North Highlands teacher earns national certification
by Jennifer Cohron
Dec 03, 2012 | 1582 views | 0 0 comments | 3 3 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Debra Rhodes sits in her classroom at North Highlands School with her students Jennifer, K.K. and Will. Rhodes recently earned her national certification in early childhood/young adulthood exceptional needs specialist. Photo by: Jennifer Cohron
Debra Rhodes sits in her classroom at North Highlands School with her students Jennifer, K.K. and Will. Rhodes recently earned her national certification in early childhood/young adulthood exceptional needs specialist. Photo by: Jennifer Cohron
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Debra Rhodes was deeply disappointed when she did not receive her national certification on her first two attempts.

Rhodes, a teacher at North Highlands School, was seeking certification as an early childhood/young adulthood exceptional needs specialist from the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards.

When she began the process in 2009, Rhodes was one of 75 teachers in the state to receive a $2,500 grant to help pay the costs associated with application.

Rhodes did not expect that it would take her three years to earn the 275 points needed on her portfolio for certification. Last year, she was convinced that she had done everything that she possibly could and still came up 15 points short.

Rhodes was allowed only one more attempt. She decided to make a final effort.

“I’m glad I did not only because I made it but because every time I’ve done it, I have had to dig a little deeper into what I’m doing wrong and what I could do to make it better,” Rhodes said.

Rhodes has been challenging herself since the beginning of her career.

She worked as a custodian at Cordova Elementary School for nearly a decade until a teacher and longtime friend encouraged her to pursue her GED.

Rhodes did and went on to get her bachelor’s and master’s degrees as well.

When Rhodes began working at North Highlands in 1998, she feared that she was not equipped to help students with severe mental and physical disabilities.

She did her undergraduate work in learning disabilities because of her son, who has ADHD and earned his GED at the same time as his mom.

Over the past 14 years, Rhodes has developed creative ways to convey the academic material that the state requires as well as the life skills that her students need, such as good hygiene practices and folding laundry.

However, she has often struggled in the area of assessment.

Since most of her students are nonverbal, testing how much they know and how much they have learned in a given semester is difficult.

Rhodes has learned to celebrate even small victories, such as a student trying to make the hand signal for “bathroom” after three years of Rhodes practicing the sign with her.

Rhodes also viewed the national certification process as an opportunity to learn ways to better assess her students.

“One lady told me that if I didn’t get it, it wouldn’t change her impression of me as a teacher. I am still the same teacher, but I feel like I have learned a lot from the process,” she said.