Teachers push selves to become certified

February 4, 2018 GMT

A financial incentive made the timing right for science teacher Jim Walker to pursue the gold standard in teacher certification.

Obtaining National Board Certification meant more to him than a $2,500 raise, however.

“I have always pursued professional development opportunities in order to become the best teacher that I can be,” the Northwest Allen County Schools educator said. ”... I love being in the classroom with my students and providing them the highest quality education I can : I will be a lifetime educator.”

Walker is among the 191 Indiana educators who have achieved the designation from the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, which recently announced the addition of 5,470 newly certified teachers to its ranks : now more than 118,000 nationwide.

While Northwest Allen and Fort Wayne Community Schools have national certified teachers, East Allen County Schools does not. One Southwest Allen County Schools educator was certified for 10 years before it expired in 2013, according to the national database. 

The certification follows a five-year renewal cycle.

Considered the most respected professional certification in K-12 education, it was designed to develop, retain and recognize accomplished teachers and generate ongoing improvement in schools.

“National Board Certification is about helping teachers become great, it is about elevating the teaching profession, and it is about helping children achieve at higher rates,” Peggy Brookins, president and CEO of the National Board, said in a statement.

Students taught by these teachers gain up to two months of additional learning and demonstrate evidence of deeper learning nearly three times more frequently than their peers, research has shown.

Walker, along with Northwest Allen teachers Jeremy Heidenreich and Jason Corah, recently achieved certification : a feat Superintendent Chris Himsel said is no small task.

“We’re proud of the work they did,” he said. “It’s a big deal in our profession.”

The Northwest Allen educators praised the program for its emphasis on self-reflection, which prompts candidates to continually question why they’re doing what they’re doing.

Corah said he’s more conscious of why he uses certain activities, the point of his lessons and what he’s trying to get students to learn.

“It is the best professional development that I’ve done,” the Carroll Middle School science teacher said.

And it’s hands-on with real-world applications : not a “sit and get” workshop, said Sam DiPrimio, director of secondary education at Northwest Allen.

Heidenreich, who returned to the classroom after serving as a guidance counselor for 12 years, said the certification process “really challenges your thinking” after working with students for years.

Candidates are given five years to achieve certification, which can be completed in as little as a year and costs $1,900. Requirements include three portfolio entries, including an entry requiring videos of interactions with their students. A computer assessment evaluates candidates’ knowledge of and practices for teaching their content area.

“It was mental work,” Walker said.

Kristine Etter, a Fort Wayne Community Schools teacher, likened it to earning a master’s degree, which is difficult in her specialty : teaching the deaf and hard of hearing : because of a lack of programs nearby.

The certification, which she achieved last year, provided an opportunity to prove herself as an educator, she said, explaining she is usually evaluated by administrators who aren’t trained in deaf education.

Indiana’s tally of board certified teachers ranks among the lowest nationwide, although it is gaining recognition. The Indiana State Teachers Association reported last year more than 50 of its affiliate associations have either added National Board Certification toward salary advancements in their contracts or bargained stipends for certification.

Under their contract, Northwest Allen teachers who attain the certification can earn a one-time $2,500 supplemental increase in their base salary, which remains in their salary for subsequent years.

It’s that incentive that prompted Walker to get certified, something he viewed as an “ultimate challenge” but was difficult to pursue because of the costs : time, money, young children : involved, he said.

“Upon considering how the NACS teacher contract is structured to incentivize professional growth and development then I decided it was the right time for me to meet the NBC challenge,” he said.

The Indiana State Teachers Association Foundation for the Improvement of Education last year awarded scholarships to 19 teachers pursuing the certification, including one from each of the Fort Wayne and Garrett-Keyser-Butler education associations.

FWCS has used a federal grant to pay for teachers seeking the designation, spokeswoman Krista Stockman said.

According to the National Board, Fort Wayne Community leads the state by number of current candidates at 18. The national database shows four of the district’s teachers have received certification, but the certification is only current for two. The district has about 1,800 teachers. 

The district would welcome more board certified teachers in its low-performing schools : those deemed focus or priority schools by the state, Stockman said.