When Anna Baldwin, an English teacher at Arlee High School in Arlee, Montana, and the 2014 Montana Teacher of the Year, wanted to up her teaching game she looked no further than National Board Certification. For the past 25 years, the National Board has advanced the teaching profession by establishing and maintaining the definitive standards of accomplished teaching and certifying more than 100,000 teachers across the country against those rigorous standards.
“I knew National Board certification made sense. I knew it would be a gift to myself – a way to address my own needs as a teacher and reignite the passion for reaching every student,” says Baldwin.
But she didn’t want to go through the process alone. She wanted colleagues to share the experience with her so they could support each other and learn from each other. With the help of new changes that allow educators to complete the rigorous certification process over a longer period of time at a lower cost, Baldwin was able to recruit more educators to join her on the journey to National Board Certification.
Getting more certified teachers was the goal of the National Board’s changes to the certification process. The hope is to make the process more flexible and efficient while maintaining the integrity and transformative nature of National Board Certification.
But before Baldwin could show her colleagues that the process had become less cumbersome, she first had to introduce them to it.
“In a tiny rural district, some of the steps required by the National Board process can present barriers, and only a few of my colleagues were on board with National Board because they simply didn’t know what it could offer them or had not even heard of it,” she says.
She sent an email to all the district teachers with short-form information, including the purpose of National Board certification and the benefits, scheduled an informational session after school, and arranged for some local National Board Certified Teachers (NBCTs) to come and give an overview.
Fewer Barriers to Certification
For educators unfamiliar with it, the mission of the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards is to advance the quality of teaching and learning by maintaining high and rigorous standards for what accomplished teachers should know and be able to do; provide a national voluntary system certifying teachers who meet these standards; and to advocate for related education reforms that integrate National Board Certification in American education and to capitalize on the expertise of National Board Certified Teachers.
Recognized as the “gold standard” in teacher certification, the National Board believes higher standards for teachers means better learning for students.
With increasing pressure on educators to prove themselves in a constantly changing education landscape, board certification allows teachers to hone their practice, showcase their talent in the classroom, and demonstrate their dedication to their students and their profession. It’s available in 25 certificate areas represent a consensus among educators about what accomplished, effective teachers should know and be able to do to improve student learning and achievement.
But as Baldwin noted, the process presented barriers for some educators. Candidates used to have to complete the rigorous, comprehensive certification process in just one year – a challenge for time-strapped teachers. Now, they can choose to complete it in up to three years if one year is not enough time. Also, the cost of certification will decrease to about $1,900, with each of the four components costing no more than $500, and candidates will have the option to pay for and submit each component separately.
In her district, Baldwin also helped educators cover the cost through a payroll deduction and district support.
Some of the steps required by the National Board process can present barriers, and only a few of my colleagues were on board with National Board because they simply didn’t know what it could offer them or had not even heard of it” – Anna Baldwin, teacher
“Once a group of teachers at a school had made their decision to sign on, I orchestrated payroll deduction for the cost of the second component, which we were completing together,” she says. “Payroll deduction was key because so few teachers, especially in December and January, have several hundred dollars lying around.”
The district paid for the upfront costs and the candidates were then able to reimburse the district over time through direct deductions from monthly paychecks.
Baldwin recommends that educators find ways to solve the problem of the cost through payroll deduction, interest-free loans from local banks, or donations from their school PTA or local businesses to cover the costs.
The district also compensated candidates for the time they spent on certification.
“This added incentive helped some of our candidates move past the sense of an overfilled plate,” Baldwin says. “Plain and simple, everyone knows that teachers are overworked; when they are recognized for their extra efforts to improve their teaching, and when they are compensated for it, teachers are more willing to undertake the above-and-beyond of National Board certification.”
The National Education Association and its state affiliates have also stepped in to make the process easier for candidates by providing “Jump Start” training. Jump Start is a three- or four-day comprehensive seminar designed to provide National Board candidates with important information about the certification process, time to examine component and Assessment Center requirements, the opportunity to plan how to meet requirements, and time to collaborate, gather resources and information needed to pursue certification.
“Trainers from the MEA-MFT came to our school on a Saturday to work directly with the folks from our cohort, helping with everything from their writing style to connecting their entries to the standards, to selecting the best evidence for their entries. Our coaches truly helped invigorate the teachers,” says Baldwin.
Peggy Brookins is the first NBCT to serve as President and CEO of the National Board. She is encouraged by the work of Anna Baldwin and other educators around the country determined to become certified along with more of their colleagues.
“Every teacher should consider earning their National Board Certification because it’s the best, most practical professional development available,” Brookins says. “The process is transformative – for teachers and also for students. A key measure of the value is that students of Board-certified teachers learn more. I’m excited that our new process makes achieving Board certification less costly and more flexible.”