A recent article in the Tampa Bay Times highlighted a significant decrease in the number of Florida teachers who are achieving National Board Certification. (In 2015, only seventeen teachers received it statewide.) For me, the line that stood out in the article most was this:

“I guess we found out what the motivation was for National Board certification,” said Senate Education Appropriations Chairman Don Gaetz, adding there are no plans to restore the funding.

Senator Gaetz suggests that teachers have stopped pursuing this rigorous certification process because the monetary incentive from the state of Florida has been removed. Sounds bad, right? How can teachers demand respect for their profession if they are only motivated to pursue the Gold Seal of Teaching for financial gain? Shouldn’t all teachers want to improve their craft for the love of teaching alone?

Like most quotes from politicians, this one was designed to elicit an emotional response. Congratulations, Senator Gaetz. Mission accomplished. I’m guessing you don’t actually know much about National Board Certification or what investment it requires of teachers, so as a NBCT, let me give you some insight.

What National Board Certification is not:
1. It is not a required process. It is not required for employment in the State of Florida (or any other state).

2. It cannot be substituted for State certification. However, in Florida it can be used once as a substitute for the continuing education credits required to renew one’s license.

3. It does not guarantee employment. In and of itself, it does not give a teacher any preferential treatment in the hiring, retention, or promotion process.

4. It is not a requirement for any instructional position. Being “highly qualified” for certain teaching positions can be contingent upon a teacher obtaining ESOL certification, a Reading Endorsement or additional Add-On certificates. National Board certification is not a substitute for those licensing requirements.

5. It does not merit additional pay. My school district and union have successfully negotiated for Board Certified Teachers to earn $1000 for providing mentoring and training during the school year and/or a bonus for working in high needs schools. Mentoring opportunities are not guaranteed and neither is employment in a high needs school. Both of these bonuses are renegotiated every year and can be reduced or eliminated at any time.

6. It is not guaranteed. The national certification pass rate is about 40 percent.

What National Board Certification requires:

1. Money. The cost to apply for National Board certification was recently reduced to $1900, or 3.6% of an average teacher’s pre-tax wages. (It used to cost $2,500.) I suppose it would be fair to say that many teachers could easily afford that cost—if it weren’t for the fact that we are now required to pay 3% of our salary towards our retirement. Additionally, as a candidate, I had to purchase the supplies necessary to produce my portfolio.

2. Time. The certification process requires a two-hour, computer-based assessment on content knowledge. Candidates are also required to submit three portfolio entries (videos, examples of student work, and eight to ten pages of written reflections) that demonstrate mastery of lesson planning and delivery. We also have to reflect on our own teaching effectiveness and suggest improvements for future student learning. I spent an estimated 50 hours outside of the classroom on nights and weekends: meeting with a mentor to discuss my portfolio, reviewing my videotapes, choosing my exemplar video, and revising my reflections. Additionally, the certificate has to be renewed every 10 years.

3. Experience. A candidate must have minimum of 3 years of teaching experience before seeking certification. Multiple studies have reported that 20 percent of teachers leave within their first five years of teaching, making for a very small candidate pool.

What National Board Certification is to me (and others):
1. A measure of our dedication to the profession. It is an acknowledgment that we are deliberate in our teaching and working to promote best practices.

2. Some of the most profound personal and professional development a teacher can experience. I learned more about my teaching during the process than I have from any observation or evaluation.

3. An indication of teacher leadership. These are teachers that can mentor new or struggling teachers, build community relationships within schools, and chair committees and projects. In many schools, they are an untapped resource.

By way of comparison, my husband obtained a Professional Engineer license. It was not a condition of his employment. He asked his company for their support, and they paid for the application and test, the preparation course and books. He attended the classes and took the test on company time. His investment was fairly minimal. A few hours of studying at home and a handful of batteries for his calculator. Holding a PE license is a rare thing in his colleague circle, but his company valued the additional gravitas the license would bring to his work and his clients.

Clearly, teachers do not do what we do for the money. However, I don’t believe that it is unreasonable to pay experts for for their time and effort to pursue licensure that not only elevates the profession but also the teacher as a professional. Instead of deriding those who don’t (or can’t afford to) get certification because of the lack of incentive, how about we applaud those who choose to do so anyway?

Or perhaps a better question is: Why do some members of the Florida Legislature feel teachers who pursue such excellence should not be rewarded?

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