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'We're going to sing the ABCs because?" Kay Ellison sang to the 15 kindergarten students who entered the library.
The students sang back: "The library's in alphabetical order!"
After Ellison and the kindergartners belted out "The ABC Song," they sat down for story time. Ellison opened a picture book about school children in Chad. Throughout the story, Ellison paused to point out the African nation on a globe, to repeat phrases from the book and to ask questions.
Ellison, a teacher-librarian at Vancouver Public Schools' Marshall Elementary, is one of about 400 teachers in Clark County who have earned prestigious National Board Certification through the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards.
A total of 6,817 teachers statewide, more than 13 percent of the state's teachers, have received the advanced teaching credential, which is valid for 10 years. It complements, but does not replace, a teacher's license from the state.
The certification process takes between 200 and 400 hours. Candidates complete 10 assessments, which are reviewed by trained teachers in their certificate areas. Some teachers, like Ellison, completed the certification in a year. Others take up to three years. Not all teachers who attempt the certification attain it.
Teachers pay $2,500 to go through the certification process. If they become certified, the investment pays off; National Board Certified Teachers receive an annual $5,000 state-funded stipend. If they teach in a challenging school, determined by the number of students who receive free or reduced-price lunch, NBCTs receive an additional $5,000.
With 212 National Certified Board Teachers, Evergreen Public Schools has the most National Board Certified Teachers in the county. Roland Brosius coordinates the district's program, which provides professional development opportunities to mentor teachers in becoming nationally board certified.
Facilitators in Evergreen meet monthly with groups to support teachers in putting together a portfolio to attain national certification. The national average for teachers getting that certification their first year is 34 percent, but Evergreen's average is 64 percent.
The benefit to schools is improved student learning, Brosius said. Those who become nationally board certified typically tend to take leadership roles in helping train new teachers and collaborating with other teachers.
Amanda Macindoe was teaching kindergarten at Pioneer Elementary School last year when she worked toward her national certification. She recently learned she passed the certification process. This year, she's putting what she learned into practice and now is an instructional coach at Illahee Elementary School.
"Many times, I realized the teachers I respected, those who were making so many intentional decisions about education, the way they analyzed data and planned their lessons, they'd gone through the certification process," Macindoe said. "One teacher was almost giddy about the process. I couldn't resist, and the next year I hopped on board."
Macindoe said that, through the process, she ramped up communicating with parents via an e-newsletter and website, and more parents used those tools.
"It's a rigorous process, but I became so much more an intentional teacher," Macindoe said. "Every decision you make as a teacher should be intentional, because you impact students."
Ellison, who has been teaching for 25 years, completed her national certification three years ago.
"After I had my bachelor's and my master's degrees, I took a lot of classes, but none of them seemed to focus on my teaching," Ellison said. "I was really interested in learning about how I could be a better teacher and just focus on teaching. And the National Board Certification does that."
After spending a year thinking about and addressing the 10 standards, Ellison said "they become a part of who you are. I've changed how I interact with kids and how I want them to interact with each other. Now I let them talk to each other more — whisper to a friend about what they've learned."