Wednesday, April 10, 2013

University City Teachers seek Nation’s Highest Professional Teaching Credential: National Board Certification

Brittany Woods librarian Kelly Werthmuller is
 one of six district teachers currently seeking
National Board Certification 
Teachers tend to be busy.  Really busy.  Between lesson planning, grading, meetings, conferences, training (not to mention teaching) free time is not something most teachers possess in abundance.  So what could possibly motivate six School District of University City teachers to willingly take on a grueling three-year, 400-600 hour-long project (!)?  Could it be a sadistic love of paperwork?  Or perhaps an aversion to quiet evenings spent with loved ones? Maybe a strict adherence to that old wives’ tale about idle hands? Most likely it is the satisfaction of knowing that once the work is completed they will rank among an elite 3% of educators nationwide who hold the most prestigious professional certification available in their field: the National Board Certification.
National Board Certification is an advanced teaching credential, similar to certification in fields like medicine and law.  The National Board for Professional Teaching Standards  website describes it as “a rigorous, peer-reviewed process that ensures that Board-certified teachers have proven skills to advance student achievement” through which “teachers expand and refine their content knowledge and pedagogy. The outcome is more powerful teaching that improves student achievement and reflects college and career readiness.”
Retired Jackson Park Elementary teacher Kelly Mueller was the first in the district to earn the distinction, and now she serves as the NBC coordinator for Maryville University and works with NBC candidates both locally and nationally.  She says that the importance of the National Board process is easily understood when you think about it this way:
“Other professional development tells us what to go back and do in our classrooms. The NB process simply says ‘Here are the highest standards in your teaching profession - recognized across the country. Give us evidence of how you meet them.’ They recognize there are countless ways to get there. Each of us is an individual. We teach different children in different settings at different times. Each is a professional, and in that role makes thousands of decisions in a week. An accomplished teacher uses his/her knowledge of the students in the class, knowledge of the subject area, and knowledge of available resources to plan worthwhile lessons to meet the goals they children need to learn at this point in time. WE say what we did, giving the rationale for our decision(s) as to what to teach, how to teach it, and how to evaluate student performance. THAT is teaching.”
The certification process involves a series of performance-based assessments that include teaching portfolios, student work samples, videotapes and thorough analyses of the teachers' classroom teaching and student learning. In all, teachers spend hundreds of hours beyond their normal workload preparing materials and being tested in order to attain this lofty distinction.

Although the process is entirely voluntary, the School District of University City has stepped up to not only cover most of the registration fees, but also to provide a generous stipend (which Ms. Mueller notes is on par with some of the best in the country) to all district teachers who become National Board Certified.   Candidates claim that this sort of financial support is a great motivator and a wise move, as research continues to show that the students of National Board Certified Teachers (NCBTs) out perform those of non-NCBTs on achievement tests (particularly in STEM fields), and that the impact is especially significant for minority and low-income students.

Brittany Woods Middle School librarian Kelly Werthmuller is one of the current crop of six NBC candidates in the district.  She says that that seeking certification is making her “reflect more on my teaching practice. I am pushing myself to be more innovative and focus on each individual and class, instead of the entire grade. It is a VERY frustrating process, but I can already see positives in my teaching.” 
Likewise, Brittany Woods communication arts teacher and NBC candidate Katherine Adams explains that the process has prompted her to “deepen my reflection and really analyze why I make the choices I make in the classroom. In the past I have thought, ‘Well this worked well last year, so I will do this activity again.’ Now I am analyzing why the particular activity worked. How exactly did it impact my students? What aspects need to be retooled so all my students are impacted by this lesson? How can I involve my parents and our community as part of our learning process? While I am still working through the certification process, I feel the work itself has truly made me a more reflective and effective educator.”

If this year’s six candidates succeed in achieving certification they will join current district NBCTs Dr. Jamie Jordan (Principal, Brittany Woods Middle) and Shenelle Dubose (UCHS Assistant Principal).  Seven additional district teachers have signed up for a pre-candidacy class, suggesting that we will soon see a flourishing of NBC teachers in our schools.  This is exciting news for our students and for our community. 
The bottom line, says Kelly Mueller, is that seeking National Board Certification is a “great opportunity for teachers to work on their practice. Showing evidence makes you think about teaching much more methodically than ever before....cutting out fluff and things that really don't impact student learning. THAT is what this process is all about!”

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