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National Board Certification: Why, How to Get It

Jordan Catapano

If a teacher were to receive his certification in Illinois and then move to Colorado, that teacher would have to then also receive certification from Colorado before he would be fully recognized as a Colorado teacher. Strange, but teacher certification works on a state-by-state system, with various requirements uniquely determined by each state. Isn’t it a good thing that driver’s licenses don’t work the same way?

Although teacher certification requirements may differ state-to-state, there is one national certification teachers may receive that is recognized as state licensure by many states. This is called National Board Certification. Although this type of certification supplements (and does not replace) a teacher’s normal certification, many states accept National Board Certification as state licensure.

Obtaining National Board Certification is a rigorous process, but the teachers who do receive it are perceived as the best educators in the nation. The National Board was founded in 1987 and developed an intensive process that is “performance-based, multiple-measure, peer-reviewed, anonymously submitted and built on the highest standards of measurement.”

What this means is that becoming National Board Certified is tough, but if you successfully obtain certification, you’re a teaching rock star and are approved to teach in multiple states.

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What’s Involved

Before you make the official commitment to go through the certification process, make a careful consideration of the major aspects of involvement.

  • You must have a valid state license, have taught for more than 3 years, and have a bachelor’s degree.
  • It costs $1,900 to apply for certification (though many states offer fee assistance).
  • Completing the certification process may take from one to five years.
  • There are four areas (Content Knowledge, Differentiated Instruction, Teaching Practice and Learning Environment, and Effective and Reflective Practitioner) you must demonstrate proficiency in.
    • You must complete a detail-oriented portfolio with artifacts, student samples, and analysis.
    • Your portfolio must also include filmed sessions of your classes.
    • You will take a timed test to demonstrate your depth of content knowledge.

Although the process can be rigorous and expensive, understand that most states offer support with fee costs – they want to help incentivize teachers to become NBCTs. Also, public and private institutions offer connections to current NBCTs who have gone through the process and can mentor you through yours.

It is definitely a challenging process, but you’re not alone in your endeavor. Finally, it’s important to know that it’s not a one-shot attempt to get certified that you either hit or miss: the National Board allows applicants to retake any individual components that they scored poorly on initially. So if you don’t get certified your first time out, no worries. Try again, and next time focus only on your weakest areas.

What Do I Get Out of It?

Naturally, a long and trying process to achieve certification needs to have some kind of benefit built into it to make it worthwhile. Here are some of the perks you might look forward to:

  • Recertify once every 10 years (instead of every 4).
  • Become eligible to teach in most states.
  • Receive bonus stipends from some states and/or districts.
  • Receive continuing education credits from some districts.
  • Undergo a process that many attest makes them a better educator.
  • Obtain a high level of national respect and prestige.
  • Become a leader in your school, district, state, or at the national level.
  • Participate in NBCT-only conferences, publications, and opportunities.

This package of benefits built into becoming a National Board Certified Teacher demonstrates that completing the demanding process for obtaining certification is appropriately awarded. Many new NBCTs soak in the accolades; others see this certification as a stepping stone toward their future as a national leader in education. How do you see yourself?

Why I Got National Board Certified

I can proudly share that I worked on my application for becoming National Board Certified during the 2011-2012 school year. After submitting my portfolio in March of 2012, I received news that November (yes … eight long months later) that I made it in.

Although a few colleagues scoffed at me when I told them I was applying, I had several motivating factors that may or may not be similar to your circumstance. First, the district I work in kindly offered a modest stipend for NBCTs, and it also provided a cohort course taught by an NBCT in our district for which they awarded credit hours. Also, being in Illinois, the state covered $2,000 of the then $2,500 total fee. Finally, I was interested in what National Board meant for me as an educator in terms of leadership and experience. With these supports and motivating factors in place, I decided to go for it.

You Should Do It If …

If you’re interested in learning more about the certification process, I would be glad to talk to you about it. You can also visit the National Board website where you can receive detailed information about the process and how it specific looks in your content area. The process has been updated since I complete it, and you’ll see how they have modified the standards and materials needed for submission, as well as the timeline that you can complete it.

You should consider undertaking this application process if you …

  • Would like to enjoy many of the benefits listed above.
  • Feel you have the time and energy to work through the four areas of standards.
  • Are willing to seek out help from a course or mentor.
  • Are detail-oriented and ready to follow instructions “to a T.”
  • Can follow a long timeline to work, edit, modify, gather, test, film, analyze, write, etc …

I hope you make the decision to become a National Board Certified Teacher. Like many unique certifications or awards, the process to get there can be grueling, but the feeling of accomplishment is irreplaceable!

Are you considering applying to become a National Board Certified Teacher? What questions do you have? What might be holding you back from getting started? Tell us about it in the comments below!

Jordan Catapano is an English teacher at Conant High School in a Chicago suburb. In addition to being National Board Certificated, he also has worked with the Illinois Association of Teachers of English and currently serves as a school board member for a private school. You can follow him on Twitter at @BuffEnglish, or visit his website


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