When Jacquelyn Sticca completed the first grade, she told her parents that she was finished with school. It wasn't that she didn't enjoy it. On the contrary, she loved her teacher and looked up to her. The real reason was that the seven-year-old already had her heart set on teaching first-grade, and, now that she knew everything there was to know about the first grade, she figured she didn't need to go any further.
Sticca continued her education, of course, volunteered at a local elementary school while in high school. Her major in college was a no-brainer. All she wanted to do with her life was teach, and her childhood dream of being a teacher was soon realized. Sticca currently teaches first grade at Fiske Elementary School, and she loves every minute of it.
Thinking about what's next
After she completed her master's degree in Reading a few years ago, Sticca began to think about what was next for her. There was no question that she wanted to continue teaching. It was her life's work, and she knew she had no desire to do anything else. Sticca learned that a few years before when, just six months into a year-long stint as a Lead Teacher with the Teacher Advancement Program (TAP), she realized that she missed the classroom too much not to go back to it the following year. "I couldn't wait to return to the classroom. While I thought the coaching position was interesting, it didn't come close to the challenge and enjoyment I get from teaching and being with my students," said Sticca.
As she reflected on her career to date, Sticca realized that throughout college and grad school and in the professional development training she had received she was always reading about other's experiences and successes. Up to this point, nothing had really led her to reflect on her own classroom practice, how it could be improved and how it measured up.
Deciding to pursue National Board Certification
That's when she decided that she would pursue certification through the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS), a rigorous voluntary assessment program that has been available to teachers nationwide since 1987. The entire process can take a year or more to complete. Teachers with a bachelor's degree, three full years of teaching or counseling experience, and a valid state teaching/counseling license for that period of time are eligible for National Board Certification.
Like board-certified doctors and accountants, teachers who receive National Board Certification have met advanced standards for their profession. While state licensing systems set basic requirements to teach in each state, National Board Certified Teachers, or NBCTs, have successfully demonstrated advanced teaching knowledge, skills and practices. NBPTS offers 25 certificates that cover a variety of subject areas and student developmental levels.
Given her experience in the early grades, Sticca chose the Early Childhood/Generalist certificate to work toward. A union delegate at her school, Sticca kicked off her certification pursuit in 2010 by enrolling in the Nurturing Teacher Leadership (NTL) program at the Chicago Teachers Union Quest Center. Established in 1997, NTL is an 11-month program that supports teachers throughout the entire certification process, offering a supportive group setting in which candidates work collaboratively in small cohorts, receive weekly professional development and are mentored by current NBCTs.
"I was matched with an incredible group of teachers and leaders. Each week that we learned together I had the opportunity to talk with others pursuing their Early Childhood/Generalist certificates as well as special education, high school and middle school teachers. We discussed everything from parent involvement and differentiated instruction for our diverse learners to the different ways our students learn and how best to motivate and reach them. We had a lot more in common than we thought and each week we grew together as teachers and learned from one another," said Sticca.
The Chicago Public Schools National Board Resource Center also offers a support program for CPS teachers pursuing National Board Certification. Called the CPS Candidate Support System, it is structured to allow candidates to collaborate with others in the same certificate area. Each cohort of candidates is led by an NBCT mentor who holds the same certificate. These cohort meetings begin September.
The portfolio process
Sticca attended NTL's 10-day Summer Institute last July, where she began to put together her classroom practice portfolio, the first step toward certification and perhaps the most personal. "There's a lot of yourself in your portfolio; you are basically putting yourself and your work out there for judgment through this process, so you have to make sure it's represents what you do as closely as possible. For me, I needed it to be perfect," she said.
The portfolio consists of four entries—one classroom-based entry with accompanying student work, two classroom-based entries that require video recordings of interactions between the teacher and his or her students, and one documented accomplishments entry that provides evidence of the teacher's accomplishments outside of the classroom and how that work impacts student learning.
According to Sticca, the real-time video recordings of her interactions with students were particularly eye-opening. "Seeing the videos has made me much more aware of what I say and how students react to what I say. It drove home the fact for me that as a teacher you really can't be on 'autopilot.' I now often take notes on what happens during the day so it's clearer what my students and I need to work on. In fact, the whole portfolio process has helped me to look deeper into my students' performance and identify when I need to push them to do better," she said.
