By Mike Marsee
The day meant so much to Susan Stephens, she wanted to share it with someone special.
Stephens – a special education teacher at Duff Elementary School (Floyd County) – brought her daughter, 5th-grader Emily Johnson, to the Kentucky State Capitol on Tuesday for a ceremony honoring the latest class of Kentucky teachers who have been certified by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards.
Stephens said she wasn’t the only one whose life and everyday routine were affected during the three-year process, which is why she wanted her daughter to be part of the celebration.
“She sacrificed a lot, and I just felt that she needed to learn from this experience and learn that hard work really does pay off,” Stephens said.
“I had to do some chores that I usually don’t do,” Johnson said. “I know it took her a lot of time to earn this.”
The work of 88 Kentucky teachers was rewarded last year with National Board certification, which signifies that teachers have developed and demonstrated the advanced knowledge, skills and practices required of an outstanding educator. Almost two-thirds of them attended Tuesday’s event, where their efforts were celebrated by education officials, legislators and others.
“When you get that email that says you’re certified, it feels like balloons should fall from the sky. It’s very anticlimactic,” said Suzanne Farmer, a National Board-certified teacher and the director of the Kentucky Network to Transform Teaching. “This is one of the most exciting days in Frankfort, I think, because it is an opportunity to recognize teachers who have gone above and beyond. So much of what teachers do goes unrecognized and uncelebrated, and it’s wonderful to celebrate these teachers for what they’ve done.”
Stephens crossed the certification finish line months ago, but she said Tuesday’s event meant a great deal to her.
“This is a very special day,” she said. “I have worked extremely hard. I love my profession. This is just a day that I can sit back and accept the gratitude that is greatly appreciated by all the teachers in the state of Kentucky.”
Stephens was part of a group of teachers from Floyd County who represented the largest percentage increase of any Kentucky school district in the number of National Board-certified teachers (NBCTs), with 10 new NBCTs for a total of 28 in a district with about 400 teachers.
Statewide, Kentucky has seen a 20 percent increase in its number of National Board-certified teachers over the past three years, according to data from the National Board. School district leaders are working to meet a goal set in 2000 by the Kentucky General Assembly that calls for having at least one National Board certified teacher in every Kentucky school by 2020. Kentucky ranks sixth nationally in the percentage of teachers who are National Board-certified (7.83 percent) and ninth in the total number of National Board-certified teachers (3,273), with another 763 teachers currently pursuing certification.
“Kentucky is a leader in the nation and continues to strive to meet the goal of 2020 that was set for us 16 years ago,” said Amanda Ellis, an associate commissioner in the Kentucky Department of Education. “The National Board certification process prepares teachers to lead from the classroom by coaching and modeling effective instructional strategies to improve learning experiences for all students. National Board certification also supports teacher voice and elevates the teaching profession, which is absolutely essential in our state.”
Kentucky supports National Board certification by giving NBCTS a $2,000 salary bonus for the life of their certificate, and by allowing those holding Rank II certificates to apply for Rank I certification and to serve as mentors for NBCT candidates.
“We want to encourage you to continue to strive to be better and encourage your colleagues to do the same for the children of our Commonwealth,” Ellis told the group.
Stephen Gamble, a language arts teacher at Trimble County Middle School who became the first teacher in his school to earn National Board certification, said his students also have benefited from what he learned through the process.
“By working on this, my lessons are better. I’m giving things to them that I never knew that I could do. They are really learning more, and I think it’s because the program teaches you to really look at your work, reflect on yourself and say, ‘This is good, but let’s see where we can go from there,’” Gamble said.
Stephens said she is better serving her special education students as well.
“I’m able to understand what they need, where they come from, all the specially designed instruction that is needed for each child,” she said.