Like most teachers I know, I'm constantly seeking to reflect upon and improve my practice. After my fourth year of teaching, my mentor suggested that I apply for National Board Certification. This advanced teaching credential goes beyond state licensure and is obtained through a performance-based and peer-review process created by teachers. I'd heard the process was rigorous, challenging, and time-consuming, but I also knew that the certified teachers I talked to said it was well worth it and that the process made them better at their job.
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I received my National Board Certification in 2001, and I renewed in 2011. Since that time, I have mentored teachers in the process, and for the past two years, I've served as a National Board mentor for teachers in my district.
Why You Should Get Certified
About 3 percent of our nation's teaching force is National Board Certified. Numerous studies have shown that students (especially minority and low-income students) of certified teachers learn more than their peers. Because certified teachers are considered experts in the field of teaching, they work hard in their schools and districts to improve teaching. They also work with state legislators and leaders to effectively shape education policy. It's absolutely necessary and essential that the voices of teachers are heard in our nation's quest for education reform, and certified teachers can be part of that national conversation.
The impact certification has on your teaching practice is also astounding. When I examined and reflected upon my practice through the National Board, I was not only able to highlight my own strengths as a teacher, but I was also better able to address my weaknesses. For example, when I videotaped my class, I noticed I tended to answer my own questions if students didn't immediately respond. I realized I needed to allow students the chance to process the question and answer.
The Core Propositions
The certification process is centered around five core propositions that show teachers are committed to their students and learning, are knowledgeable of the subjects they teach, and can effectively teach those subjects to students. In addition, National Board teachers are members of learning communities, and they're responsible for managing and monitoring their learning, as well as thinking systematically about their practice.
To be eligible for a certification, you must have a bachelor's degree, have completed three years of successful teaching, and hold a valid state teaching license (or meet your state's licensure requirements for a school counselor).
Recent changes in the National Board Certification process have made the process much more efficient, flexible, and affordable. The total cost is about $1,900—each component is $475, and candidates have the option of submitting components separately over two years. I'm fortunate that my district reimburses candidates when they receive their certification. Some states and school districts will also provide financial support; for example, Maryland provides stipends up to $2,000 for candidates who teach in a school that has not met Annual Yearly Progress (AYP). It's worth checking with your superintendent or your state's Department of Education.
Candidates for a National Board Certification must complete four components:
- Content Knowledge: This is a computer-based assessment administered at a testing center. It asks teachers to demonstrate their knowledge and pedagogical practices for their content area for the age and ability level of the chosen certificate area.
- Differentiation in Instruction: Teachers use student work samples and instructional material to analyze information about their individual students' strengths and needs in order to design and implement instruction so it advances student learning and achievement.
- Teaching Practice and Learning Environment: Teachers submit two video recordings and instructional materials to show evidence of instructional planning, and analysis of and reflection on teaching. Scorers examine the instruction, student engagement, and learning environment to be sure it's aligned with the five core propositions, as well as the certificate area standards.
- Effective and Reflective Practitioner: Teachers focus on their ability to be a reflective, effective, and supportive teacher by showing evidence that they collaborate with parents and families, colleagues, and the community in order to advance student learning.
Teachers can personally decide whether to get their National Board Certification in one year or five, but they must attempt each of the four components in the first three years of their candidacy. They'll have two opportunities to retake each component if necessary.
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The National Board Certification process isn't easy, but it's worth it. It strengthens both the teaching profession and individual practice. The new rollout makes it much more affordable and manageable for busy teachers. In addition, a certification opens many doors. Teachers will find themselves taking part in national conversations about teaching, presenting at conferences, sharing best practices, and meeting fellow certified teachers across the country. It's a wonderful experience, and I strongly suggest you consider taking this step toward professional development.