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Phoenix Forward

National Board Certification: Lots of work but so worth the effort

Amy Cole

What are the most important factors in determining a student's educational success? Being able to assess the student's ability, find the gaps and then address those gaps to secure learning gains for the student. Parental commitment, economic status and other factors play large roles in these issues, but teachers trump them all. When a teacher is exceptional, the positive effects are almost immeasurable.

Amy Coyle wanted to be an exceptional teacher, and she says that's why she sought National Board Certification. She was part of the Mitchell 20, a documentary sponsored by University of Phoenix that followed 20 teachers at one school who were pursuing National Board Certification.

"I became a teacher because I wanted to be in a position where I could help people and change the world," she says. "I felt that education was the way to do it."

According to the documentary, going for National Board Certification is a rigorous process; the majority of teachers don't succeed in their first attempt. Additionally, only about 5 percent of teachers across the country are National Board Certified Teachers.

"The biggest challenge for me was completely shifting the way I thought about teaching," Coyle says. Even though she had been teaching fourth grade for awhile, she found that what she'd learned in previous teacher-prep programs differed radically from the standards and objectives mapped out in the National Board Certification process.

"From previous years of teaching, I had lesson plans, but with National Board Certification, I started thinking about whom I was teaching on an individual level. I started thinking about what each student needed and how I could teach differently or add different strategies that would help particular students."

Five tips - 1. Be open to change. 2. Make time to relieve stress. 3. Set personal deadlines and hold yourself accountable. 4. Don’t work in isolation — lean on your colleagues. 5. Remember that it’s all about your students.

"If I were to offer one tip," Coyle says, "it would be that you have to be open to change and be prepared to be challenged." Currently, Coyle is supporting candidates seeking National Board Certification as a mentor. She notes that many feel overwhelmed, perhaps because the process is new to them. Her advice: Keep at it; you're taking teaching to another level.

"My husband was extremely supportive," she says. "He didn't know exactly what I was going through, but he knew this was a big deal and gave me time to work." With their free time, the pair went on hikes and camping trips to relieve stress.

In her opinion, it's the best professional development available to teachers. After being certified, Coyle says, she became "a much better teacher."


Photo: David Matteson

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