INSPIRED. National Board Certified Teachers
North Carolina leads the country with more than 22,600 National Board Certified teachers. Lee County just added six more in a single year.
“It's meant to be a distinction. It's nationally recognized,” said Patricia Coldren, the National Board district coordinator for Lee County Schools. “Having six in one year is a big deal. It's normally between zero and two, and two had been a high number for us.”
National Board Certification, according to the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction's website, is “a way to recognize the accomplished teaching that is occurring in North Carolina's classrooms.”
“The certification process is based on high and rigorous standards that evaluate teaching practice through performance-based assessments; the ultimate result is improved performance and achievement for North Carolina's students,” reads the website. “At the core of the National Board certification process are standards that describe the highest level of teaching in different disciplines and with students at different developmental levels. These standards represent a consensus among accomplished teachers and other education experts about what accomplished teachers should know and be able to do.”
In layman's terms, you can think of it as akin to earning a master's degree. It can take up to three years, and is particularly grueling. And since increased pay for teachers with master's degrees is no longer offered, the 12 percent pay bump National Board Certification offers is a particular enticement.
But not everyone who tries makes it, and it's not uncommon to have to try twice. In all, Lee County has 46 National Board Certified teachers. Here are some thoughts from each of Lee County's six newest.
Melanie Altman, Tramway Elementary
Altman, in her 25th year as a teacher, said “the time just seemed right” to seek the distinction. While she said the process was rigorous, she also said it suited her personality.
“I do not tend to be a stressor,” she said. “I like to check things off. I paced myself and made it work.”
Altman said she hopes that National Board Certification will remind her to “continue to reflect on my teaching daily.”
“Education is ever-changing, expectations are ever-changing, but I think that it is important to believe in what I do in my classroom and know why I do it,” she said.
Some teachers discuss the process with their students, and some don't. Altman falls into the latter category. In fact, she didn't discuss it much at all.
“I really did not discuss it with many people – I'm not even sure that my family (other than my husband) knew until I was well into the process,” she said. “I hope that although my students didn't know about National Boards, they will look back at their third grade experience as a year with a teacher that loves education and loves them.”
Jessica Jackson, Tramway Elementary
Jackson, in her 20th year as a teacher when she began the process, did tell her kids what she was doing.
“I showed them the length of my written documents and the results of data I collected from the class to show them the importance of writing to demonstrate knowledge,” she said. “We celebrated as a class when I submitted my final drafts to be scored. Just like my personal children, I strongly feel I need to be a model for my students that learning never stops.”
For Jackson, going through National Board Certification was a great opportunity to teach her students the importance of kindness.
“My students conducted a school-wide kindness campaign connected to the novel Wonder by R. J. Palacio,” she said. “The students spoke at one of our staff meetings to convince our staff to read the novel to their class. The school announcements began to incorporate kindness quotes each morning, and the students designed t-shirts to sell to the students and staff to promote kindness.”
Jackson said she completed her master's degree a decade ago, and that National Board Certification was a subsequent goal – but one she waited until her own children were a little older and more independent to take on.
“I hope being a National Board Certified teacher will help me to continue to push myself to do my very best every day for every child I am blessed to teach,” she said. “This process forced me to look at the content I am teaching, how I am teaching it and the results I am getting from the students. I want to keep this mindset of being reflective of my teaching and of myself. If I am not getting the results I want, then I am responsible for changing my teaching so my students can understand the content.”
Cindy Kelly, Lee County High School
Kelly actually completed the process this year for the second time.
“As an educator, we should be constantly looking for ways to improve our classroom and student performance,” she said. “The National Boards require you to reflect on why you are teaching what you are teaching and helps you take that information and use it in a way that makes your classroom more engaging.”
Kelly not only let her students know she was working toward the goal, she also used them as a source of motivation.
“During the process my students were very supportive and encouraging. We approached it as a team effort and they genuinely wanted me to succeed,” she said. “Several of my students from last year have asked me if I 'passed,' and I told them 'yes – I passed, thanks to your help.' They also claim the accomplishment, which I am proud of.”
She called National Board Certification “the most valuable and transformative professional development that I have ever been a part of.”
“Each student learns differently, and one of the biggest challenges is learning what that is and helping my students meet those goals and outcomes,” she said. “The opportunity to connect professional learning with classroom practice enhances my experience and journey as a teacher. It's a great feeling of accomplishment. No one truly understands how hard it is unless you go through the process.”
