SCHENECTADY -- Just one school district in the state has more teachers who have earned National Board Certification than Schenectady, a certification considered the “gold standard” by many educators.
And that district has over 1 million students.
The Schenectady City School District for more than a decade has claimed a disproportionate share of teachers in the state who have earned the certification through a rigorous and lengthy process of demonstrating content mastery and an understanding of how they approach teaching in their classrooms.
The district counts more of the nationally-certified teachers among its ranks than any district in the state outside New York City. Of the 97 newly-certified teachers across the state in 2019, seven came from Schenectady schools.
“There are a lot of Schenectady teachers going through the process, and I thought I wanted to be a part of that experience,” said Nicole Hanson, an eighth grade English Language Arts teachers at Oneida Middle School who earned the certification last month.
The National Board certification process requires teachers to complete a series of tasks ranging from passing a content test based on their subject to a video demonstration of how they teach in the classroom. Teachers have to submit examples of student work, explain how they differentiate their approach to teaching different students and provide nearly 100 pages of writing reflecting on their work.
“You become so much more thoughtful about details you didn’t think about before,” said Carrie Britt, a social studies teacher on the same eighth grade teaching team as Hannon who also earned the National Board certification last month.
The Schenectady teachers were joined by about a dozen other Capital Region teachers from the Saratoga Springs, Stillwater, North Colonie, Broadalbin-Perth, Shenendehowa, Albany and Cobleskill-Richmondville school districts who earned the certification. Outside of New York City, Schenectady appeared to have more new national board certified teachers last year than any other district in the state.
Schenectady schools currently have 49 teachers with the National Board certification, and the seven teachers certified last month was the most in a single year since 2012, according to district spokeswoman Karen Corona.
Multiple teachers referred to the National Board process as the “best professional development” of their careers, establishing a new mindset to constantly evaluate and improve on their classroom practices. The process, which can take two years or more to complete, requires teachers to consider each element of how they conduct their class from the details of assignments to the selection of videos shown students to whether each section of a course should rely on the same materials.
“It takes your teaching and evaluates it,” said David Bub, a Schenectady High School social studies teacher who co-leads a district-wide support group for teachers pursuing the certification with high school English teacher Meghan Libertucci. “It forces you to look at why I’m teaching what I’m teaching.”
Many professional development training teachers go through, Bub said, present teachers with a singular practices guaranteed to remake their teaching, though few do. The National Board process instead forces teachers into a new way of thinking about their teaching, he said.
“It’s not here’s the newest, greatest thing, if you do this you will be a great teacher,” Bub said. “It takes what you do and helps you understand why you did that, does it work or not.”
Bub and Libertucci pointed to a litany of ways the district and other teachers support those seeking certification. The support group meets monthly, giving people a network to rely on for understanding the details of the process and all that goes into it. The certification process is usually pursued by teachers who already have five or more years of experience, and the teachers look to time their certification process before they have kids or their kids are grown, knowing the number of long days spent writing and studying.
The teachers are also granted professional work time they can use to spend writing responses as part of the certification; teachers also can go to a regional retreat of teachers working on the National Board certification. The support also has a small cache of cameras that can be used for the video portion of the certification.
But even just starting on the thick stack of forms that come with the certification can be a daunting task, Libertucci said.
“The website can be overwhelming. You just look at it and, on your own, you don’t know where to start,” said Liberutcci, a recent Schenectady teacher of the year.
The district’s teachers contract also gives teachers in the district a good reason to pursue the national certification: teachers who have earned the certification receive a $4,000 annual stipend as long as they maintain the certification.
Bub said teachers can sometimes feel stagnant in their work but that the certification is a good way for teachers to advance in their careers even if they want to stay put in the classroom.
“It’s a way of moving up the career ladder without leaving the classroom,” Bub said.