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Log in to Witsby: ASCD’s Next-Generation Professional Learning and Credentialing Platform
May 1, 2000
Vol. 57
No. 8

Earning Board Certification: Making Time to Grow

Achieving National Board for Professional Teaching Standards certification helps teachers grow professionally and renews their enthusiasm for teaching.

Teaching is a performance art. Just as actors, opera singers, and athletes hone their crafts by reviewing, analyzing, and reflecting on their performances, teachers can improve their practice by becoming certified through the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS). Undergoing the rigorous certification process has been the most powerful professional development activity of my education career, affecting how I teach and how I view teaching more than any graduate courses I have taken, workshops and conventions I have attended, or curriculums I have developed.
Although these other professional development activities offered useful pieces of information, the National Board certification process concentrates on how teachers apply that information in the classroom. To earn certification, teachers must critically assess their own teaching with their students through two components. They prepare a portfolio that contains videotapes of classroom teaching, samples of student work, and written commentary. They also complete assessment-center exercises that give teachers the opportunity to demonstrate knowledge, skills, and abilities in their certification field. Instead of evaluating a theory or a method, the process focuses on real-world practice and performance of teaching in all its aspects from planning to execution to evaluation.
Before applying for National Board certification, I thought that I was a good teacher. Looking back, I realize that I was like my 3rd grade students, who could answer test questions about and draw pictures of dams and dikes in Holland. These students were pleased with their high grades, and I thought that they were learning. But when we built models, added the dams and dikes of clay, and poured in the water, their faces lit up: "Look, Mrs. Jenkins, it works!" I have learned not only what it feels like to have that "I get it!" feeling, but also how to create those situations more often for my students.

High Standards for Teachers

  • Teachers are committed to students and their learning.
  • Teachers know the subjects they teach and how to teach those subjects to students.
  • Teachers are responsible for managing and monitoring student learning.
  • Teachers think systematically about their practice and learn from experience.
  • Teachers are members of learning communities.
By gathering and presenting clear and convincing evidence, I was able to measure my performance against these benchmarks of good teaching. As a Middle Childhood Generalist (addressing students ages 7 to 12), I compiled portfolios to prove my ability to teach writing, thematic science units, and mathematics. I offered evidence of my ability to build community in my classroom and to connect to homes and families. I documented the work I had done to contribute to the education profession to prove that I belonged to a learning community. My portfolios contained student work, videotaped examples of my teaching, documented evidence of my accomplishments, and my written analysis of and reflection on those activities. During the summer, I wrote four 90-minute assessment-center exercises for science, reading, social studies, and health to prove my ability to teach children of all the ages—not just 8- and 9-year-olds—who fall under the category for Middle Childhood Generalist.
As I waited for the results to arrive in November, I vacillated between believing that I would pass and being sure that I would not. I empathized with students who repeatedly ask, "Is this good enough?" I took comfort in knowing that if I did not meet the standards in all areas, I could bank the successful portions and continue to work on the others. In any case, my teaching would improve. And whether it took me one year or three years, I was determined to meet those standards.
Finally, an envelope arrived on my doorstep. I stared at it for several minutes before opening it, like a student who gingerly peeks at a test grade rather than face it with eyes wide open. I wanted to know my strengths and weaknesses—or did I? How would I feel if I did not certify?
Fortunately, I did earn National Board certification. All teachers who participate in the process receive an averaged score for each section, and that score determines certification. Some of my scores were quite high. For example, I scored well in analyzing student work. In this case, I had analyzed what several 4th grade students had written on a specific science topic to determine what they understood and misunderstood about the topic. Then I designed lessons to develop those students' understanding. Although I have never taught 4th grade, the exercise demonstrated my understanding of the subject matter and child development for the full range of students in the Middle Childhood Generalist category.
I also received a few low scores, below what would be considered master-teacher level. Knowing my strengths and weaknesses helps me make improvements. By rereading and studying my portfolio entries in those areas, I can determine specifically where my practice fell short. For instance, I didn't earn a high score for using assessment information about a 3rd grade student to design instruction to meet that student's reading needs.
My students had always scored high on state reading tests, so I thought that I was teaching reading well. My National Board score showed me a weakness I would have otherwise not known about. I am currently reading several books on teaching reading and am working with the Title I teacher at my school to develop literature circles and to use more flexible grouping in my classroom.
Networking with a group of Board-certified teachers and candidates has helped me apply the standards to my teaching in my weak areas. I also seek information through workshops, graduate classes, and recommended reading, and I incorporate what I learn into my practice. Analyzing and reflecting on my work helps me continually evaluate my performance. I try to branch out from my interests (which were often my strengths) to seek out opportunities to address my weak areas. For example, although I have used rubrics in the past, I am developing more this year because I have discovered that they help both the students and me focus on specific goals.

