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My Top Ten Tips for Surviving the National Certification Process
by Stephanie Blackburn

Last month, our teacher diarists mailed back to the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards "the box" containing their completed certification materials. Although still facing written assessment tests, all the diarists have completed their portfolios -- probably the most stressful and least familiar part of the process. So, we asked them to provide you with the benefits of their experience.

March 15, 2004

10. Check with your district about whether money is available. The National Board process is quite expensive ($3,000), and many states and/or districts have funds available to help subsidize the cost of participating. Contact your district and/or state education department to find out.

9. Submit your application on time. We encountered a problem because the state submitted our paperwork to the National Boards a day or two late, which put us in the next testing cycle. That turned out to work in our favor, but it could've been a big problem if we had been committed to the first test cycle.

8. Read the standards thoroughly when you first receive the box. Take notes, highlight important words and phrases, and so on. Refer to those notes when planning your entries and again when typing them.

7. Create a long-term plan. Plan to spend a week or two reading the portfolio instructions. Then sit with a calendar and make a long-range plan. (Thoroughly completing an entry -- from gathering materials to final revisions -- takes approximately one month to six weeks.) Developing a plan also will allow you to look at your curriculum units and decide on the best time to work on each entry.

6. Read, read, and read. Subscribe to as many professional publications as possible, and read up on current teaching methods. That will help you become familiar with terminology and with current practices. You want to sound as well versed as possible when you write your entries. (Those publications also will help you become familiar with the content you'll need to be familiar with for the test.)

5. Stay focused. It's easy to think, "Oh, I've got enough time for this." Then suddenly you have only two months to finish your portfolio and you're scrambling to get everything done.

4. Laugh. There will be times when you feel overly discouraged or don't think you can go on. That's the time to get together with friends and laugh about the silly things.

3. Find a support group. Find a group of others in your state or district who are going through what you are going through, and then be there for one another. It is very unlikely that all of you will be in need of support at the same time. Other colleagues -- those not going through the certification experience - probably won't be able to fully understand what you have to do.

2. Back up everything! Technology can be a friend (when it's working) or a foe (when it fails). Spending 30 hours on a paper only to lose it because of a virus or dead computer is very frustrating.

And the number one tip to surviving the national certification process is

1. Stay positive. You have three years to complete the process successfully. Put your best foot forward. When you mail that box back to the Board, you'll want to be sure you did your best.

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Meet Stephanie Blackburn

Stephanie Blackburn, one of Education World's 2002-2003 teacher diarists, received her bachelor's degree in elementary education from the University of Rhode Island in May 1994. For the first two years of her teaching career, Stephanie worked as an enrichment specialist in the talent development program for the Westerly, Rhode Island, school district. For the past seven years, she has taught fourth grade at Bradford Elementary School in Westerly. Stephanie was awarded a 2002 National Educator Award by the Milken Family Foundation, in a program that provides recognizes elementary and secondary school teachers, principals, and other education professionals who are furthering excellence in education.

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