Sticca also appreciated the feedback and advice received from the NBCT mentors and other candidates in her cohort in compiling her portfolio. "Being able to ask questions and have another set of eyes to look at what you've put together to ensure it's getting across what you mean it to—that was invaluable," she said. After weeks of fine tuning her entries, Sticca submitted her portfolio on March 31.
Next step: assessment
The next step on the road to certification came that June—the online assessment portion of the process, which asks candidates to demonstrate their content knowledge through six exercises developed and designed by practicing professionals in their certificate area. Candidates have up to 30 minutes to respond to each of the exercises.
Once candidates submit their portfolio entries and assessment center exercises, their complete work is scored by a minimum of 12 teachers who have successfully completed intensive training and have been qualified for scoring based on their understanding of NBPTS standards and guidelines.
Sticca learned that she received her National Board Certification on Nov. 20, which coincidentally is her birthday. In doing so, she became the only teacher presently at her school to have attained this "gold standard" for teaching excellence. She is among 141 CPS educators receiving certification in 2011, and joins the ranks of the nearly 2,000 others who have achieved this prestigious credential. For a full list of 2011 achievers categorized by school, click here .
The road ends . . . at the White House!
But the excitement didn't end there. Not long after she learned she had achieved certification, she received a phone call, but no ordinary phone call, as it turned out. The call was from the Department of Education in Washington, D.C. Startled, Sticca answered the few questions asked by the person on the phone, and that was it. "I had no idea how they got my name, but I figured that they just were looking for information about the new NCBTs for a press release or something," said Sticca.
Then the second call came. Again, it was from the Department of Education. But this time, instead of simply asking for information, the person on the phone invited her to an event for NCBTs—at the White House! "I was speechless," said Sticca. "When I started the long process of certification, I never imagined that I would end up going to the White House!"
But go to the White House she did, just four days after receiving the invitation, as part of a group of 25 other newly minted NBCTs who were all flown in for the Dec. 7 event. Sticca was among three other NCBTs to speak at the ceremony, whose 150 attendees included Secretary of Education – and former Chicago Public Schools CEO – Arne Duncan, White House Domestic Policy Director Melody Barnes, and former West Virginia Governor Bob Wise, who chairs the NBPTS. A video of the event and Sticca's speech is available by clicking this link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=gmxejxKX7-I
As Sticca looks back at her effort to achieve National Board Certification, she admits how time-consuming and arduous it was. "I was fairly MIA with friends and family from the summer of 2010 through June of the following year. It was a huge thing to get through," said Sticca.
But that doesn't stop her from being a 'cheerleader' for others considering National Board Certification. She already has talked with several teachers at her school who are interested in learning more about the process.
An investment for a lifetime
"I make sure to say that the certification process is not one to be entered into lightly," said Sticca. "You have to be committed to teaching for the long haul. You really have to want it and be willing and able to devote the time and effort that the process requires. It's a scary, I know. But it's doable; I am proof of that. And it's worth it. What I learned from this process far and away outdoes what I learned in graduate school and all the other professional development I've received thus far combined. Plus, I know I'll reap the return on my investment for the rest of my career by being a better teacher to my students."
For more information about National Board Certification, visit the NBPTS at http://www.nbpts.org/. For more information on the candidate support programs run by CPS and the CTU, contact Debbie Glowacki, who manages CPS recruitment activities, at email@example.com or Lynn Cherkasky-Davis at firstname.lastname@example.org, who leads the CTU Quest Center Nurturing Teacher Leadership program.
Get your feet wet by participating in 'Take One!'
Wonder if the National Board Certification is for you? The NBPTS offers a program called "Take One!" With "Take One!" teachers prepare and submit one pre-selected video portfolio entry corresponding to any of the current certificate areas. Those who want to go on and pursue National Board Certification can transfer their scores. "Take One!" also can provide graduate credits. Additionally, "Take One!" can be a valuable professional development opportunity for an entire school.
Of note, this year the Chicago Public Schools National Board Resource Center is piloting the "Take One!" program with 18 teachers who are not yet eligible to apply for full certification to familiarize them with the process. Also, the entire staff of Infinity High School, which is in the West/Central /South Network, is participating in "Take One!" or working toward full certification as their professional development for this year.
For more information about Take One!" visit http://secure.nbpts.org/gmu/begin.cfm.