I recently watched a documentary about teachers and the National Board process called Mitchell 20. The efforts of one of those teachers, Daniela Robles, made an incredible impression on me. After attaining National Board certification in 2004, I have not been able to convince any of my colleagues to do the same. Daniela was so moved by the National Board process, that she was able to convince twenty of her elementary school colleagues to sign up for the rigorous program.
National Board candidates have a less than 50% chance of certifying in their first year. The process often takes three years for teachers to attain National Board status; many who attempt to become Board Certified never succeed. The narrator of Mitchell 20, Edward James Olmos, compares the National Board process to being every bit as challenging as lawyers taking the Bar Exam. What Daniela and her colleagues discovered, however, is just because you’re a Board Certified teacher does not mean that the policy-makers in education will respect your attainment of mastery and seek your input when making decisions that affect our schools.
By focusing on National Board certification with so many faculty members, Daniela led her colleagues in an unprecedented form of professional development at her school. Only three of the teachers who attempted full certification attained that level in their first attempt, but each one of the candidates stated that they improved in their practice due to the process required of candidates.
National Board Certified teachers are proven to be effective educators. Daniela proved to be so effective at her own school that the upper level administration in her school district wanted Daniela to share her expertise with other teachers at another school – a great compliment to her efforts and accomplishments. The only problem with their plan was the administrators never asked Daniela what she thought of their idea. The administrative decision, made without any input from the teacher level, caused several other major changes at Daniela’s school. Without telling too much of the story before you view Mitchell 20, those administrative changes that were made at the school level could have resulted in Daniela’s colleagues losing motivation to continue with their National Board progress and losing their gains in effectiveness, and student achievement.
I’d like to believe that policymakers in education and upper-level administrators want to see the same levels of high achievement in our schools that teachers and parents want to see. Unfortunately, teachers are at the bottom of the decision-making chain. By virtue of having completed twelve or more years of education, most people “know” about schools. That doesn’t mean that everyone knows about how students learn, or understands the conditions that are required for effective teachers. Mitchell 20 accurately documents the process of teachers working through the process required to be Nationally Certified, but it also brings to light how our education policy is created from an unbalanced perspective, with too little input from education’s practitioners – the teachers.
In the Mitchell 20 documentary, Daniela Robles stated that she found her voice for education as she became Board Certified. I hope that more teachers will consider going through the process of National Board Certification and that they will collectively raise their voices to be heard among the educational policy makers in our country. Let the teachers speak….and the children will learn.