Maryland teachers get national certification Successful candidates 'truly exceptional,' superintendent says

November 28, 1998|By Mary Maushard | Mary Maushard,SUN STAFF

When an urgent call from home came for veteran Baltimore County teacher Cathy Cerveny, she knew it signaled success, not disaster. Her son had opened the "Congratulations" letter, informing her that she is one of Maryland's first nationally certified teachers.

When she was taking the call this month, a dozen other teachers around the state were getting the same good news.

Of the first 18 Maryland teachers who voluntarily went through the National Board Certification process over the past year, 13 achieved certification, a distinction that means they are superior teachers who have passed a rigorous months- long evaluation. They are among more than 1,800 such teachers across the country.

Maryland's passing rate of 72 percent is well above this year's national rate of 47 percent, according to the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, a nonprofit, teacher-led organization that aims to establish high standards for what accomplished teachers should know and be able to do.

"This is beyond our wildest dreams. It really is a credit to these individuals," said Joann Erikson, a specialist at the Maryland Department of Education who worked with the teachers all year.

The successful 13 are from seven of the state's 24 districts. Four are from Baltimore County, two each from Howard, Frederick and Montgomery counties and one each from Harford, Cecil and Allegany counties. They are the first group of Maryland teachers to seek certification, thanks to a pilot program that pays the $2,000-per-candidate fee from state and county funds.

"These teachers are professional role models," said state schools Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick, who phoned each teacher with congratulations. "They are truly exceptional teachers who supported the development of teaching as a profession with high standards and stringent peer review."

Twenty-three more teachers have recently begun the process, and the state has enough money to pay the fee for nearly 100 teachers next year, Erikson said. To qualify, a teacher must be certified locally and have a bachelor's degree and three years of experience.

"The process is extremely rigorous. It's a comprehensive view of what a teacher knows and is able to do," Erikson said.

Hours of work

The national board sets the standards that proficient teachers are measured against. Candidates must demonstrate, using real students and classroom situations, whether and how they are meeting those standards.

For instance, this year's candidates had to choose students to track over several months, noting their progress or lack of it and explaining why and how the students achieved or failed.

They had to videotape lessons and submit written portfolios that not only described teaching methods and situations, but also contained lengthy reflections on their own work. Once the portfolio was completed, the candidates took a daylong test for which "you sort of write everything you know," said Jean Diamond, a Montgomery County high school art teacher.

"In many ways, it was more challenging than my master's," said Jennifer Palmer, a Harford County first-grade teacher at Forest Lakes Elementary. "This is so intensely personal. You have to be able to step back and watch a videotape of yourself and admit to yourself that you are not the perfect teacher."

Candidates must also commit large amounts of time. Palmer said she stopped counting at 200 hours.

Cerveny clocked twice that many. "It was an additional two hours a night. Some weekends I'd go straight through 10 hours. I re-did the science lesson several times; I taped the math lesson four times," said the 1997 Maryland Teacher of the Year who taught in Harford County before becoming a Baltimore County mentor teacher in September.

'Overwhelming'

"For six months, your life is dictated by 'the box,' " she said, referring to the materials and instructions that each teacher receives from the national board. Maryland teachers started last November and had to complete their portfolios by late April.

"When I got the box, I really didn't know what to expect," said Brian Lucas, a third-grade teacher at Monocacy Elementary in Frederick County. "It was overwhelming. I never stopped. I really busted my rump to get this done."

What kept him going was the thought that "this is going to improve my students' learning."

In some states, nationally certified teachers receive financial incentives. North Carolina, for instance, gives them a 12 percent pay bonus each year for the 10-year life of the certificate; Ohio pays a $2,500 bonus annually.

Although Maryland does not offer any such incentive, Grasmick has proposed a 10 percent annual stipend in the teacher-incentive package she is sending to the General Assembly next year. Some Maryland counties, such as Harford and St. Mary's, already have approved bonuses.

Despite the lack of monetary reward, Maryland's nationally certified teachers say they are seeing the payoff in their classrooms.

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