Renewed Passion for Teaching and Learning

My newfound knowledge has helped me recapture the enthusiasm of my early years of teaching, the "I can make a difference—I can conquer the world" enthusiasm, coupled with 29 years of experience. I approach each lesson with the tools of analysis and reflection honed in the process of completing the Board's process. I measure each activity against the National Board's standards.
Are all my lessons perfect? No, but I am better able to see exactly what didn't work and why. I've had a lot of practice as I looked at the lessons I prepared for National Board certification and watched the videos and analyzed the student work. I've internalized both the standards of good teaching and the habits of analysis and reflection.
For me, the benefits of completing the Board process were evident even before I learned that I had earned certification. I looked at past student activities and revised them to be more effective. I chose to omit some things to help my students delve more deeply into significant learning activities. My students didn't miss the decorative holiday craft projects I used in the past. Instead, we built waterwheels to investigate the power of water. I graded fewer papers but looked more deeply into and reflected more often on what children really understood and could do.
An important lesson I learned is to resist jumping on the bandwagon of the latest theories and techniques. Although I take from them the knowledge and skills I can use, I have a set of criteria against which to measure them: Will they help me meet the standards of good teaching? Can I prove that they enhance student learning?
I compare notes, share expertise, and swap advice with my network of other Board-certified teachers: hundreds of motivated, expert teachers who share knowledge and support one another in meeting the needs of children. This diverse group of teachers from across the United States has become an integral part of my professional support net.
My students benefit, too. They organize their written thoughts well, perhaps because I am more focused on the rubrics I developed as part of my writing portfolio entry. Students connect subjects and skills they are acquiring across the curriculum, because I teach more thematically after struggling to make interdisciplinary connections in the science portfolio entry. Certification has given me the confidence to move away from the prescribed order of texts and lessons I have used in the past to combine and rearrange units to meet the needs of my students.
I see evidence of my renewed passion for teaching reflected in my students. Never have so many engrossed students looked up from projects to say, "Already?" when I announce that it is time to go. "This week went really fast!" and "This day went really fast!" are frequent comments in my room. Some students even ask whether they can stay in during recess to continue working.
Earning Board certification is not the end—it is only the beginning. I feel obligated to continue to teach to those high standards. I believe that I must be a role model and that I need to continually improve my practice.

It Takes Time

How can we ensure that all teachers have opportunities to grow professionally? Teachers need time to think: Time to analyze and reflect on what we are doing. And then time to write and to record that analysis and reflection.
If we, as parents, teachers, and citizens, want the best education possible for our children, we must give teachers time to be the best they can be. Those of us who have gone through the National Board certification process made the time—often at the expense of home and family. When asked in the middle of the process what I had learned, I replied that I had learned how many meals my husband could make for himself and how many of my clothes could be worn unironed.
Although I survived the many months that it took to assemble and present my portfolio and to prepare for the assessment-center exercises, teachers can't sustain the intensity of that process alone. Schools and districts need to give teachers the time to regularly self-assess their performance.
Earning National Board certification has been the most valuable professional development activity of my career. At times, I despaired of meeting the high standards, but I would not have it any other way. Those high standards and the validity of the performance assessment make National Board certification a worthy goal.
The best way to improve teaching is by understanding what good teaching is, by constantly analyzing our practice and comparing it with those standards, and by networking with other teachers. I would encourage other teachers to work toward certification in a community of peers, supporting one another and learning together, to become the best educators they can be.


Recognizing that the single most important action that the United States can take to improve student performance is to strengthen teaching, the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards set out in 1987 to identify the knowledge and skills that characterize accomplished teaching; create the nation's first advanced professional standards for K–12 teachers in specific subject areas; and implement a voluntary national system of National Board certification for teachers based on high and rigorous standards for accomplished teaching.

National Board certification is open to any teacher who possesses a baccalaureate degree from an accredited institution, has completed three years of successful teaching, and if required to do so for his or her state, has held a valid state teaching license for those three years of teaching. The Board charges a $2000 assessment fee; financial support varies by state. For more information, contact the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, 26555 Evergreen Rd., Ste. 400, Southfield, MI 48076; (800) 22-TEACH; Web site: www.nbpts.org.

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