By Chris Kieffer/NEMS Daily Journal
After 17 years of teaching, Joyner Elementary first-grade teacher Laura Russell was eager for a new challenge to sharpen her skills.
She decided to attempt to become a National Board Certified Teacher, undertaking a grueling process that consumed most of her personal time on Saturdays and after school for about a year.
Her efforts paid off as she became one of 92 Mississippi educators to earn the certification this year. Not only did she receive that distinction, Russell said she also found the energized perspective that she sought.
“I thought this would be a good way to pump it up so I didn’t get complacent with my teaching,” Russell said. “I wanted to be sure I kept my teaching fresh, and I thought this would be a good way to do it.”
The certification is done by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, an independent non-governmental organization that developed a system of professional standards for accomplished teachers. It is a voluntary process for educators that provides additional distinction in their field.
To apply, teachers must reflect upon their craft and complete 10 assessments that are reviewed by other teachers. Four of those include written portfolios on different subjects and six are taken as part of a computer test that asks applicants to respond to various scenarios.
The certification must be renewed after 10 years and can carry financial perks from state education agencies. Mississippi teachers receive a $6,000 annual stipend for holding the certification.
The application process forces teachers to analyze their practices and philosophies, an effort that many educators say is the most beneficial part of the process.
“It made me reflect a lot on my teaching practices,” said Thomas Street Elementary second-grade teacher Connie Buse. “You examine what you do, why you do it, how students will learn from it, how many times you need to assess and why you do all of this assessing.”
Four teachers in Tupelo’s district received their certification for the first time this year, and four educators renewed their credentials. In addition to Russell and Buse, other first-time recipients were Nancy Barrett and Shannon Snowden. Snowden taught in the Baldwyn School District last year when she applied. Re-certified were Marilyn Morrison, Liz Masley, Deborah Hurt and Julie Worth.
“I did it because I have always worked alongside highly-qualified teachers,” said Barrett, a challenge teacher at Milam Elementary School. “Through their encouragement, I decided to continue my pursuit of lifelong learning.”
Lee County had four teachers become board certified for the first time this year: Saltillo Elementary’s Debra Davis, Saltillo High School’s Ginger Reynolds, Plantersville Middle’s Onessia Mosby and Verona’s Kimberly Johnson.
“It was a personal goal for me,” said Mosby, who teaches seventh-grade English. “I love my job, and I want to be an effective teacher. I can’t be effective if I’m not continuously learning.”
Through the process, Mosby said she became stronger at analyzing data and at seeing the areas where she could improve. She said she spent a year on the process, giving up vacations to be sure she got it done.
East Union first grade teacher Karen Sheffield said completing such a difficult process was particularly rewarding.
“It has meant a lot to me because I have grown,” Sheffield said. “It was one of the most difficult things I have ever done, and I feel like I have grown from it.”
Sheffield said that through the process, she was connected with board-certified teachers in other states, something that has helped her further sharpen her practice.
The number of Mississippi educators completing the process has declined in recent years. Last year, the state had 120 newly certified teachers and in 2009, it had 222.
Teachers must pay $2,500 to apply, but the state will reimburse that fee, Russell said, even for those who are unsuccessful.
Russell said the application process can be difficult and said it was easier for her to apply because she doesn’t have children at home. Today’s teachers have more responsibilities than did those in the past, she said, speculating about what might be keeping more teachers from earning the distinction.
Nonetheless, she said, the effort was worthwhile for her.
“It is an incredible feeling of accomplishment that you went through the process,” she said.
Twenty six Northeast Mississippi educators received their National Board Certification for the first time this year. The school district listed reflects where that person taught during the 2010-11 school year.
Nita Allen: Prentiss County
Kari Barrett: Oxford School
Nancy Barrett: Tupelo
Barbara Bowen: Union County
Susie Brown: Oxford
Connie Buse: Tupelo
Beth Coghlan: Starkville
Debra Davis: Lee County
Sagee Evetts: Alcorn County
Carrie Grubbs: Itawamba County
Danielle Hall: Marshall County
Ginger Henry: New Albany
Amy Higginbotham: Starkville
Joseph Jones: Itawamba County
Ella McFadden: Marshall County
Amy McQueen: Holly Springs
Onessia Mosby: Lee County
Jennifer Parson: Marshall County
Jenna Patterson: Pontotoc City
Emily Raines: South Tippah
Ginger Reynolds: Lee County
Laura Russell: Tupelo
Cynthia Settlemires: Alcorn County
Karen Sheffield: Union County
Shannon Snowden: Baldwyn
Roxanne Ward: South Tippah