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National Board Certification: A Different Kind of Professional Development

by Larry Linnen
May / June 2001


In fall 1993, teachers from all over the United States were asked to participate in a pilot assessment of the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS). Knowing little about the certification standards, a language-arts colleague and I decided to participate. We considered ourselves to be master teachers, and we believed that this pilot assessment and board certification might furnish more evidence of that mastery. The pilot program involved preparing a portfolio of practice that included unedited videotapes of our classrooms, students' work, analyses of our practices, and documentation of accomplishments.

We both completed our portfolios on time, and we both received scores that did not make the cutoffs of the standards established by the Board. In fact, the success rate nationwide was low. We were devastated, but we agreed that the results in no way diminished our perceptions of our own status as master teachers. We also agreed that we should have spent our time writing clearly about our practices rather than trying to figure out what the National Board wanted.

I decided to try for the certification again, but my colleague declined the opportunity. To understand why I considered trying again, I reflected on the whole NBPTS experience. Over a period of several months, I analyzed what the certification process had meant and how—or if—it affected my teaching.

The reflection helped me conclude that being immersed in the certification process had forced me to think clearly and in depth about my practice. The classroom videotapes offered a means to study and reflect on the classroom interaction without relying only on memory. Analyses of students' work forced me to think deeply about individual performances and the effectiveness of my teaching. Writing about personal pedagogy and how I used the thinking and reflection to influence my work gave me insights for structuring my teaching. Defining and clarifying instructional goals before class became routine. Basing real-time instructional decisions on students' responses also became the norm in my classroom. Going through the certification process essentially helped me form habits of mind that continue to be a part of my professional development.

Going through the NBPTS process forced me to do long-term reflection on teaching, and made me wonder whether I needed all the other in-service training to improve my teaching. Some studies (see the article by Andrew Zucker in this issue) show that, in general, teachers place little value on typical, one-shot district in-service sessions. However, a question remains for me: were the shorter one-shot in-service sessions necessary to get me to a point where considering national certification could happen?


National Board for Professional Teaching Standards. "Accomplished Teaching: A Validation of National Board Certification: Executive Summary." World Wide Web.

National Council of Teachers of Mathematics. "National Board Certified Teachers Top of the Class." World Wide Web.


Larry Linnen currently teaches mathematics at Eaglecrest High School in Aurora, Colorado, and conducts professional development sessions for mathematics teachers throughout the United States. He was certified in 1998 by the National Board of Professional Teaching Standards as an early adolescent generalist.




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