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When Lancaster County School District Director of Secondary Education Jonathan Phipps called Indian Land Middle School counselor Curwood Dillingham’s name during Tuesday, June 15th’s school board meeting, Dillingham jumped from his seat and bounded down front, arms raised like a victorious Olympian.
While it wasn’t a gold medal Dillingham had won, it was something highly coveted among educators – recognition for months of hard work, focus and dedication to being the best. Dillingham had earned his National Board Certification, the gold standard of professionalism in the field of education.
“I think what I really brought away from the experience was the sense of accomplishment,” Dillingham said. “It gives you affirmation that ‘I am doing a good job’; that you’ve got your craft down so that it’s accepted nationally by your peers and the National Board’s high standards.”
Dillingham was among 15 Lancaster County educators honored at last week’s school board meeting who completed the notoriously arduous certification process for the first time. Ten other educators recertified this year by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards were also recognized.
During the certification process, counselors and administrators must give up nights after school, weekends and coveted family time.
The work load is immense with teachers required to record themselves, then go back over the video and critique their performances based on a list of questions.
The reports must be written out, critiqued, rewritten, dwelled on and revised.
It’s not unusual for the process to take up to three years for some due to the sheer volume of work.
“It’s a huge relief,” said Clinton Elementary School special education teacher Katherine Crawford, who finished the certification process on her third try.
“I feel like watching the video was the most helpful thing for me,” she said. “I got to see who I called on the most, how I pose my questions and whether my assessments went along with my instruction. By helping me, it helps the students by making sure their standards are met.
“It was stressful but rewarding,” Crawford said.
Discovery School Assistant Site Manager Lori Yarborough is one of the district’s 10 educators who earned their recertification after 10 years.
Yarborough said during recertification, the focus changes from educators reflecting on how they do their jobs, to how they’ve grown over the past 10 years as certified teachers.
“Recertification is about sitting back and looking at, ‘What do you do for the community?’ ‘What do you do for parents and students?’ and ‘How did you help them?’” Yarborough said. “We don’t think about that sometimes.”
How hard and demanding was the work, though?
“I have two master’s degrees and they don’t hold a candle to this,” she said.
Also among those who earned their recertification is Donna Parsons of Instructional Services.
As National Board facilitator for the district, Parsons is “the person teachers working on their certification call up late at night for advice when they’re stumped and freaking out.”
Parsons said that earning National Board Certification is an accomplishment that proves an educator’s dedication to their craft, both for themselves, their peers and their bosses.
Sadly, Parsons said, cuts in state and federal funding for both the $2,500 certification tuition and the $5,000 a year supplemental salary educators earn for certification likely mean there will be less seeking National Board Certification in the future.
“I think that means if a teacher were to have to make the decision to seek National Board Certification or pay to go earn a degree, they’re going to earn the degree, which would guarantee a salary step up,” Parsons said. “But the National Board Certification is a way to showcase a teacher’s desire to improve themselves and I’m afraid we’re going to lose that.
“I think it will be a loss too for our students because with National Board Certification, the end result is that the teacher comes out knowing why they do what they do and why they do it, and that is reflected in their students learning,” she said.
Still, Parsons said she’s proud of those who earned their certification and recertification this year, a much larger group than most years.
“Much larger districts only have about 12 teachers a year who earn certification,” Parsons said “For us to have 15 new and 10 recertified teachers in the same year, I think is an excellent accomplishment for our district.”