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Curriculum CenterNational Board Certification: Tips from Teachers Who Have Done It!

Thirteen tips to help teachers who are considering seeking National Board Certification -- from the teachers who have been through it!

Much like a medical specialty board certifies doctors who have achieved superior levels of competency, the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards certifies teachers who exemplify superior classroom competency. Desiring recognition in a world frequently hostile toward educators, possible portable certification, or the promise of supplemental income, more and more teachers seek this national certification annually. To certify, many teachers spend between 200 and 800 hours putting together their portfolios, writing essays, taping lessons, and taking the six-hour requisite exam. Then there's the cost, $2,300, which is not always reimbursed.

"National board certification is a very rigorous procedure -- very time consuming, demanding, and often frustrating," Poki Neighbors told Education World. She teaches at Skyland Elementary School, in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. "It is easy to feel separated and alone. I learned a great deal about myself, my students, and my practice, but attaining [national certification] is not easy."

Have you ever considered going after national board certification? Education World sought out a handful of teachers who have been through the grueling process. They offer advice to teachers considering national board certification.

TOP TIPS FOR TEACHERS

  • Decrease other commitments. "It is very difficult to take care of a family, work, and complete this," advised Scotland High School (Laurinburg, North Carolina) teacher Mary Naber. Be sure you can fit in eight to ten hours a week working on your portfolio. Seeking national board certification is very time consuming. Evaluate your other commitments and drop those you can.

  • Evaluate your writing skills. "You are responsible for generating more than 70 pages of writing; the process is MUCH harder for those who struggle with writing," said English teacher Jenny Moore from Coronado (California) Middle and Coronado High School. Don't avoid the process but be aware of your need for good proofreaders and editors. Before investing money and actually starting the certification process, honestly evaluate your skills.

  • Take a course in descriptive, analytical, and reflective writing. Peggy Swoger, a founding member of the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, suggests the five-week National Writing Project that Mississippi offers prospective national board certification as a model.

  • Get organized. Keep each portfolio entry physically separate -- separate notebooks, separate boxes -- in a location where you can work undisturbed, advised Washington State National Education Association field representative Patty Raichle. Then establish a routine to keep the process manageable.

  • Don't procrastinate. If you choose to seek national board certification, start early, said Russell (Kentucky) Middle School teacher Holly Ross. Frequently the first word you write is the hardest.

READ THE GUIDELINES; ASK FOR HELP

  • Be sure to read the standards very carefully and highlight the important points, said Patricia Maxwell. She teaches at Rugby Middle School, in Hendersonville, North Carolina. Evaluate your teaching, see what you want to strengthen, and keep that in mind when choosing your next staff development activities.

  • Ask for help, especially in videotaping if you need it. Videotape early to give yourself practice being in front of the camera, study what you think needs improvement, make those changes, and re-tape said Mercedes Revilla, from Miami-Dade County, in Florida. Tape much more than the required amount so you have ample footage from which to select your best work.

  • Use all available sources -- take a class, talk to other teachers, search the Internet; do anything to find new ideas and ways to amend lessons that do not go as planned, Angola (Indiana) Middle School teacher Deborah Gilbert told Education World. Don't use people's ideas lock stock and barrel, though. You need to be yourself. "No one size fits all."

  • Work with a buddy, suggests Pumpkin Center Elementary (Lincolnton, North Carolina) teacher Kathy Goodson. Goodson and her buddy spent more than 500 hours together reading and studying the packet, working on each part, and proofing each other's work, she told Education World. Network, Goodson added. "I networked with seven other teachers in my district. We spent a week at a teacher's retreat, and we studied for the written exam together."

  • Try to find a mentor, one who is already certified in your field, advised Poki Neighbors. This helps tremendously. Some states formally train their mentors in cognitive coaching techniques and then pay them for their time. Whether your state formally trains mentors or not, use one. Don't try for national board certification as a "lone wolf."

  • Become an assessor. As more teachers seek certification, the board will need more assessors. Training lasts two to four weeks and takes place during the summer. Assessors are eligible for six graduate credits and receive daily honorariums, letters of appreciation, and invaluable training on what it takes to certify. If interested, visit the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards Become an Assessor area.

  • Check carefully that all steps are complete before you send back the box, advised Mary Naber. "National board certification is a very detailed process, and it is easy to overlook something necessary."

  • Observe time lines. "If you send the material back late, it will be rejected, and they may not notify you that it was," added Naber. "This actually happened to someone in our area." After striving to produce the very best you can, imagine having it rejected because you mailed it late! Be sure to send your packet on time.

In 1999, fewer than half the 7,700 teachers who applied for national board certification were certified. Those who certify this year will receive notification in November.

OTHER RESOURCES:

  • "The National Board for Professional Teaching Standards: Can It Live Up To Its Promise?" This July 1999 article published in Better Teachers, Better Schools, from the Fordham Foundation, explores how national board certification works, scrutinizes the scoring system, and evaluates the available research on its effectiveness.
  • "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.
  • "Program Recognizes Teachers' Extra Efforts" This August 16, 2000, New York Times article discusses the efforts necessary to attain national board certification and why more teachers in New York City do not seek it.
  • "State and Local Action Update" This is a list of states that participate in teaching-license portability for national board certified teachers. Teachers can also call 800-22-TEACH to find out which states participate. The list is revised monthly.

Read More About It!

Read more about national board certification in these Education World stories:

National Board Certification: Is It For You?
This April 2000 Education World article explores the national board certification process and describes the harrowing experiences of some educators who sought it.

In Search of National Board Certification: One Teacher's Perspective
Educator Max Fischer shares his experience. "It was the most challenging teaching exercise I ever have undertaken. Simultaneously, it was the most rewarding," says Fischer.

The 2003-2004 Education World Teacher Diary
Five teachers journal their personal efforts to achieve national certification.

Betty Castor: President of the National Board of Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS)
This April 2000 Education World e-interview with the board's new president, herself a former teacher, answers some pertinent questions about national board certification.

Glori Chaika
Education World®
Copyright © 2005 Education World

Originally published 11/08/2000
Updated 01/17/2005