For Albany teacher Zeovadis Tavarez, pursuing National Board Certification was a humbling and enlightening experience.
After missing the achievement by just one point the first time, the dual language teacher experienced first-hand what it's like for her students who sometimes struggle on high-stakes exams or learning to communicate in a new language.
"It was frustrating to go through the process but it also ignited my passion for the profession," Tavarez said, wiping away tears. "I couldn't have done it without the support from my colleagues and my students. My kids told me, ‘You always tell us to do your best. That's all you have to do!' And my colleagues did everything from sending me supportive text messages to babysitting."
Tavarez, one of 47 teachers statewide who earned National Board Certification in December, shared her emotional journey at a press conference at NYSUT Headquarters to celebrate the latest class of NBCTs, plus an additional 26 educators who successfully recertified.
"You are lifting up our beloved profession," said NYSUT Vice President Catalina Fortino. "You are experts in your fields — specialists in reading, special education, social studies, science, music and English as a new language."
Fortino was joined at the celebration event by Regent Beverly Ouderkirk, who thanked the teachers for going "above and beyond" to earn the national credential. "I'm so proud of you all," she said.
The class of 2015 was a little smaller than usual because national certification is transitioning into a three-year component process. Now that the process is more flexible, candidate numbers are dramatically increasing, Fortino said. More than 300 New York state teachers are now in the pipeline.
New York state currently has 1,750 NBCTs, with more than 300 districts offering a salary step or stipend for achievement. Annette Romano, co-director of the National Board Council of New York, urged the newest NBCTs to look at certification as a beginning — not an endpoint, and to step up and take on teacher leadership roles.
NYSUT assists national board candidates by offering awareness programs, support and advice through online discussion forums, conferences and professional development through its Education & Learning Trust. The union also works with teacher centers to support candidates.
In partnership with the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards and federal grant funding, more than a dozen teachers are regional NBC coordinators within each New York State Teacher Center network. More than 150 candidate support providers, as well as local support groups, are located across the state. Several NBCTs noted the help they received through local support groups and NYSUT's writing retreats. Niskayuna TA's Laura Carroll said the retreats and peer support gave her "a little push" and helped her connect with a fellow special education teacher who was also pursuing national certification. She now intends to become a candidate support provider herself as a way to "give back" for all the help she received.
"I couldn't have done it without the support network," said Lake George EA's Geoff Bizan, who is now serving as a technology coach with the local teacher center.
NYSUT is working to expand support to encourage more teachers to seek National Board Certification; and is seeking additional state funding for the Albert Shanker Grant fund, which helps cover the cost of application fees. NYSUT hopes to expand the program to cover renewal fees and reimburse districts that provide release time for teachers pursuing the national credential.
Created by teachers, for teachers, National Board Certification is the profession's mark of accomplished teaching. It is a voluntary, rigorous, peer-reviewed process.
NEW YORK'S TOP FIVE NBCT SCHOOL DISTRICTS
- New York City: 196
- Arlington: 68
- Schenectady: 66
- Wappingers: 49
NATIONAL BOARD CERTIFICATION IN NY
- Total new NBCTs in 2015: 47
- Total renewed in 2015: 26
- Total number certified: 1,750
- Number currently pursuing National Board Certification: 371
Want to know more?
Teachers interested in pursuing National Board Certification can find resources online, including support programs, tips and a list of districts that offer incentives. Visit www.nbcny.org or www.nysut.org.