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In Search of National Board Certification: One Teacher's Perspective

Voice of ExperienceConsidering a bid for National Board Certification? In this week's Voice of Experience essay, 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. Included: Tips for those who might be considering going through the process!



Max W. Fischer

$25,000!

With neon dollar signs flashing through my mind, I first became aware a few years back of National Board Certification for teachers. $25,000 was the amount my state was using as bait to lure teachers to attempt National Board Certification; those who were successful would receive $2500 annually for the ten-year life of the certificate.

Surely, I could use the annual stipend my state was using as a carrot, but my penchant for mercenary endeavors was tempered by the articles I read and the knowledgeable people I contacted. Those articles and people spoke with foreboding voices. Adjectives describing the process as intense and intimidating were tossed about as freely as snowballs in a Buffalo winter.

Those teachers who find themselves similarly conflicted about pursuing NBPTS certification might profit from my quandary and its resolution...

National Board
Certification

Learn more about National Board Certification in these online resources:

National Board Certification: Is It for You?
This Education World article explores the challenges and benefits.

National Board Certification: Tips from Teachers Who Have Done It!
Teachers who have "been there, done that" offer tips in this Ed World article.

National Board for Professional Teaching Standards
Learn more about this program on its official Web site.


More Voices of Experience!

Have you seen these Voice of Experience essays from previous weeks?

TAKING A CRITICAL LOOK AT THE PITFALLS

The $2500 annual stipend my state offered (other states offer more, some less) was a legitimate enticement. As the major income provider for my family, the extra $25,000 over the next decade would be greatly appreciated. However, cautious by nature, I also saw some very critical pitfalls with the NBPTS process.

  • Could I devote an additional fifteen hours a week for up to six months to this task without driving my family and myself insane?
  • If so, could I withstand the blow to my ego if I did not pass on the first try? (Candidates have up to three years to pass all the necessary sections of the process to attain certification.)
  • I especially wanted to do this in a vacuum with regard to my colleagues. My reasoning dictated that there was no need for anyone else to know -- in case I failed.

Indecision had a paralytic grip upon me, a grip that could not be loosened by merely envisioning monetary gain.

Ironically, it was the thought of failure that would serve as the catalyst for my attempt. The realization hit me that I was attempting to rationalize away any proactive attempt to improve my teaching. I was mirroring what many of my students do -- what I try to talk them out of doing! I was falling into the trap. I was playing things safe. I was being content with the status quo "Don't extend to improve yourself, Fischer." "As a teacher, you're just fine." "Why subject yourself to this after almost thirty years of successful teaching?"

From the outset of my career, being the best teacher I could possibly be had always been my foremost goal. Ultimately, the challenge to perform at my best overcame the narcotic lull of self-satisfying mediocrity. I resolved to give National Board Certification my best shot.

ORGANIZATION IS KEY!

Organization is vital to attaining National Board Certification. I would suggest registering with your state or on the NBPTS Web site as early as possible during any one of the three calendar assessment periods the Board currently authorizes. Doing that will enable you to obtain your certification materials quickly.

Upon receiving "The Box" containing the requisite course materials, I wondered aloud about what I had gotten myself into. Realizing my state had paid $2300 for me to undertake this process, I knew it was too late to turn back. I took a good month just to familiarize myself with the contents of the box, especially the information about the half-dozen portfolios I would have to produce.

While requirements vary among the two dozen certification categories (see the Candidate Resource Center for more information), those requirements can change from year to year. However, one constant element that any candidate can work on even before "The Box" arrives is to start gathering documentation that reflects professional work or collaboration that attests to an impact upon student learning.

The word impact is the critical link to demonstrating worthwhile efforts in promoting student learning in professional and community/parent involvement relationships. I learned that key distinction the hard way. In two months of collecting documentation to support my portfolios in those areas -- after completing a third of my portfolio work -- I was made aware that only ten of my 30 pieces of documentation fit that crucial benchmark!
  • Documents as simple as notes or e-mails received from parents expressing gratitude for reaching their child on some level are ample evidence for building familial relationships that foster student learning.
  • Verification forms completed by a colleague or administrator familiar with your teaching also will suffice. (So much for keeping my candidacy a secret.)
  • Recent positive evaluations that testify to your effectiveness as a teacher work as well.
What doesn't work? Laundry lists of committee assignments and/or workshops with which you've been involved are taboo unless you can show a direct link to your involvement with those programs and subsequent impact upon student performance.

SEEK OUT SUPPORT

Once you've committed yourself to the process and have registered, you will want to search out support groups or organizations. You will find local hubs of assistance specifically designed to help you as you navigate the process. They might be sponsored by area school districts. Many universities or colleges of education also serve as focus groups for National Board Certification candidates. Those cluster groups are anchored by staff members -- often NBPTS-certified teachers who are familiar with the process. They can also prep candidates for the essay exam that concludes the process.

What if you can't locate a support group in your area? That summed up my situation, more or less. I found myself up against a wall about two months after having thrown myself into my portfolio entries. Without visible local assistance, I turned to the NBPTS Web site's Discussion Forum. There I learned about a cyber support group that was dedicated to my specific certification category (Early Adolescence -- Social Studies/History). From December through May, until my examination was complete, I was electronically bound to mentors from Oklahoma to North Carolina to Massachusetts who helped me achieve National Board Certification on my first attempt.

STIPEND EARNED -- $2500
OTHER REWARDS -- PRICELESS!

From the time I received "The Box" in early September to the wake-up call that I needed major help in December to the mind-numbing examination in May, earning National Board Certification was the most challenging teaching exercise I have ever undertaken. Simultaneously, it was the most rewarding.

Sure, I received my first $2500 stipend this past summer, but -- better than that -- I am now better able to view the learning process through the eyes of a student. When my students are struggling, all I need to do is recall how I struggled; how I gnashed my teeth; how I shouted for joy!

Most importantly, I learned to become a better teacher. Who can put a price tag on that?

Visit the National Board of Professional Teaching Standards Web site to learn how your state supports the pursuit of National Board Certification.

A teacher for nearly three decades, Max Fischer currently teaches seventh graders the marvels of ancient history. A National Board certified teacher in the area of early adolescence social studies/history, Max has authored nine resource books for teachers in the fields of social studies, health, and math. You can read a previously published article about Fischer: Simulations Engage Students in Active Learning.

Article by Max W. Fischer
Education World®
Copyright © 2002 Education World

11/08/2002
Updated 04/15/04