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Tuesday, October 20, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Teachers critique own skills for national certification

Scott Numata, a PE teacher at Sheridan Elementary poses for a photo Feb. 9, 2016, in Spokane. Numata is one of 11 Spokane teachers who earned national board certificates this year. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)
Scott Numata, a PE teacher at Sheridan Elementary poses for a photo Feb. 9, 2016, in Spokane. Numata is one of 11 Spokane teachers who earned national board certificates this year. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)

Good teaching requires reflection. That’s why Kymberly Larson, a 25-year teaching veteran, decided to study for her National Board Certification.

“I’m always trying to challenge myself,” she said. “It just seemed like the next thing that teachers who were like me did.”

Larson, who is a science teacher at Shaw Middle School and a elementary science TOSA, was one of 11 Spokane Public Schools teachers to receive their national board certification last year. The reasons for going through the rigorous certification process vary. However, a $5,000 bonus helps.

Except Larson didn’t even know the bonus existed. She said she was pleasantly surprised to learn that by getting her board certifications she would receive an extra $5,000 for the certificate and an additional $5,000 because she teaches in a “challenging school.”

“Someone made a comment like, ‘Oh, you’re going to be rolling (in money)’ and I said, ‘What are you talking about?’” she said.

In 2015, 329 Washington teachers earned certification, the highest number of any state. The state is ranked fourth nationwide in the total number of board-certified teachers, at 8,614. Washington law requires that after three years teachers take some sort of additional professional training. Teachers can choose between a less rigorous state certification and the national one.

For the national certification, teachers are required to film themselves teaching and then reflect in writing about the effectiveness of their teaching. They also take an exam, among other things.

“For me, the video was a chance to see myself in the mirror but then be critical in a way that was guided by this very intentional rubric,” Larson said.

Val Laiho, a teacher at Shiloh Hills Elementary in the Mead School District, agreed with Larson that the process forced reflection and critique of her teaching process.

“You learn so much,” she said. “I use everything I learned in that program every day in my classroom.”

Their observations are why Laura Treece, the regional coordinator for national board certification, believes the exam is effective. Treece, who teaches at Sacajawea Middle School, said although the exam is prescriptive in certain aspects – fonts you are allowed to use, line spacing – fundamentally it’s focused on individual teachers and classes.

“Within the questions you have to answer, you’re talking about your kids,” she said.

The exams are tailored to whatever subject area the teachers work in, she said.

“You really kind of rip yourself apart in the video, showing that you can be reflective of yourself as a teacher and the decisions that you are making,” Larson said.

Although Raeanne Cumbie, a teacher at Stevens Elementary, doesn’t argue that the process forces reflection, she said it was an easier experience for her because she recently graduated from Whitworth University. Much of what the certification asks for are things she worked on throughout school.

“They (Whitworth) set me up so well, it wasn’t very difficult for me,” she said. “Everything they are asking you to do is stuff people who want to get better as teachers do already.”

Although Larson found the process useful, she does wonder if the format and cost of the exams prohibit some teachers from taking them.

“I wonder if some really, really good teachers don’t pass because they don’t reflect right,” she said.

Scott Numata, a physical education teacher at Sheridan Elementary, said the certification process forced him to think more intentionally about how he teaches students.

“I need to put in more time to make it not just we are running around in the gym,” Numata said. “It’s definitely not something for everyone, because it takes a lot of work. You’re already teaching, you already have to come up with lessons on a daily basis.”

A previous version of this story incorrectly labeled Kymberly Larson’s title. It has been updated.
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