- Kentucky Education Commissioner Wayne Lewis asked the newly certified teachers to help recruit people to join the profession and to help ensure high-quality instruction for all Kentucky students.
- Lewis also said he wants to use the Kentucky NBCT network as a resource for the Kentucky Department of Education in areas of policy and practice.
By Mike Marsee
With almost 20 years in the classroom behind her, Melissa Smith is probably closer to the end of her teaching career than the beginning. Even so, she still is working to improve her craft in order to help her students.
Smith, a 5th-grade teacher at LBJ Elementary School (Breathitt County), took a significant step in her professional development by becoming certified by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS). She is now eager to share what she has learned through the certification process.
Smith is among 191 teachers who learned in December that they had earned National Board certification. More than 100 of them were recognized in a ceremony Feb. 19 at the Administrative Office of the Courts in Frankfort.
Smith said she hopes to use what she has learned to help LBJ Elementary, the same school she attended as a child.
“I plan to share some of the things I’ve learned with my colleagues, and I’m already doing some of that,” Smith said. “I hope to continue that, and I hope to continue the strategies I’ve learned with my own students. We have some struggling kids, and hopefully I can take what I’ve learned and use it to change things for them.”
Kentucky Education Commissioner Wayne Lewis told the teachers being recognized that he wants to use Kentucky’s more than 3,700 National Board Certified Teachers (NBCT) on two fronts to improve education in the state.
First, he said, NBCTs can help promote teaching as a career option for young people at a time when the number of people entering the profession in the state is declining. He pointed to statewide shortages in the areas of special education, career and technical education and world languages, along with regionalized shortages in broader areas such as elementary school teachers.
“We have tremendous work to do in elevating our profession and helping people – especially young people – across the Commonwealth to better understand what a career as a teacher could look like,” Lewis said. “I need your help in building the profession, because – I say this as a teacher – I think we are some of the worst folks in the world in recruiting people to come do what we do.”
Second, Lewis said, NBCTs can have a role in helping to ensure all of Kentucky’s students have access to high-quality, effective instruction.
“Where we have room to grow is in building our collective capacity to the place where there are not just a handful of superstars or examples of extraordinary teachers, but where many more of our kids have access to folks like you,” he said. “That is going to rest really in large part on teacher leaders like you, content and pedagogical experts across the state who can help to build the capacity of our colleagues. There’s no substitute for it.”
There are three NBCTs at LBJ Elementary, a Targeted Support and Improvement school with a free and reduced-price meals rate of 77 percent, and seven in the Breathitt County schools, including two who were certified last year. Smith said she would like to work to bring more teachers into the NBCT network.
“I would like to work as a mentor to other national board teachers if I can get others interested,” she said. “I think it can change things. Not only does it change our ways of teaching, but it also has given me a sense of confidence.
“It made me try some new ways of teaching. It made me change my ways of thinking about teaching and reflecting. It also helped me get to know some of my students more. I think, over time, I wasn’t meeting my students in the middle anymore. I was just moving them to my territory.”
Smith said she had been interested in National Board certification from the early years of her career, but other events in her life pushed the idea to the back burner until she learned of an initiative by SOAR (Shaping Our Appalachian Region) designed to help create a STEM-based workforce in eastern Kentucky.
SOAR’s initiative includes better preparing 100 teachers in 27 Appalachian school districts in Kentucky to educate children in STEM fields and to provide training for other teachers. Sixty-four teachers graduated last fall from a three-year program in which they earned a master’s degree in teacher leadership from Morehead State University and the University of Pikeville and National Board certification, along with certification for Project Lead the Way STEM curricula.
“It’s really wonderful to see universities embrace National Board certification and recognize it for the quality of professional development that it is, and to even give teachers college credit for that,” said Holly Bloodworth, a member of the board of directors and past president of the Kentucky NBCT Network.
Smith said the tuition-free program provided an opportunity she couldn’t pass up.
“I thought I had an opportunity to better myself and do a better job for students if I could achieve that,” said Smith, who took advantage of the program to earn her second master’s degree.
Smith said she had an effective mentor in Amy Keadle, an NBCT who is working with the SOAR STEM initiative at Morehead State and who visited her classroom frequently and met with her and others in the program on evenings and weekends. She said the mentorship and the meetings were invaluable, both as an encouragement and as an enlightenment.
“I don’t think I could have made it through without that. I got to meet teachers from several other counties and got to talk to them about strategies and techniques. I learned there were better ways of reaching students than I’m used to, other ways of thinking,” Smith said. “The hardest part was giving up some of the strategies and techniques I’d been accustomed to. When I watched myself in videos, I would think, ‘She’s right, I do need to change some things I’m doing.’”
Kentucky remains among the leading states in National Board certification. With 3,794 NBCTs, Kentucky ranks sixth among the 50 states and the District of Columbia in the percentage of NBCTs (9.46 percent) and eighth nationally in the total number of NBCTs. Its 2018 class of new NBCTs was the fourth-largest in the nation, and another 833 candidates are working toward certification.
The Kentucky General Assembly set a goal of having one NBCT in every school by 2020. Lewis said the Kentucky Department of Education (KDE) is placing a higher value on certification by asking the legislature to revise its statute that classifies teachers to allow teachers to use National Board certification to qualify for Rank II status.
“We value National Board teacher certification, and we want to see that recognized in the way that we reward teachers in that structure,” he said.
Lewis also said he would like to make better use of the NBCT network as a resource for KDE.
“There are lots of issues that we’re grappling with in the areas of policy and practice where we could use your input, where we could use your insight, where we could use your experience,” Lewis said. “We’re committed to working with this network to tap that resource much more often and use you as a partner in the work that we do. I’m looking forward to having the opportunity to work much more closely with you.”
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