Parrish Elementary teachers seek 'expert' certification

Posted 3/21/19

PARRISH — Three Parrish Elementary School teachers are taking their love for children and educational skills to a new level.Kindergarten teachers Stephanie Fischer and Cathy East, along with second …

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Parrish Elementary teachers seek 'expert' certification


PARRISH — Three Parrish Elementary School teachers are taking their love for children and educational skills to a new level.

Kindergarten teachers Stephanie Fischer and Cathy East, along with second grade teacher Lora Henslee, are working toward their National Board for Professional Teaching Standards certification that is a highly regarded accomplishment for educators that recognizes them as experts in their field.  

The National Board is a non-profit, intensive program that helps teachers achieve an even higher standard in education based on five core propositions that include a commitment to student learning, a firm grasp on curriculum and the ability to monitor each student's individual learning needs. Teachers are also groomed to recognize areas where they can improve instruction and are expected to be members of learning communities.

According to the National Board, teachers can pick from 25 certificate areas to specialize in, and Fischer, East and Henslee are tackling one of the toughest certifications of all — literacy.   

"That's a big need for a school that has high poverty like we do," Fischer said, with she and her colleagues acknowledging the school is at 87 percent free and reduced lunch. "Because of certain things, it's considered one of those high risk schools. In Walker County, it's us, Valley and Carbon Hill."

Henslee explained that seeking literacy certification with the National Board will help their students, some of whom lack a firm foundation in reading and language.

"They don't have the background knowledge that a lot of us may have had growing up. They haven't been read to in the home," Henslee said. "There may not even be a lot of books in their home, no travel experience."

To reach the needs of their students and complete the certification, the teachers must achieve the program's four components and meet the over 10 standards required for National Board literacy certification. Some teachers complete the program in one year, while others find it more comfortable to work at their own pace.  

The first component is Content Knowledge, focused on computer-based assessments.

Fischer said this involves the examination of scenarios, where teachers have to determine the best way to meet each child's individual needs.

Component two is Differentiation in Instruction, which also encourages teachers to master one-on-one education.

"Especially in a kindergarten classroom, you're going to have 20 kids on 20 different levels," Fischer said. "They want to know exactly what we're doing ... and where we are pulling all of our resources to meet them right where they are and move them forward."

Teaching Practice and Learning Environment is component three, where teachers reflect on their skills by writing and video taping their classroom instruction. 

The teachers admit it is difficult to watch themselves teach, but say it has been a tremendous benefit.

"It's been a learning experience for me," East said. "There's lots of self-reflection."  

Fischer added, "That is a major thing with the National Board is that you are looking at how you do things now and what can you do to be better."

The fourth component is Effective and Reflective Practitioner when teachers apply the knowledge and skills they have learned in their classrooms.  

Parrish Elementary reading coach Karen Scott and sixth grade math teacher Susie Lamon are already National Board certified. Scott said she was one of the first 100 instructors in the state of Alabama to receive National Board certification. 

"It just changes you. It takes it so much deeper," Scott said. "Alabama's providing a great motivation for teachers to want to do this. It's a great move on their part."

In fact, Fischer, East and Henslee have the opportunity to seek their certification thanks to receiving National Board Certified Teacher Support Grants provided by the Alabama State Department of Education. The total cost to certify each teacher is $1,900. 

East said Parrish Elementary Principal Thomas Kyzer encouraged them to apply for the grants. 

The teachers say only about 160 teachers in Alabama received the grants.

The Alabama Education Association reports that Alabama ranks 10th in the nation for having National Board certified teachers, with 2,242 certified. It is unknown how many Walker County teachers have the certification, but once Fischer, East and Henslee complete the program, Parrish Elementary alone will have five National Board certified teachers.  

National Board states since 1994, only 118,000 of the country's more than 3 million teachers have been National Board certified.

"In my opinion, it's easier to obtain a master's degree than to do this," Kyzer said of the National Board.

Kyzer said he is excited to see the ripple effect teacher certifications will create at the school. On last year's state report card, Parrish Elementary jumped from a score of 71 to 86, and he expects the school's number of certifications to contribute to their report card score continuing to grow. 

"Even when you have five or six people in your building that's certified, when we work together they can share what they've learned through that process with everybody. It should make some big changes," he said.