Arnold Elementary music instructor Siema Swartzel was set to attend a bipartisan event in the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., as a representative of District 4 before she received an email Monday.
“Due to the continuing federal government shutdown, we have decided to postpone the Oct. 9 Congressional event in Washington, D.C.,” read the email. “... We share your disappointment at the disposition of the government which is having an impact on countless thousands of people across the country.”
Swartzel is eager to attend the event once a new date is set.
The subject up for debate is whether a framework like the medical National Board Certification could be applied to the teaching profession.
“One of the goals of the forum is to plant an idea in the Congressmen’s psyche for what we would call resident schools,” Swartzel explained. “These would be getting money from the federal government. Novice teachers would come in and work in a school that was at least 70 percent board-certified teachers.”
A program for teachers to receive national board certification is already in place. However, it is not necessarily widespread among educators.
Swartzel explained she is the only NBC teacher at Arnold Elementary with less than 10 in the city school system.
The process to reach NBCT status is arduous.
According to Swartzel, it can take an individual up to three years to achieve the honor. Every applicant must submit a portfolio with four components. Swartzel’s component had to have three videos addressing how, what and why she was teaching.
Each portfolio comes with 40 questions. Teachers have 12 pages to provide answers. Heavy emphasis is placed on an applicant’s documented accomplishments. Swartzel had to show what she was doing outside of her eight-hour contract to increase student achievement.
“If you don’t pass in certain areas, then you have to repeat the test,” Swartzel explained. “You only get three years. If you don’t get the score [in three years], then you are not able to be board certified. You do not receive another try.”
President and CEO of the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards Ronald Thorpe wrote the initial message, and update, to the invited teachers. He explained the NBPT standards were based on the medical model when they were created in 1987.
The medical standards and assessments process were followed, “but the essential missing piece is that we have not taken board certification in teaching to scale.”
Representatives from districts across the country have been invited to engage in the conversation.
Swartzel said she believes the proposed resident schools and widespread certification could change education.
“When I go to a doctor, I always make sure I go to a national board-certified doctor, because I want to make sure they are up on the latest procedures ...” Swartzel said. “This is the same kind of thing. You would want your child’s teacher to be board certified, because we have to stay up to date.”
Swartzel continued, “What we have to do is revitalize the profession. We have to have people who really want to be here, who really love the children, want to teach and really want to make a difference. I think new teachers enter with that kind of feeling, but they get discouraged.”
She said novice teachers often are burned out by year five due to the rigors of their jobs. Mentors, Swartzel believes, could make the difference. If teachers are surrounded by professionals who want to see them become successful, then she said that would change the system.
Swartzel believes strongly in providing the best for her students. Arnold Elementary’s student body is 90 percent free and reduced lunch status. Of the total population, 25 percent is black and 27.8 percent is Hispanic. She said many of the students will not receive certain opportunities, unless teachers offer them.
Knowing students is part of being an exceptional teacher, according to Swartzel.
“I know which one of my students has learning disabilities. I know which one of my students does not speak English well,” Swartzel shared. “And I know how to circumvent those things to help them learn ... I make it my business to know these things, because that is the best tool in my tool belt.”
A new date for the event will be announced after Oct. 19.