Four instructors pass tests to gain national prestige
URBANA – Phyllis Peete's experience filling requirements for national teacher certification – and her failure the first time – gave her valuable perspective about her students' success.
"It made me look at them closely," said Peete, a fifth-grade teacher at Thomas Paine School. "Sometimes, when they don't get something done, I now say, 'Fine, but go back and do it again. I understand sometimes things are hard and it takes more time to get it.'"
"Certification was a humbling experience and it makes you see things differently," Peete said. "You learn to empathize."
Peete in Urbana, Champaign teachers Viktoria Ford and Jason Franklin, and Danville High School social studies teacher Andrew Davis all learned the Friday before Thanksgiving that their certification efforts were successful.
National certification is a voluntary process that takes at least a year and requires teachers to submit portfolios about their work, take tests covering their subjects and examine every aspect of their classroom work. There are financial rewards for teachers who successfully complete the work. Most districts give them raises, and the state also gives them a stipend.
Davis started working on his certification last year, the first year he was eligible. He passed, but he said it was a real advantage to be not long out of college.
"It's much more difficult than getting a master's degree," Davis said. "The quality of writing you have to do is very upper college level and you remember it, the academic jargon. Older teachers have been removed from that for a while."
Like Peete, Franklin, a Centennial High School math teacher, and Ford, a Barkstall School art teacher, started the process two years ago, failed to pass the first time and redid portions of their first-year work to raise their scores.
Franklin, who also teaches classes to prepare students to take their college-entrance exams, retook two tests. "The first time I didn't get one done because I ran out of time," he said. "That's the opposite of what I tell my ACT students. It was embarrassing."
He said he felt like crying when he looked at the scope of the material he had to master. He also turned to teaching videos.
"If you don't teach calculus, it gets away from you," he said. "I used videos to learn teaching strategies. This forces you to think about what you're doing now and six months from now. It makes you think about what you want your students to be. My students say my teaching has changed dramatically."
Franklin said it helped to have supportive colleagues at Centennial and at CentraI's math department. And Centennial Principal Judy Wiegand's leadership was important, he said.
"It's great to work with administrators and math teachers who let you make changes," Franklin said. "I made some radical ones. I no longer use textbooks, and that's a big change for me."
Franklin said he signed up thinking he was going to prove he already taught at the level required for certification.
"After six months, I realized I wasn't," he said. "I realized I wasn't doing some things correctly. When I missed the first time, it was humbling."
Peete, who's been teaching at Paine since 1979, redid her writing portfolio. "I spent a lot of time on it," she said. "I looked at the old portfolio and knew right away what I had to focus on. I worked at night and on weekends, and I did a lot of work over spring break."
Ford also retook two tests. "One involves memorizing the entire history of Western painting, analyzing images and artists and history and impacts, and the other was materials and processes," she said.
Ford tackled the first task by checking out videos. "I thought, who better than Sister Wendy," Ford said. "She does the entire history of art on her PBS show. I made charts following the art and influences all the way down, who was influenced by whom, notebooks full of charts."
"I don't ever want to go through that again."
Davis decided to try for certification as soon as he was eligible because his student-teaching mentor, Stanley Otto at Bloomington High School, was certified and set such a good example.
"I went to all the mentoring meetings in Urbana," he said. "They were extremely beneficial. The directions for the portfolios alone were 80 pages long. But the hardest thing was looking at the videotapes. You have to tape yourself for a day, and looking at them you think, 'No wonder students were falling asleep in class.' Knowing what I was trying to do and seeing what was actually occurring, let's just say we weren't always on the same page."
Davis said the biggest change he's made is in his thinking. "I never thought about impacts on student learning like I do now after I've gone through the program," he said. "Now I'm always thinking about it. It's subconscious."
"I recommend certification to teachers who really want to grow," Ford said. "It makes you look at every area of your teaching, at national standards and at things like teaching multiculturalism in respectful ways."
"The school environment is so fast paced, you never have time to sit back and examine what you did last year and think about goals for next year," Franklin said. "Also, you have to be willing to let other teachers help you, to listen to advice. It's good to have someone not in math look at what I'm doing. I should be able to explain it to anyone."