Pierce teachers rising to the top

In the classroom, time seems to move more slowly in the afternoon.

And when it’s the last day of school before winter break, each slow-motion minute can seem like an eternity.

Smart teachers such as Shandra Crosby know this.

“I want you to listen to directions carefully,” she told her Baker Middle School math class on Thursday, Tacoma’s last day of school before break. “It’s the end of the day, and I know you guys are hyper. But we are going to do this silently.”

Her tone was matter-of-fact, gentle. And when she gave the word, the sixth-graders walked quietly around the room to find a partner with whom they could talk through the problem she’d just assigned.

Then, she asked the students to go back to their seats, and invited several up to the classroom’s electronic whiteboard to show how they arrived at their answers.

Crosby isn’t the only teacher who tries to make math lessons interactive. But she says working to achieve her new status as a national board-certified teacher helped her delve deeper into that and other instructional techniques.

Since undertaking the challenge, Crosby said, her classroom methods have changed.

“I do far less teacher talk,” she said. “I require them to talk out their thoughts, show it verbally, write it down. I’m trying to hit all the different learning styles.”

Crosby is one of three Baker teachers who earned full certification this year from the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, Baker Principal Scott Rich said.

The other two are reading teacher Summer Guy and Karl Berggren, who teaches a study-skills class.

A few years ago, Baker’s teachers agreed to shoot for a goal. They said they wanted to become the first middle school in the country to have all teaching staff members be board-certified.

This year’s three additions to the roster mean about a third of Baker’s estimated 40 professional staff members have achieved full board certification.

Several other teachers have completed a form of partial national certification known as Take One, but that option is being discontinued.

Baker has its own in-house expert on national board certification: Melissa Schiemer, who earned her certification last year and now helps other Baker teachers in their quests for the prestigious credential.

The process requires teachers to dig deep and do a lot of self-analysis, she said.

“It is a lot like putting yourself under a microscope for your biggest critic — yourself,” Schiemer said.

She said the process made her more aware of how she communicates with students and made her more willing to look at problems from all angles.

“I’d like my students to be that reflective — to own their own learning,” she added.

Washington state has been a leader in national teacher certification for several years, and this year 516 new teachers were certified — more than any other state, according to the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards. Two Pierce County school districts — Tacoma and Clover Park — were among the top 10 in the state in new teacher certifications.

In Tacoma, 17 teachers were newly certified, and in Lakewood’s Clover Park district, 19 teachers achieved the distinction, according to the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction.

Washington ranks fourth among all states in total number of national board-certified teachers. There are more than 7,300 statewide.

Board certification requires teachers to create a multipart portfolio documenting their work and that of their students. They also take tests on content knowledge and teaching technique. A national panel of their peers judges the work.

Most teachers take a year or more to complete the process.

Baker’s Crosby said she was required to redo parts of her original submission and chose to resubmit other portions.

Washington state rewards teachers for this hard work.

Teachers who are fully board certified receive annual bonuses — $3,054 for teachers who attain certification during the current school year, $5,090 for teachers who hold certification for the full year and an additional $5,000 for teachers in high-poverty schools such as Baker.

About a third of Washington’s board-certified teachers work in high-poverty schools.

“The national board certification process is rigorous,” state schools chief Randy Dorn said. “Many of the teachers I’ve talked to said it has made them better teachers.”

“It’s hard,” said Crosby. “It is a huge time commitment. It forces you to reflect on everything you do.”