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Head of the Class - 5 EIS teachers earn certification

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By Brent Schanding

Landmark News Service

In a grueling one-year process, five Eminence Independent teachers found they - like their students - have many lessons to learn. All achieved National Board Certification, a rigorous multi-faceted process that gives them one of the highest teaching distinctions in the nation.

"This is a great staff," said Eminence Principal Dr. Steve Frommeyer, of all the district's teachers. And all the teachers being certified demonstrates this."

The tiny district now boasts nine NBCTs, Frommeyer said, including the five who were recognized this year. That distinction gives Eminence one of the highest Nationally Board Certified student-to-teacher ratios in the 14-member Ohio Valley Educational Cooperative. More importantly, maybe, it also gives the school a reason to celebrate.

"The National Board certification process is a very demanding process," said Barbara Upton, a second grade teacher at Eminence Elementary, who earned the distinction this year after unsuccessfully completing the regiment in years past. "It really makes you do a self-evaluation of how you teach in the classroom."

Upton said, realistically the process of documenting and meeting the prescribed board standards should be viewed as a one- to three-year process.

"I didn't make it the first year I tried the process, but thanks to support from my colleagues, principal and my family they encouraged me to continue the process," she said. "It was difficult to feel you failed as a teacher, especially when we teach our students to not give up."

But Upton said the key was perseverance.

"I always tell my students it takes some of us longer to get there, but you have to work hard to keep trying," she said. "Eventually you will get there."

Standards for NCBT are structured around a number of student development levels, as well as by subject, according to information provided by the NCBT organization. Candidates must provide evidence of their year's work through a professional portfolio. This portfolio includes videotaping themselves while teaching. It also must include collections of student work, written analyses of teaching methods and out-of-classroom experiences with families, colleagues and the community. Candidates additionally must pass an up to six-hour written assessment at the year's end. The number of NBCTs has nearly tripled in the past five years, from 23,930 in 2002 to nearly 64,000 in 2007. Kentucky ranks in the top 10 for its number of teachers who have passed the boards.

The NBCT process has no doubt helped teachers across the Commonwealth, including Upton, to become better teachers by focusing on their students.

"I look at my teaching differently and how best to ensure that each one of my students experience success and reach his or her potential," Upton said. "It helps you want to continue to develop professionally in your teaching and to make sure you bring new ideas and strategies into the classroom on a daily basis."

Upton said one of the ways her school focuses on student success is with individual learning plans. These state-mandated plans are tailored to students' needs and focus on individual strengths and areas which can be improved.

"This plan helps me to think about specific learning goals for each student and how I can strive to differentiate instruction to ensure success for each child in my classroom," Upton said. "The parents and students are valued partners in helping to improve learning opportunities."

Terry Walther, a 5/6 Language Arts teacher at Eminence, echoed Upton's sentiments. Walther also completed board certification this year and says the hard work has paid off in her classroom.

"The National Board Certification process was an affirming process for me," Walther said. "I thought that I was doing some good things in the classroom and that the students were learning and the National Board process affirmed this."

Joe Turner, a 7/8 Social Studies teacher at Eminence, who also passed the boards, said the process made him pause and reflect on the importance of his classroom lessons.

"Sometimes I would get in a hurry and not really reflect on how things went," he said.

Turner said in his efforts to squeeze all of the state's mandated core content into his lessons, it often became difficult to make sure his students were actually learning. The boards made Turner realize he should be reviewing material for student comprehension, before skipping to other subjects, so that no child is left behind.

Turner said the best way to ensure students are grasping the lesson is with increased interaction in the classroom.

"We do a lot of hands-on activities that keep the students involved and motivated," he said.

Turner's class will soon be holding a Hamilton-Jefferson debate to cover the presidential election of 1800, which will also tie into this year's debates and primaries.

Cara Puckett, another new NBCT, who instructs English and drama to Eminence juniors, also said interaction can make or break the classroom.

Her students were collaboratively writing skits last week, and she encouraged them to break into groups to further develop their characters. Puckett laughed with students as some discussed giving their protagonist a mullett or other exaggerated features.

"The true test of it is, a month from now if I ask them about it, are they going to understand it what I'm teaching," Puckett said. "You've got to leave the lecture podium behind."

More important than boosting her salary, Puckett said the board certification process made her realize the value of connecting with kids - something she said is more urgent than the state's mandated core content.

"Students work harder to make those good test scores if you feel like you care for them," she said.

All of this year's NCBTs said their hard work was worth it. The district held an in-school banquet last week to honor the achievements.

"I would encourage teachers who want to really examine the effectiveness of their teaching to participate in the National Board Certification process," Walther said.

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