Lincoln Academy teacher Kelley Duffy has been certified by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards as a qualified Social Studies Teacher. Although this may sound like a rubber stamp to the uninitiated, National Board Certification is anything but. “This is definitely the hardest thing I have done in my professional life,” reports Duffy, who has been teaching for 18 years. “The certification process is a more rigorous examination of what I do as a teacher than anything else I have done.”
According to their website, the National Board has a three-part mission: “Maintaining high and rigorous standards for what accomplished teachers should know and be able to do; providing a voluntary system certifying teachers who meet these standards, and advocating education reforms to integrate National Board Certification in American education and to capitalize on the expertise of National Board Certified Teachers.”
This is Duffy’s first year teaching at Lincoln Academy. She started the National Board Certification Process while teaching at Wiscasset High School, which received a National TIF (Teacher Incentive Fund) grant. “Wiscasset required that all teachers begin the National Board Certification, but they were not required to finish the whole thing.” Many of Duffy’s fellow teachers completed the “Take One” section of the first portfolio entry and stopped there, but not Duffy. “The process was challenging, but I really enjoyed it, so I chose to go on and do the next steps.”
Once teachers initiate the Certification process, they have three years to complete four portfolio entries and pass several exams. Each portfolio entry requires significant work on the teacher’s part. The first two entries require the teacher to videotape a segment of class and write an analysis of the class. Each video entry has specific content and format requirements; for example, one video must include student group work during class. The third entry is focused on student writing, and how Social Studies can be a vehicle for improving writing skills. Finally, the fourth entry asks teachers to demonstrate how their life outside the classroom impacts their teaching.
All four portfolio entries have an assessment component, asking teachers to answer the questions: “How do you know that students learned what you wanted them to learn? What do you do if you discover they are not learning?”
In addition to the four self-reported entries, teachers take subject-area tests as part of their certification. In Social Studies the required subjects include History, Civics, Government, and Economics. “You have to know your Standards,” Duffy says of these tests. “You have to be able to write essays in a way that demonstrate familiarity with both the subject matter and the standards.”
Why would teachers put themselves through this bruising process? “In some states, and in some Maine public schools, National Board Certified teachers make significantly higher salaries than other teachers,” says Duffy. While this is not true at Lincoln Academy, which is an independent school, the certification work was still worthwhile. “It was never about the money for me,” Duffy insists. “The process was worth it in itself.”
As Lincoln Academy Head of School David Sturdevant says, “I have supervised teachers in the past who have achieved their National Board Certification, and I can attest to the amount of work that goes into the process. It’s a significant learning experience for the teacher, and it provides a real opportunity for growth. It’s a good way for teachers to look at themselves and various aspects of their teaching, and provides a valuable chance for self reflection.”
According to Associate Head of School Andy Mullin, “Kelley Duffy is an incredible asset to the Lincoln Academy’s teaching staff… Kelley is a confident educator, and her students have found her to be welcoming, engaging, and motivating. Her National Board certification punctuates an already accomplished career. We are very fortunate to have her with us.”
“The certification process gave me a structured way to reflect on my practice as a teacher,” says Duffy. The questions asked over and over again by the National Board are incredibly useful in developing better teaching practices. How do you know students have learned what you wanted them to learn? What if they didn’t learn it? Now what?
“This was by far the most useful professional development I have ever done. I am a better teacher for going through this process. I definitely gained new skills that I use every day.”
Her new boss, Mr. Sturdevant, commends her achievement. “I applaud Kelley for completing the process, as I know it took a great deal of effort and commitment on her part.”
National Board certification for teachers is good for ten years.