VEA Members/NBCTs Talk About Why They Pursued National Board Certification
February 23, 2023
February 23, 2023
National Board Certification is widely seen as the most meaningful and respected form of certification a teacher can earn, a credential designed to not only cultivate and keep the best classroom professionals we can, but also to serve as a form of honor and recognition for those who have it.
The process, as you might imagine for such an achievement, is not a walk in the park. It’s supervised by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards and involves four separate components (see box on page xx). Only about 130,000 teachers nationwide have earned the certification.
To better understand their motivations, experiences, and benefits, we asked several VEA members who are National Board Certified Teachers (NBCTs) to share some thoughts.
I was in a time when I was reflecting and seeking to improve aspects of both my personal and professional life, to maximize the gifts and talents I felt I’d been given. I was looking for positive results in my character, work ethic, relationships, faith, and fitness, and I’d say the National Board process hit all five areas. I realized that I wasn’t challenging myself enough, professionally, and that my students would lose out if I didn’t give what I deemed to be my personal best. They were learning a lot, and school was going very well, but I felt I wasn’t providing them with my full potential. So, I took on the NBCT process and, as many others have said, it really is the most influential, applicable, and long-term professional development I’ve encountered. My teaching became more analytical, reflective, and refined, and my classroom became more student-centered and differentiated. The NBCT process has afforded me a sense of accomplishment, a renewed focus, and a sense of duty in different aspects of the profession, both locally and nationally. My students have benefited with an improved classroom culture, increased engagement, a teacher who seeks out and provides professional development, and a more valuable academic experience, overall.
Kristian Ellingsen, a high school health and physical education teacher in Loudoun County
A colleague who’s a NBCT talked to me about it, and I realized that it could take me on a road of reflection and discovery that would make me take a step back, analyze what I do and help me focus more on my students and their needs. I knew that such a process would make me a better teacher. It was absolutely a great journey! I discovered my strengths as a teacher, renewed my practices and lessons, and I also identified areas where I could do better for my students. Achieving National Board Certification also made me feel proud, like my efforts in the classroom were recognized. It is an achievement that I cherish because it made me push myself for the benefit of my students.
Lilliana Maldonado-Mendez, an IB high school Spanish teacher in Arlington
Originally, I chose to pursue National Board certification because of the promised supplemental pay increase. However, I did not earn my certification the first year. I was extremely disappointed and had decided I would not pursue it any further. One of my students changed my mind. Doing my first certification pursuit, I had to videotape my classes. I had explained to each class the purpose for the videos and informed them I wouldn’t know if I was certified until November of the next school year. The next year, one of my students remembered this and asked me if I had earned certification. I told them I had not. The student then asked if I had another chance, so I briefly explained how scores were banked and how I could resubmit work for some parts of the process. The next question changed my purpose and desire for obtaining National Board Certification: “So, what are you going to do now?” I knew I could not say I had decided not to pursue certification anymore—I always tell my students to take advantage of opportunities to improve themselves. I had to live up to my own words. I had to follow through, and I’m so glad I did.
Stephanie Harry, a high school science teacher in York County
Time management: I didn’t heed the warnings of those that went before me or their valuable advice to plan out each component ahead of time to ensure a variety of evidence was included. Planning, adjusting my plans, and managing my time to complete requirements were challenges. Make sure you plan, plan, and plan again, while adjusting as you move forward.
When doing maintenance of my certificate (renewal), my challenge was to find a quiet place to reflect, plan, and write. I now have a family with young children involved in many extracurricular activities, so I had to purposefully set aside time to accomplish this work.
Dr. Sherry J. Harrell, a middle school social studies teacher in Virginia Beach
The hardest part was finding time to write. I’d stay after school at least one day a week to write and revise for three or four hours. I’d get home at 7 or 8 at night, tired but happy that at least I wrote something (it also made my son an expert at ordering takeout). Gathering and selecting all the materials was also a challenge. When the deadline approached to mail my entries in “the box” I was very nervous. It took me about five hours to put my box together with the help of two colleagues. It was worth it!
One of the challenges I faced was understanding the certification process. I did not have the advantage of working with a cohort and I did not know about VEA’s Jump Start program, so understanding each of the components was extremely challenging. I currently serve as a VEA Jump Start facilitator. I wish I would have had access to this training when I was a candidate. The tools taught in this workshop would have made the certification process less challenging.
First, I have felt empowered, knowing I’m capable of contributing valuable insight and work to difficult classes, schools, groups, and problems. Certification has also helped to give me credibility in these different environments. I’ve found myself seeking opportunities to contribute and affect positive change. I believe the single factor most affected by achieving certification has been my desire to contribute to the profession of education as a whole, rather than only within the confines of my room. I’ve felt a call to contribute to and elevate, if at all possible, efforts to increase teacher retention and to provide professional development, and also to take on additional leadership roles.
I now approach teaching and learning through a completely different lens. Prior to my National Board journey, I approached instruction as a process in which I provided learning experiences—not really focusing on whether students participated or not. After delving into my practices and looking at the impact my planning and instruction had on student learning, I was faced with the hard reality that my actions were not maximizing their learning potential. About this time, I was introduced to the Architecture of Accomplished Teaching and the reflective thinking processes necessary to meet the needs of students at this “hour” in education. This shift in thinking about my practices has changed the way I approach teaching and learning forever: Instead of creating lessons and presenting them, I now begin with who are the children and what they know and can do. The way I plan, facilitate instruction, and assess students is now based upon student interests, knowledge, and skills.
Dr. Sherry J. Harrell
I became a more inspired and better teacher. It gave me more “ganas,” more desire to do well for my students, to improve and try new things, and to challenge myself. One big change has been that I take time to reflect: How am I doing? Are my students learning? How can I help them do better? It also developed in me the habit of stopping and thinking more often about how and why I teach.
I encourage them to pursue the process, enroll in a Jump Start program, and take advantage of the resources and candidate support available. The process is not easy, but the certification is most definitely worth it.
I’d tell them to focus on backwards planning. You have to research the components for your specific content area to get a basic understanding of what’s required. Next, figure out the submission and payment deadlines to see if it’s feasible for you. Third, carefully choose your components and the order in which you’ll complete them. Take into account your busy times of the year and your family and professional obligations. Once you’ve done this, I’d say dive in and pursue National Board Certification with positivity, patience, and perseverance. Of course, the whole experience will be greatly affected by joining a cohort of support organized by the VEA!
Do it! This has been the most beneficial professional development of my career. This journey is individualized and allows one to analyze the impact your practices have on students’ learning. National Board Certification provides the opportunity to reflect on what you’re doing in the profession while learning to effectively serve your current students. Finally, obtaining National Board Certification teaches you the thinking process of knowing one’s students, making instructional decisions based on this knowledge, measuring student learning, and using that data to make next-step decisions. This process is timely, applicable, and will change the way you view teaching and learning.
Dr. Sherry J. Harrell
The National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS) is a national standards board that defines and recognizes accomplished teaching across different subject areas. Educators seeking National Board Certification undertake a process in which they demonstrate accomplished teaching by completing four components:
National Board Certification provides meaningful, self-directed professional growth along with national recognition and opportunities for career advancement. For more information, visit nbpts.org.
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