Byline: Teresa Stepzinski, Times-Union staff writer
BRUNSWICK -- While the public debate continues about accountability in education, a group of Glynn County teachers has worked quietly to earn national certification for classroom skills.
The 13 educators have undergone an intense evaluation and certification process, demonstrating that they meet professional teaching standards set by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards based in Arlington, Va.
The board has established education standards for what "accomplished teachers should know and be able to do." It also has a voluntary system to assess and certify teachers according to those standards.
The difficult and sometimes frustrating certification process, the Glynn teachers said, helped them become better educators.
"National certification says we're not afraid to do self-evaluation and hold ourselves accountable as teachers," said Regina Johnson, a nationally certified teacher at Golden Isles Elementary School. "It also challenges us to improve ourselves and find new ways to teach our students."
Johnson and colleague Cheryl Gragg, also at Golden Isles, in 2000 were the first Glynn teachers to earn national certification.
Gragg teaches combined kindergarten and first grade, while Johnson teaches reading and math in the Early Intervention Program. They have helped other district teachers seeking the certification that is regarded by education officials as a sign of excellence.
"Through this process, we looked at what we need to do to become better teachers," Gragg said.
They are among 815 National Board Certified Teachers in Georgia. Glynn County, with 13, has the most in South Georgia.
"It's prestigious," said Stephen Elrod, assistant superintendent. "It says we have teachers with the skills, love of learning, enthusiasm and energy to meet national standards. It also raises the level of professionalism among our staff, and shows our students getting the best teachers."
The teachers say the certification is a more comprehensive and accurate way to gauge their skills than other evaluation methods because it entails a two-part assessment process examining their classroom performance.
In the first phase, which can take up to four months, the teachers must put together a portfolio including four or five classroom-based exercises.
The portfolio could include a videotape of actual class sessions, samples of the students' academic work and a written analysis of the videotape and students' performance. It also could include documentation of the teacher's work outside the classroom with students' families, in the community and with colleagues. The teacher also shows why those activities are important, according to organization guidelines.
The second phase is an all-day written assessment. Through a series of written exercises, the assessment is designed to test their knowledge of the subject that they are teaching, and check their understanding of how to teach it to students.
"I look at teaching as a profession," Gragg said. "This was the first opportunity that made sense to me as a way to examine what I do in the classroom and prove myself in the profession."
Johnson said she sought the certification because of "a sense of frustration with the politics of education" when it came to judging teacher performance.
"I took this as an opportunity to answer for myself what I was doing as a teacher, and see what the practical effects were on my students," Johnson said.
Innovation and the ability to inspire students to learn, as well as the youngsters' academic achievement, are key elements evaluated in the certification process, Judi Teston said.
Teston, who works at Burroughs-Molette Elementary School, is the district's first media specialist nationally certified. She and the others had to document their ability to teach students of varying needs and academic abilities. …