Two Professional Development School (PDS) teachers recently received national certification through the National Board of Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS), the only nationally recognized certification for K-12 teachers.

“The NBPTS recognizes exemplary teaching and provides an overall set of standards by which to judge exemplary teaching,”said Van Dempsey, director of the Benedum Collaborative.”With the certification of Jeanne Gren and Sherry Bochna, the first cohort of teachers who worked toward this certification through the Benedum Collaborative has reached 70 percent.”

The Benedum Collaborative, established in 1990 as one of the nations first school-university partnerships, unites the professional development schools with the West Virginia University College of Human Resources and Education. Currently, there are 29 PDS sites in a five-county region involved in the Collaborative.

The goals set forth to enhance the quality of teacher education and to improve the knowledge and skills of active K-12 teachers are determined by the professionals working at the PDS sites in cooperation with WVU faculty.

“This is another good example of the outreach by WVU to the community. Through the Collaborative, educators at various levels can come together to support one another and to grow professionally while helping to improve the quality of education public schools provide,”Dempsey said.

When Gren, a first-grade teacher at Woodburn Elementary, and Bochna, a Title I reading specialist at Mason-Dixon Elementary, began the rigorous application process two years ago, less than 50 teachers were nationally certified in the state of West Virginia.

Two cohorts have gone through the Benedum Collaborative, and the third is now working on developing portfolios. Fourteen individuals have completed the entire process with 10 earning national certification.

The lengthy certification process took 16-18 months to complete when Gren and Bochna applied. Nearly 10 months were spent developing the portfolios and testing with an additional six months needed to score the application materials. Recently, however, the NBPTS shortened the time line allowing approximately seven months to develop portfolios and test and five months for scoring.

“The process requires excellence in teaching, and excellence in writing about that teaching,”said Gren, who was named”West Virginia Teacher of the Year 2002”by the West Virginia Department of Education. She is currently enrolled in WVU s masters degree program in educational leadership studies, which leads to certification as a principal.

Teachers attempting certification must assemble a set of portfolios focusing on their content and developmental areas. The number of portfolios needed is determined by the certification area. This written process examines the teachers philosophy, conceptual framework, who the learners are, teaching strategies, as well as why the strategies did and did not work and what the teacher did to modify instruction based on his/her assessment of student understanding.

“Going through this process of meeting the standards for National Board Certification was one of the most arduous and fulfilling professional development experiences I will ever have,”Bochna said.”As an educator, I am committed to a lifetime of learning and during this process I learned why I am in this profession, how important developing my craft is, and how personally rewarding persistence and hard work can be.”

“Also, knowing that I can positively affect the life of a child, even if only in a small way, makes it worth my effort,”Bochna said.

As part of the initial set of portfolios, evidence directly from students is presented to support the teachers portfolio elements. Using written work from class, the teacher explains why a particular lesson worked well or why it only worked with a particular sets of students. Further clarification must be presented on how the lesson was adjusted to account for differences in learners.

The second part of the portfolio submission consists of a 20-minute videotape of the teacher teaching a certain concept. The video is accompanied by a written narrative detailing what happens in the video. The teacher breaks down what he/she did, how decisions were made and how he/she reacted to the students. Teachers must also present evidence on how they assess students. The strengths and weaknesses of the lesson are described along with any changes that were made to the proposed lesson plan as a result of feedback from the class while the lesson is being taught.

“The process forced me to analyze and reflect carefully on how I teach and how my students learn,”Gren noted.”I also loved working with the other teachers who were candidates. I learned so much as we read the standards together, discussed our work and critiqued each others portfolios.”

The final step in the application process is also the most controlled. Candidates for national certification must take a sit-down, timed, comprehensive examination. During the day-long examination, candidates answer essay questions demonstrating their pedagogical styles, mastery of teaching concepts, content knowledge and knowledge of evaluation and assessment.

After completing all steps in the application process, candidates then wait while the portfolio, video portion and essay exams are scored. Certification remains effective for 10 years and is recognized in all 50 states; however, states still require individual state certification as well.

While most states and school districts offer salary increases for nationally certified teachers, a majority of applicants complete the process for more than the wage benefits.

“It is an honor to achieve this level of success,”Dempsey said.”Attaining national certification is a special kind of recognition since so few teachers have reached this level. The whole application process changes one as a teacher. It is impossible to go through the application process and testing without growing professionally.”

“I truly believe this process will help advance our profession, and I hope more teachers participate,”Gren said.”It is vital that we participate in the research and documentation of the effect that quality teachers have on student achievement. Nothing has a greater impact on student success than the teacher in the classroom.”