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National Board Standards “by teachers, for teachers,” mentor says

“We need to take responsibility for professionalizing ourselves,” Lorraine Scorsone told me, explaining her decision to become a candidate for National Board Certification in 1994, when few had heard of the certification.

Scorsone, who now mentors the latest crop of candidates through the United Federation of Teachers (UFT) Teacher Center, was a kindergarten teacher looking for a new challenge.

National Board Certification seemed like a good fit. “The hook was that I read that the standards were written primarily by teachers, for teachers. When I read those standards, I got goosebumps. …[F]or the first time, the complexities of teaching were described.”

This year, 53 New York City educators are starting the process of becoming board certified. Altogether, 137 National Board Certified teachers have come from New York City, 99% through the UFT National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS) Project, Scorsone told me. Candidates working with the UFT NBPTS Project meet twice monthly to work on their applications and get help from mentors and from each other.

“The more experienced you are, the more underground, in a sense, your teaching goes,” Scorsone said, explaining that the application process helps teachers “deconstruct what [they] do and why [they] do it, then put it back together through synthesis.”

Teachers seeking National Board Certification must submit three portfolios of classroom practice, documenting their teaching through written reflection, videos of their interactions with students, and samples of student work, plus a fourth portfolio called “documented accomplishments,” which highlights the work they’ve done beyond the classroom — whether reaching out to parents or attending professional development programs — that has positively impacted their students.

In addition to submitting portfolios, candidates report to an assessment center to complete six 30-minute computerized exercises evaluating their content knowledge.

They have a year to submit their application entries and up to 2 years to retake sections, if necessary; the process is rigorous and many candidates do not succeed on their first attempt. Scorsone said that 50 to 70% of candidates achieve National Board Certification by the end of the second year.

What makes a good candidate? Scorsone said teachers must have “lifelong learner skills: determination, follow-through, commitment,” and good reflective writing ability. Rather than focusing on getting the certification, the most successful candidates approach the application as a year-long professional development process, she said.

About our First Person series:

First Person is where Chalkbeat features personal essays by educators, students, parents, and others trying to improve public education. Read our submission guidelines here.

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