VERONA — Elizabeth Folberg, a teacher of English language learners at Stoner Prairie Elementary School, had looked into obtaining her National Board Certification 15 to 20 years ago.
But she had just started working as a foreign language teacher in Ohio and had not been teaching for three years in the same role and in the same school, which was required, and then she wound up moving around some.
About 13 years ago, after Folberg started working in the Verona Area School District, she again considered obtaining the national recognition but was doing other professional development. The final push came three years ago when Folberg had earlier reached the maximum pay raise awarded for classes and credits and the Verona Area School District decided to start offering a pay increase to certified teachers.
The certification came with a 4.5 percent increase in pay and the satisfaction that she is doing more than “delivering some kind of curriculum you’ve been handed,” Folberg said. She said that is especially important because as a teacher of English language learners she is working with families who have to rely on blind faith in the educational system.
“I owe it to my students and families,” she said.
They learned in December she was among 12 staff members in the Verona Area School District who had passed the certification. Up until this year, the district had only eight teachers total who had gone through the process over the years. The 20 teachers still represent only about 4 percent of the district’s teaching staff, according to Jason Olson, human resources director for the district. But they are part of a growing trend for teachers to seek the certification.
Madison Teachers Inc. is one of the teachers’ organizations that has been working with the Wisconsin Education Association Council to provide monthly training workshops for Wisconsin teachers going through the process.
“By providing the support, we promote this and let them know there is support available to achieve that,” said Doug Keillor, executive director of MTI.
The interest in certification also has increased since it has become more challenging for teachers to receive pay increases, Keillor said.
Madison teachers who are certified get an annual $1,500.
In addition, the state Department of Public Instruction offers a stipend during the first year of certification to reimburse teachers for the fees associated with obtaining it, said Lyman Elliott, National Board Certified Candidate Support Provider at WEAC. Then it awards $2,500 annually for the next four years the teachers are certified unless they teach at a high-needs school, in which case that stipend is doubled.
National board certification is valid for five years and teachers must renew through an abbreviated process.
The Verona Area School District, which has reimbursed teachers up to $1,800 in costs over five years for graduate work, has expanded the allowable costs to include teacher certification.
In addition, the district redesigned its salary schedule two years ago to give nationally certified teachers the top range in pay, which has meant a 4.5 percent increase.
Started about 30 years ago, National Board Certification has national standards for what teachers should know and be able to do. They must exhibit a deep understanding of their students, content knowledge, use of data and assessments and teaching practice. They must also show how they work with colleagues, parents and students and provide evidence of ongoing reflection and continual learning. Some 38 states also allow the certification to take the place of a state license requirement.
Elliott said the process, though still “elaborate,” was recently reworked, possibly leading to more interest.
Teachers must describe their practices through a technical writing process with a restriction in the length allowed, while video recordings the teachers make of themselves teaching are limited to a certain number of minutes.
Sarah Greenlaw, a special-education teacher in Verona, referred to the certification process as “grueling” but found the WEAC workshops “invaluable.”
About 1,253 teachers, or about 1 to 2 percent, are certified in the state of Wisconsin while the national average is closer to 3 percent, Elliott said. Districts may offer reimbursement for costs, a one-time stipend and bump in salary or nothing at all, he said.
“It just seemed like the next step in my professional development — a way to grow in my teaching practice” and the financial incentive made a difference, said Angie Davis, a Verona kindergarten teacher who just got certified.