What They Don’t Seem to Understand about Certification

July 21, 2016

What they don’t understand about birthdays and what they never tell you is that when you’re eleven, you’re also ten, and nine, and eight, and seven, and six, and five, and four, and three, and two, and one. And when you wake up on your eleventh birthday you expect to feel eleven, but you don’t. You open your eyes and everything’s just like yesterday, only it’s today. And you don’t feel eleven at all. You feel like you’re still ten. And you are –underneath the year that makes you eleven.

Like some days you might say something stupid, and that’s the part of you that’s still ten. Or maybe some days you might need to sit on your mama’s lap because you’re scared, and that’s the part of you that’s five. And maybe one day when you’re all grown up maybe you will need to cry like if you’re three, and that’s okay. That’s what I tell Mama when she’s sad and needs to cry. Maybe she’s feeling three.

Because the way you grow old is kind of like an onion or like the rings inside a tree trunk or like my little wooden dolls that fit one inside the other, each year inside the next one. That’s how being eleven years old is.


This excerpt from one of my most beloved short stories— “Eleven,” by Sandra Cisneros—underscores one of the most widely disregarded or unknown truths concerning National Board Certification. Achieving certification, like turning 11, isn’t a destination; it’s a journey.

What some people don’t understand about certification is that when you become a National Board Certified Teacher, you haven’t suddenly flipped a switch from unaccomplished to accomplished. You have engaged in a rigorous process of discovery and reflection, analyzing the instructional decisions you make and the extent to which they impact each student’s learning.

What they don’t seem to understand is that if a district or state pays a stipend or bonus to NBCTs, it isn’t merely a stamp of approval or a pat on the back signifying a job well done! Rather, it’s an investment in the NBCT’s continued journey, ongoing analysis and reflection, and the continued pursuit of better student learning.

What they don’t seem to understand about certification is that while there is research that has measured the effectiveness of National Board Certification, focusing solely on statistical data actually misses important aspects of the certification process. Just as students must not be reduced to mere data and numerical outcomes, NBCTs (and the work they do) are much more than a set of statistical results corroborating their effectiveness. The most powerful impact comes in those unquantifiable moments of inspiration and discovery that occur as NBCTs and their students grapple with course content and instructional strategies, broadening the students’ intellectual horizons. No, such moments don’t fit neatly into a table or chart, yet they fit perfectly and permanently in the hearts and minds of students and NBCTs alike!

What they don’t seem to understand about certification is that it isn’t something you merely “go for,” like getting up on a Saturday morning and deciding to “go for” a walk. Delving into the certification process is an experience of total immersion, a complete investment of one’s professional and personal energies. Pursuing certification isn’t akin to checking off items on a grocery list; it “requires candidates to demonstrate, analyze, and reflect upon their teaching performances as captured on video and in comprehensive reflective analyses, in student work samples, and through assessments of content knowledge.” What they don’t seem to understand about certification is that the ripple effects extend far beyond the original point of impact. National Board Certified Teachers are widely regarded as agents of change: “Board-certified teachers increasingly serve in leadership roles, improving instruction and strengthening the teaching practices of their colleagues in a variety of roles.” (Source: Board Certification: A Proven Tool for Identifying Quality Teaching).

What I clearly understand about National Board Certification is that I pursued certification not for the income, but for the outcome. The outcome has been a major shift in my understanding of effective teaching, and an improvement in the learning experiences I have provided students since achieving certification.  The young protagonist of “Eleven,” likens the years inside of her to an onion, the rings in a tree trunk, or Russian stacking dolls. My journey includes pursuing and achieving National Board Certification, then, more recently, pursuing and renewing my certification. All of the amazing and rewarding experiences in the classroom between those points of certification have provided me countless opportunities to pause and take stock of all the layers that make me the teacher I am. I’m exceedingly grateful for the state-level support other NBCTs and I receive on our journey of accomplished teaching and improved learning.

Corey Oliver, NBCT

Corey Oliver, a National Board Certified Teacher in  English Language Arts, teaches 7th grade English in the Conway Public School District in Conway, Arkansas. A graduate of the University of Central Arkansas (also in Conway), Corey maintains his involvement with the University as an adjunct instructor in the College of Education. Passionate about expanding his cultural awareness through international travel experiences and, in turn, increasing his students' understanding and appreciation of the world around them, Corey has participated in five international training programs for educators, traveling to Russia, China, Japan and South Africa.