I vividly remember the first time I was surrounded by National Board Certified Teachers (NBCTs) because the difference in this group was palpable. Complaining was low, celebrating was high. Negativity was low, positivity was high. For the first time I could remember, I was in a group of teachers who talked—seemingly endlessly—about innovation in their classrooms and schools. They were clearly leaders in their field: speaking, writing, mentoring, and presenting to audiences large and small.
I remember thinking, “Maybe there’s something to this. Maybe there’s something ‘in the NBCT water’ that creates these educators.”
What is National Board Certification?
The National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS) homepage immediately asserts: “National Board Certification is the most respected professional certification available in education.”
But what about a PhD or EdD? While doctorates are highly commendable and incredible feats, they are, almost by definition, academic. PhD programs are generally researched-based, and EdD programs mix research with practical application. National Board Certification, however, is nearly entirely based on your knowledge of students and your ability to effectively teach.
Teachers are committed to students and their learning.
Teachers know the subjects they teach and how to teach those subjects to students.
Teachers are responsible for managing and monitoring student learning.
Teachers think systematically about their practice and learn from experience.
Teachers are members of learning communities.
Why Become an NBCT?
Reason #1: Certification makes a difference for teachers.
In 21 years as an educator, the National Board Certification process ranks in the top 3 professional development experiences I’ve ever undertaken. It pushed me to grow, despite my periodic resistance. The process required me to reflect on my practice and choices more than I ever had before. Consequently, I had to swallow pride and make tough choices. I had to let go of strategies I’d been using for years because I no longer could justify their effectiveness. In doing so, I grew. I looked at my students differently, and I tried new strategies. Not everything worked--to be sure, failure was involved--but the certification path accelerated my practice as a teacher.
Reason #2: Certification makes a difference for students.
The NBPTS proudly states: “There is a decade of research to support the impact that Board-certified teachers have on students. Students of Board-certified teachers learn more than their peers without Board-certified teachers. Studies have also found that the positive impact of having a Board-certified teacher is even greater for BiPOC and low-income students.” I have found this to be true. In becoming a stronger version of professional self, I have seen my students make incredible strides, becoming stronger versions of themselves as learners.
Reason #3: Certification can equal dollars.
Depending on your district and state, becoming a NBCT can be tied to financial incentives. In the Poudre school district, for example, NBCTs receive an additional $1500 per year that their certification is current. (Additionally, some districts help cover the cost of the four components.) Until 2021, the state of Colorado gave a $1600 yearly stipend to NBCTs, but that was lost during the pandemic. However, there is a group of Colorado NBCTs who have worked hard to get the stipend back, and there is support from CEA and the Dept. of Ed. as well. A bill passed in the House in the spring session, so there is momentum.
Reason #4: It was created by teachers.
Teachers tend to have a strong distrust--and rightfully so--of anyone outside of education telling us how it should be done. The NBPTS process, however, was created by teachers, for teachers. When we know we’re “among our own”, we know there’s more value to be had, and there’s more trust from the start.
Reason #5: Certification opens doors.
When I first began the certification process, my teaching mentor (an NBCT) said, “Certification is hard, but it’s worth it. It will open doors you never knew about.” At the time, I thought, “What doors?” Looking back, I know how right she was. Certification opens NBCTs up to a whole networking world that is worth its weight in gold. Further, it paves the way to fellowships, leadership roles, and professional recognition in a variety of forms.
As much as I believe in National Board Certification, it isn’t perfect. It’s expensive, though recent developments in payment plans have helped, and the instructions are notoriously and needlessly verbose. Importantly, the NBPTS only offers world language certification in Spanish and French at the time of this post. This is a significant issue, and there are teachers pushing for (the much-needed) expansion. Overall, however, the benefits far outweigh the drawbacks.
Curious about learning more? Resources abound! “Achieving National Board Certification as a World Language Teacher” was a past CCFLT conference session, and a re-recording is available, along with companion videos that are specific to Component 1 and Component 2. The Facebook group “National Board Certification for World Language Teachers” is invaluable and full of candidates seeking answers to questions and current NBCTs offering support.
Erin E.H. Austin is a National Board Certified French teacher in Fort Collins and the author of The Ultimate Guide to Selling Your Original World Language Resources and Going Global in the World Language Classroom (coming September 2023). Ms. Austin is the 2023 CCFLT Teacher of the Year. Follow her on Twitter @Erin-EH-Austin.