Professional Learning

How and Why to Become a National Board Certified Teacher

Through a four-step process, teachers can obtain a certification that promotes job security and demonstrates self-efficacy.

February 21, 2024
Neil Webb / The iSpot

Recently, my colleague and I logged into our emails, and we saw a colorful image, with fireworks. We knew what it meant immediately. After our many coffee shop study sessions, we had become National Board Certified. A couple of years ago, I would have honestly told you that you could have kept the fireworks and that I had better things to do. Now, though, I feel quite differently. 

What is National Board Certification?

National Board Certification is achieved completely by passing one exam and submitting three components online through a portal on the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards website. The exam is a few hours, taken at a local testing facility. Depending on your certification area, it is composed of both knowledge-based questions and several written essays. 

The other three components are meant to showcase your ability to incorporate the National Board Standards into your teaching practice in and outside of the classroom. These standards wrap themselves around the five core propositions that an “accomplished teacher” uses to teach, reflect, and grow. As a middle childhood specialist, I took the middle childhood specialist exam (Component 1).

Then, I completed Component 2, which showcased my ability to professionally examine my writing instruction. I then worked on Component 3, which was a submission of two videotaped lessons with reflection. Each video was less than 15 minutes involving a small group and a whole group, respectively. The written reflection was about six double-spaced pages and was my opportunity to explain the use of the National Board Certified Teacher (NBCT) standards in my practice. Finally, I submitted a final fourth component, which asked me to target assessment and community in powerful ways. 

I took two years to certify, doing only two components each year. But you can do so in as little as one year or even take up to five years if needed. In order to apply, teachers must currently have at least three years of classroom experience.

It’s a perfect time to become certified

It has never been a better time to become an NBCT, at least not in the 25 years I have been teaching. For starters, being an NBCT opens doorways on applications and classifies you as an accomplished teacher regardless of location. If you’re seeking a new position, becoming an NBCT is an excellent way to illustrate your professionalism of practice. That’s always been true. But there are two recent reasons why I decided to go for it.

First, times are changing. Many educational leaders are concerned about teacher retention, and terms like teacher expertise and self-efficacy are discussed more and more recently as a means to retain teachers. National Board Certification is therefore a great thing to have on an email tag, because it tells your fellow colleagues that you’ve shown “clear, consistent, and compelling” evidence that you have self-efficacy and expertise. Since nearly all of the NBCT standards are associated with a teacher taking a leadership role, you will have both the tools and the credentials that garner a special kind of respect.

The second reason I decided to become an NBCT is my favorite—and perhaps it will be yours as well—money. Many districts offer higher salaries simply for becoming certified. And right now, the chances are your state is sitting on stimulus funds encouraging teachers to become NBCTs. Here in California, for example, teachers receive up to $2,500 to pay for the full cost of certification, even if they do not pass one or more components. After receiving certification, teachers who are on the high-priority schools list (about half of all California schools are) will receive a $5,000 reward each year, through 2026 and possibly beyond. Find out what your state is offering, and also check with your district’s credentialing department.

How to Begin the Process of Certification

Now that you know what certification is and why you should do it, let’s get you started. The deadline to enroll for 2024’s certification cycle is the end of February, as is the deadline to select which components you wish to take. You may want to consider a two-year goal like I did. However, before signing up, be sure to connect with district and state programs that may pay for the program for you. 

In terms of preparing for the process academically, I hear other NBCTs say they wish they had done two things from the very start. First, join a popular NBCT group on Facebook, on Instagram, or through another of your social media accounts. Just by scrolling through your feed, you’ll hear about schedules and common concerns or questions associated with certification. You’ll also find quick links to stipends and rewards if any exist.

Second, reach out to your district to find and join a cohort of teachers going through the process together. Not all districts offer groups to join, but there are some through the internet that I have heard good things about. For example, I found an NBCT Facebook group that was invaluable to me as a quick reference, for a check-in question, or even for an occasional impromptu Zoom group to work with on a Saturday. You can find a paid program and study group online. However, I recommend hearing from someone who has actually certified before you do.

As a teacher with the San Diego Unified School District, I couldn’t find a local cohort of teachers, and working online didn’t fit my preferred learning style. So, a few colleagues of mine made a group together. We checked in about every two months and set homework for ourselves related to the component tasks. I am notoriously terrible with uploading anything and my colleague has a hard time with editing. Over coffee, every so often, we got it done together and laughed about it along the way.

Finally, I recommend Bobbie Faulkner’s books, Successful Strategies for Pursuing National Board Certification, Version 3.0, which cover Components 1–4. Now is the time to go get your National Board Certification. The stars are aligned. Fireworks are waiting for you, too.

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