April Richardson, Tramway Elementary
Richardson also approached National Board Certification with a master's degree under her belt, having earned one in 2009. She said one of her primary motivators was to show her students “that I could better myself and their education by obtaining my National Boards and not giving up.”
“They would encourage me and help me in any way with the ideas and lessons that I was teaching during the process,” she said. “I don’t know if they truly understood how rigorous the process was and how stressful it was, but they did understand that I was in school to become a better teacher for them.”
Whether her students knew it or not, the process was a tough one for Richardson.
“There were many weekends and evenings I devoted myself to sitting at my kitchen table, with a candle lit, eating my favorite snacks and reading, studying or working on the computer. While traveling to vacations, I would spend the majority of my time reading, highlighting and writing on sticky notes. The process was constantly on my mind for 12 months straight,” she said. “There were many evenings I would cry to my husband and my mom that I wanted to give up.”
But she described the “courage” she felt in continuing on and feels she can show her students that anyone can achieve and improve themselves if they truly want to.
“I can’t wait to see what the future holds as an educator,” she said. “I would love to see myself teaching educators in staff developments, be a professor for early childhood or in reading. For now, I am seeking ways to help those that are going through the National Board Certification so that I can help them with being successful in achieving their certification.”
Stephen Roman, Lee County High School
Roman had been teaching 18 years when he decided to go for National Board Certification, and had worked at the middle and high school level. He said he saw the opportunity to grow and wanted to keep doing so.
“As an educator, I don't want to remain complacent – teaching is a career, not a job,” he said. “For this reason, I have recently added secondary math to my teaching license in 2018 and ESL in 2019. If I don't continue to grow as a teacher, how can I expect my students to grow as learners?”
Roman is involved in a number of extracurricular activities at LCHS, and knew he wouldn't be able to complete the process in just one year.
“It was often difficult to maintain the commitment and energy required over those four years – your life changes, school changes, but I had to learn to adjust so I could meet the rigor of the different components,” he said. “Completing the certification worked better for me when I thought of it as professional development I would normally do each year.”
That attitude was crucial for Roman, who said it challenged him to examine his situation with a goal of continually improving.
“The certification helps promote a 'teacher as learner' attitude instead of saying 'I'm done, I have my teaching certification,'” he said. “As teachers, we hear a message of continually improving in our classrooms, in our schools, in our district – how can we be a part of this if we stand still and never change?”
While Roman did talk about the process with his students while he was going through it, he doesn't bring the distinction up with current students.
“It feels a bit like unnecessarily bragging about your accomplishments. Your accomplishments show in how you work with students, teachers, administrators, parents – how you carry out your day-to-day work to the best of your ability, how you build relationships within your school and community. That is how it matters to students – what you bring to the classroom every day, and the person you are every day, everywhere,” he said.
Mary Beth Stec, Deep River Elementary
Stec said National Board Certification had always been on her “teacher bucket list.”
“I just want to be the best that I can be and this was a great opportunity to further my career and knowledge of best practices in the classroom,” she said.
That's why it was a tough blow when she missed certification her first time through by just a handful of points.
“I was devastated. I had worked so hard and dedicated so much time and energy and money into it,” she said. “I chose to redo the component where I had to video myself teaching two lessons. I blew it out of the water the second time around. National Boards post the scores at midnight and I told my husband I wasn't looking until the morning. I'd made that mistake the first time and ended up crying the rest of the night.”
This time through, Stec's husband checked on her behalf and woke her up with the good news – she'd passed.
“All of the hard work and weekends spent pulling my hair out was all worth it in the end. And the financial gain will also be helpful for my family,” she said.
For Stec, the demands of the process only made themselves truly clear when she was “already so far into it that there was no turning back.”
“My husband was in the process of starting his own business, my children were 5 and 2 at the time and we had a puppy. Looking back, I'm not sure how I made it out alive,” she said. “There are several questions you have to answer in the writing components and I would have to reread every question a good 10 times each before I even knew what it was talking about. I had several moments of regret and self-doubt. But I powered through it and ended up learning a ton about myself as a teacher and my students.
Stec's students were aware that she completed a very difficult project that would help her be a better teacher.
“I shared my story of how I didn't pass the first time, but I tried again and didn't give up,” she said. “National Boards makes you self-reflect constantly. Reflecting on how I teach and the decisions I make during everyday instruction helped me grow as teacher. I can honestly say I am a more conscious and knowledgeable teacher after going through this experience.”
Inspired is a digital digest published each week during the academic year by Lee County Schools to highlight accomplishments of students, faculty and staff.