December 2011 Issue
November 22, 2011

National Board Certified Teachers: Owning their practice

Author: Michael Hirsch
Source: NYSUT United

Mitchell 20, a new documentary film about education, centers on a group of teachers in a struggling Phoenix, Ariz., school who commit to the National Board Certification process to improve their practice through reflection and collaboration.

NYSUT, in partnership with the UFT Teacher Center, hosted the film's NYC premiere last month, which was attended by 200 teachers. "There's a lot of debate about improving teaching, and everyone wants to tell us what to do in our classrooms. This film shows what one group of teachers did, and did well," said NYSUT Vice President Maria Neira, a member of the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, which oversees National Board Certification.

Narrator Edward James Olmos describes Mitchell 20 as "a story of 20 teachers in an inner-city school who decided to improve the one thing they had control over: the quality of their own teaching." The film shows how the teachers take the lead professionally to deliver the best possible education to their economically disadvantaged students and foster an excellent teaching and learning environment at the school.

Conditions at the Mitchell Elementary School are far from ideal. Located in a high unemployment, high-crime area, 99 percent of the mostly Latino school population are eligible for free lunch; many are English language learners. The school faces massive cuts in state aid.

With the encouragement of their colleague Daniela Robles, the first teacher in their school to become a National Board Certified Teacher (NBCT), Mitchell teachers work during group preps and in class, nights and on weekends creating portfolios and honing their skills to improve their practice. Some achieve the certification on the first try. Most don't.

As one Mitchell teacher puts it, the national certification process isn't about getting the much-prized credential so much as "a journey about learning and growing." All agree the collaboration impacted their practice and enhanced their students' learning. The audience was deeply moved by the film.

After the showing, a panel discussion engaged the audience in a lively conversation on practitioners taking the lead. Members of the panel included moderator Beverly Falk from City College; Geraldine Darius, a Take One candidate from IS 238 in Queens; Lorraine Scorsone, coordinator of the NBPTS UFT Teacher Center Support Program; and Robles. "The silver bullet is that it takes us to stand up and own our profession," Robles said.

Darius urged educators to give the National Board Certification program a try, "because just doing it makes you better." Scorsone provided attendees with information about programs designed to support teachers pursuing the credential. Catalina Fortino, UFT Vice President and UFT Teacher Center Director, thanked the panelists for demonstrating their commitment and passion for their profession.

New York state currently has 1,130 NBCTs; more will learn of their achievement early this month.