Energizing. Eye-opening. The best professional development ever.
That's how many educators describe what it's like to go through the rigorous yet rewarding process of seeking National Board Certification - the teaching profession's highest credential.
One foreign language teacher, who said she was suffering from the "seven-year itch" and feeling a little stale, found the process inspired her to try more interactive and relevant learning activities in her classroom.
Another recalled how much he learned about his teaching style when he watched, in horror, a videotape of what he thought was a perfect history lesson.
"The content was top-notch, but I found out I was doing about 95 percent of the talking," the longtime teacher said. "And none of my questions were open-ended."
Others liken the self-reflective professional journey to taking a sabbatical or retreat, igniting new passion for improving the teaching and learning process.
"It made me remember why I went into teaching in the first place," said Nancy Ketz of Holland Patent near Utica. "It made me do a little risk-taking and try things I hadn't tried before."
Like many National Board Certified Teachers, Ketz now uses what she learned during the NBC process to mentor new teachers.
"The great thing about National Board Certification is that it's all about student learning," said Andrew Bankert, who earned national certification in 2001 and now supports new candidates.
"When people go through the master's degree program, it's a lot of theory," Bankert said. "National Board is all about how your teaching can enhance student learning. In the end, kids are the ones who win."
At a time when national and state education policymakers are searching for ways to improve teacher effectiveness, NYSUT is stepping up its effort to promote National Board Certification as a proven program to boost teaching and learning.
"What better way to focus on raising teacher quality and student achievement?" said NYSUT Vice President Maria Neira. "Numerous studies have shown that the practice of NBCTs has a measurable positive impact on student learning, engagement and achievement - especially for low-income, ethnically diverse and special-needs students."
So what exactly is National Board Certification? It's a voluntary advanced teaching credential administered by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, an independent, non-governmental body that sets clear, high and rigorous standards for what accomplished teachers should know and be able to do. It's above whatever is required for a state's teaching license.
Developed for teachers by teachers, National Board Certification is offered for 25 subject areas and various grade levels.
As part of the process, candidates complete 10 assessments, including four portfolio entries, videotapes and six computer-based assessments to demonstrate content knowledge. It generally takes one to three years, between 200 and 400 hours, to complete the process. Only about 40 percent are successful the first time.
"I think the fact that it's difficult gives the process integrity and professionalizes teaching," said Arlington TA's Colleen Napora, who now is a candidate support provider. "It also shows we are lifelong learners who want to continue to get better and better."
NYSUT's national affiliates, the American Federation of Teachers and National Education Association, were among the founding organizations that established the national board in 1987. Since then, more than 74,000 teachers across the country have achieved the advanced credential.
Here in New York, NYSUT has lobbied fiercely to win state funding to encourage and support national board candidates. Prior to the creation of the state's union-backed Albert Shanker Grant program (which basically covers the $2,500 application fee), there were only 49 NBCTs in New York. Now there are 880.
The union has also worked hard to secure and share contract language that supports teachers in the certification process.
About 185 districts offer locally negotiated incentives, including release time to candidates, and stipends and step increases to those who achieve certification.
"We're starting to see concentrations of nationally certified teachers in places that recognize the value of the credential and offer incentives," said Neira, a member of the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards.
Top Five School Districts Statewide
||Total NBCTs in Title I Schools
|New York City
NYSUT, in partnership with the Greater Capital Region Teacher Center, assists candidates by offering awareness programs, support groups, online discussion forums, conferences and professional development through the union's Education & Learning Trust.
New this year, NYSUT will co-sponsor regional writing institutes facilitated by NBC teachers to help candidates with the extensive reflective and analytical writing involved.
Without supports and incentives, it is difficult to encourage time-pressed teachers to volunteer for the formidable challenge.
In fact, New York ranks 18th in the number of nationally certified teachers, with a total of 880 - or about 4 percent.
"There are 200,000 teachers in New York state," said the State Education Department's Sandy Lake, who oversees the union-backed Albert Shanker grant program.
"You can't tell me there are only 880 excellent teachers in New York," Lake said.
Annette Romano, co-chair of the National Board Council of New York State, said the program may be a lot of work, "but so many candidates - and administrators - have told us it's the best staff development they've ever seen," she said.
"It's an investment when you consider how much it helps student learning and future teachers."