typically attend] and then divide into small group, certificate-alike groupings every few weeks," Arizona State professor Thomas McGowan, coordinator of a funding and support program for certification candidates, told Education World. "We have facilitators for each certificate area, and they remain 'on-call' in the time between meetings should candidates have questions. We have 51 certified teachers in Arizona, up from one about three years ago."

  • "In North Carolina, we have an outstanding collaborative effort between the governor's office, the North Carolina Association of Educators, and the Department of Public Instruction," State Public Instruction consultant Dr. Chris Godwin told Education World. North Carolina has more than 1,200 national board certified teachers.

  • Mississippi offers aspirants a summer prep course devoted to both studying the board's standards and designing methods to connect them to classroom practice. The course organizes candidates into groups of a maximum of ten who meet regularly with a national board certified teacher in their certificate area. It also provides practice in descriptive, analytical, and reflective writing. "Out of our first group in 1995-96, 80 percent have certified," Swoger said. That 80 percent rate is quite an achievement, as nationally only about 47 percent certify.

'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.

RESOURCES USED TO COMPILE THIS STORY

  • "Top-Notch Teachers: Federal Help" -- This January 7, 1998, Daily Report Card article includes some critics' concerns over national board certification.
  • "Riley Urges National Standards for Teachers" -- This February 17, 1999, Washington Post article describes Education Secretary Richard Riley's plan to improve the quality of teaching forces by adopting a set of uniform national standards on how teachers get licensed, evaluated, and rewarded.
  • "National Board Certification: A Candidate's Guide" -- This joint National Education Association and American Federation of Teachers guide includes sources of support as well as tips on studying, preparing portfolios, and setting schedules. The guide represents an AFT/NEA joint commitment to national board certification.

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Article by Glori Chaika
Education World®
Copyright © 2006 Education World

Originally published 04/24/2000
Links last updated 03/07/2006


 

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