Attaining National Board certification
After teachers have made it through the early years of their career, their attention turns toward professional advancement and earning their “30 and above,” the salary differential with the highest pay scale.
Officially known as the second differential (C6 + PD), most members achieve it by taking 30 course credits beyond their bachelor’s and master’s degrees. But a lesser-known path to the top differential is to receive certification from the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards.
“It’s a different trajectory of professional growth,” said Nick Norman, the UFT Teacher Center field staff and National Board candidate support coordinator. “Teachers become more collaborative with colleagues and strengthen the professional cultures of the schools they work in.”
What makes National Board certification unique is that it focuses on “the real kids who you are teaching and their learning process,” said Norman. As opposed to texts assigned in college courses with case studies based on students from decades past or in locations far away from New York, with the National Board certification process, “all the work and thinking you do is directly connected to the kids you know and work with.”
The process of becoming a National Board certified teacher involves digging deep into an area of specialization.
Stephanie Cullaj, the UFT Teacher Center instructional coach at PS 536 in the Bronx, is National Board certified as an exceptional needs specialist. “I became interested in the process because I wanted to grow as an educator and engage with my teaching on a more intellectual level,” she said. “I was eager to connect with other educators and be part of a larger learning community outside of my school.”
The opportunity to network with other teachers also motivated Thea Krumme, who has been National Board certified in literacy and is the UFT Teacher Center coach at Mosaic Prep Academy in Harlem. “Teaching can feel lonely and gets insular,” she said. Becoming certified allowed her to “work with amazing educators I would not otherwise have met.”
To be eligible for National Board certification, you must have a bachelor’s degree, a valid state teaching license and, by the time you achieve certification, you must have taught for three years. Teachers can choose to become certified in one of 25 specializations that range across common disciplines and student age groups.
There are four components to the certification process. To demonstrate content knowledge, teachers must pass an online assessment in their chosen certification area. They must also complete evidence-based portfolios across three additional competencies: differentiation in instruction, teaching practice and learning environment, and being an effective and reflective practitioner. In addition, candidates must submit a video demonstrating their teaching practice in action.
The components can be completed in any order, and each is evaluated separately. Submissions are scored centrally at the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards. All components must be completed within three years. If you do not pass one or more components, you have two additional years to retake them before needing to reapply. Once you become certified, you can extend your certification every five years by completing a condensed version of the four components.
As she first began to investigate what would be required to become National Board certified, Krumme found the process to be naturally aligned with her classroom practice. The four components were similar to the Danielson rubric that was already being used to evaluate her teaching. She said to herself, “I got this — I’m already doing this.”
The work teachers do to become National Board certified has practical applications for their classrooms. The process is essentially “self-directed professional learning that matches the goals we have for our students and ourselves as educators,” said Cullaj.
At its heart, National Board certification really is asking you “how well do I understand my students as learners and what can I do practically to increase their learning?” said Norman. The process “creates the in-depth thinking that you would like to do, but don’t usually have the opportunity to do.”
Krumme called National Board certification the best PD she had ever had.
“Teachers rarely get a chance to reflect,” said Krumme.“You have to move on to other things quickly and don’t have a chance to consider, ‘How would I do that differently? Did that reach all of my students?’ ”
New York State offers incentives that make National Board certification more attractive. NYSUT’s Albert Shanker Grant provides up to $2,500 per candidate for certification. Funding is first-come, first-served, but there are usually enough funds to meet demand. You must pay the first-year registration fee of $75 and $475 for the first component yourself, but after you receive the grant, you will be reimbursed for the first component, and the grant will cover the remaining three components outright. Beyond the yearly registration fee, your certification could be completely funded.
A teacher with a valid National Board certification is deemed to have satisfied the state requirement to complete 100 hours of CTLE professional development during the five-year period within which certification was attained. Maintaining certification may also qualify you for a reduction of CTLE course requirements as you enter another five-year cycle.
Becoming a National Board certified teacher is a widely recognized accomplishment that can be a career booster. After becoming certified, Cullaj became a college-level educator and an instructional coach. “The skills I obtained during the certification process, such as the deep knowledge of my content area and ability to discuss my pedagogical decisions using the language of the National Board standards, helped me obtain these opportunities,” she said.
If you’re interested in learning more about National Board certification, both the National Board Council of New York and the UFT Teacher Center offer webinars and information sessions with local certified educators and seasoned leaders.
The Teacher Center also conducts ongoing monthly support meetings for National Board certification applicants throughout the school year, as well as a writing institute in conjunction with NYSUT that provides one-on-one feedback timed to National Board deadlines. Candidates read one another’s submissions, and leaders provide the lens of how to give meaningful feedback that aligns with the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards’ framework.
“Going through the certification process helped me be more intentional about my instructional decisions,” said Cullaj. “Taking time to watch myself teach and write about my practice helped me see where my strengths were and make goals for ways to improve.”
And National Board certification is a reward in its own right.
“To be seen and honored by your peers,” Krumme said, was “a real confirmation and validation of my work.”