Originally created 01/25/02

Teacher certification debate should focus on students' needs



NATIONAL BOARD Certification has received much attention, especially since our South Carolina legislators have raised the stakes by providing a generous salary increase for teachers who attain certification.

In the face of budget shortfalls, criticism seems to grow at an even faster rate. Are National Board Certified Teachers worth it? Where's the proof?

There is growing evidence that National Board teachers make a difference. In fact, there has been at least one study to date, with several more in the works, that shows National Board teachers are more effective. Read Lloyd Bond's study that compared National Board Certified Teachers with non-certified teachers who were considered effective instructors. It clearly found students of all the NBCTs in the study achieved at a higher rate than students of their non-certified colleagues.

Was National Board Certification the element that made the difference? That is certainly difficult to determine, but the research is exploding, and at minimum, National Board Certification does give us a tool to recognize excellence.

Some critics suggest that certification values process over content. As an example, they offer the example of how easily teachers can enter the classroom from other professions.

THESE ALTERNATIVE certification programs give new teachers training while they teach. "The fast-tracker's specialty is subject matter, not education processes," an Augusta Chronicle Web editorial stated. The author seems to believe that this emphasis on content marks an important improvement in teaching.

Unfortunately, many who enter teaching from other professions falter quickly without any education training and they often struggle to stay in the classroom, much less actually teach. Content knowledge is useless if a teacher cannot convey the information to the students. A de-emphasis on the process of education is, then, clearly not a solution.

It takes a healthy marriage of content and method to succeed in the classroom, and the National Board honors that commitment. For example, elementary school math teachers must show a mastery of two years of college calculus, and high school social studies teachers must exhibit content knowledge in three diverse fields - areas in which they may not even currently teach. The new assessments out this year shift the focus even more heavily to content and how to teach it.

National Board Certification boils everything down to the only issue that matters: students. That's it. All the things classroom teachers do that don't impact student learning - and those things can become myriad - simply don't "count."

THIS PROCESS demands that we steadfastly focus on our students - and how can we discuss the process of teaching without discussing its outcomes? We can't.

When the money disappears, as it may one day, so will much of the debate about certification. Pity that this attention will wane.

Yet teachers will continue to be interested in this type of professional development because it provides much that has been missing: affirmation, personal and intellectual challenge, and the opportunity and confidence to share our ideas with other successful teachers.

We will continue to collect evidence of how our projects impact student learning. We will still analyze student work to strengthen the connection between teaching, learning, and assessing. We will continue to challenge ourselves and our students in 50- to 70-hour work weeks. We will keep on orchestrating little miracles of student learning.

We did it before. We will do it again. And one day this important, sacred work of shaping individuals and society will be honored by the public that benefits from it but is often unwilling to recognize its worth.

FOR YOU SEE, soon the idea that teachers who excel should be compensated for their time, training and skill won't be so abominable to the public. The Teacher Quality Commission is currently working on a career-ladder type pay-scale that will increase teacher pay commensurate with their time and expertise, and National Board Certification will be part of one of those rungs. The pursuit of excellence will no longer be an issue up for debate. Instead, it will shape our careers.

(Editor's note: The writer is a member of the Policy Board of the Board Certification Network of South Carolina Educators, and curriculum associate for Teacher Support for Aiken County Public Schools, an English teacher and teacher cadet instructor at South Aiken High School.)