Professional Learning

Becoming an Accomplished Teacher in the 21st Century

March 30, 2001

Marilyn and Dave Forrest became the first teachers at Logan High School to receive National Board Certification.

Credit: Dave and Marilyn Forrest

Since 1994, more than 9,000 teachers have been awarded National Board Certification, which acknowledges professional teaching excellence following a challenging portfolio and written essay assessment.

Dave and Marilyn Forrest, husband-and-wife teachers at James Logan High School in Union City, California, achieved board certification in 1999. As long-time teacher leaders who had been county or district Teacher of the Year, Dave, a history teacher, and Marilyn, an English teacher, were asked by their principal to become the first teachers at Logan to seek certification.

After a year of preparation and testing that had to fit around full-time school schedules and the obligations of raising four children, they met the stiff standards for what a teacher should know and do in the classroom set by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards. They received certification in 1999. Combined, the Forrests' preparation represented more than 400 hours and 180 pages of work compilation, reflection, and writing. They each received a $10,000 stipend from the state of California for becoming board-certified, but, as for most of the teachers who seek the honor, money was not the motivating factor.

"Just the opportunity to look hard at my teaching at this point in my career appealed to me," says Dave. "It's good to raise professionalism among teachers. I think it will not only raise the perception the public has of teachers, but it will improve the quality of instruction. ... For me personally, it's satisfying. It shows that I've done something very difficult in my craft."

Marilyn says the achievement was particularly meaningful because she very much agrees with the standards set by the board. "If we're ever going to improve the perception of teachers in the country, we'll have to start raising the standards," she says. As for the benefit to the individual teachers, certification "is one way of being recognized without being moved out of the classroom."

In this article, the Forrests tell how integration of technology into their respective curriculums played an important role in demonstrating to the NBPTS panel their certification-worthy teaching skills and ability to make school both interesting and illuminating for their students. -- Ed.

After teaching high school history and English for many years at James Logan High School, we decided to accept the challenge of becoming National Board Certified teachers. During the intense, yearlong journey to demonstrate we were accomplished teachers, we videotaped our classrooms, compiled a portfolio of our classroom practices, documented our contact with parents and our professional colleagues, and took four rigorous written tests in our certification area. Throughout the process, instructional technology played an important role in helping us meet the rigorous challenges of National Board Certification.

The National Board for Professional Teaching Standards was formed over a decade ago. Its mission is to "establish high and rigorous standards for what accomplished teachers should know and be able to do; (and) to develop and operate a national, voluntary system to assess and certify teachers who meet these standards." The National Board is unique because all of the assessments are developed by teachers, and only practicing teachers are involved in the scoring of the assessments.

Technology Supports National Board Certification

Currently, the NBPTS standards do not require certified teachers to demonstrate proficiency in the use of computers with their students. However, we found the use of computers in our classroom an important component of our accomplished teaching and our attempts to achieve National Board Certification.

For example, as part of the social science-history certification, Dave needed to show that his history students were making real-world connections between the past and the communities they live in today. Dave had his students create an Internet publishing project called History Close to Home. In this project, students wrote an interview of a person who lived through an important historical event. Once students completed their historical research and wrote their interviews, they published their stories on the Internet.

Publishing their interviews on the Internet proved to be a powerful experience for Dave's students. First, students worked hard to write well because they were writing for a real audience. Second, the project incorporated valuable skills: Each student learned how to create a Web page, take a digital photo, scan a picture, and design original digital artwork. Most important, this project brought history alive by documenting the stories of parents who had fought in wars, relatives who had escaped persecution in other countries, and senior citizens who had lived during the Great Depression.

Connection to the Community

The History Close to Home project also helped Dave demonstrate his outreach to his students' families and the community, a requirement for National Board Certification. For example, Dave received an e-mail from Erika's mother that said, "Erika loves your class. ... My family is excited about the Web site. My brother and sister are waiting patiently for it to be completed so they can visit it. My mother, who is computer-shy, plans to go over to a friend's house to see it." In addition, Dave created a classroom Web page with daily classroom assignments linked to Internet resources to help students with those assignments. Parents appreciated being able to use this Internet page to follow the progress of their student's class.

The use of technology in Marilyn's English class helped her fulfill the "Student Response to Text" portfolio requirement. Teachers are asked to show how they use non-print text or media to help teach reading. Marilyn exposes her students to a variety of literature and other media to help them make connections among different forms of writing and across content areas. She wants them to become engaged emotionally in what they read and learn to have empathy for others, even if in an imagined setting. A computer program Marilyn developed on Of Mice and Men asks students to examine and respond to Dorothea Lange photographs from the Depression prior to reading the novel. One entry in her portfolio is a student poem called "Lonely in Poverty." This poem was written in response to the lesson, demonstrating the student's emotional engagement with the pictures and her readiness to begin reading John Steinbeck's 1930s-era novel.

One aspect of accomplished teaching, according to the National Board, is contributing to the improvement of the teaching profession as a whole. Marilyn's design of several computer-based multimedia curriculums helped her achieve a high score in the "Documented Accomplishments" area of her National Board portfolio. She demonstrated how technology should not be a skill taught in isolation but one integrated into the content areas. These curriculums supplement the teaching of reading and writing skills for the core works taught in ninth and 10th grades. She has encouraged and trained other teachers to use the computers they have in their classrooms by sharing the lessons she has developed.

In November 1999, we received the good news that both of us had achieved National Board Certification. The road to becoming nationally board-certified teachers was often difficult, but achieving certification provided a real sense of accomplishment and validation in a profession that often comes with few rewards. The National Board Certification process is a beginning toward raising the bar we set for all of our nation's teachers.

Our belief is that being an accomplished teacher in the 21st century must include the thoughtful integration of technology into classroom instruction. Our hope is that helping students learn to use powerful computer tools will become an expectation for all teachers, and a hallmark of our most accomplished ones.

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