Two local middle school teachers make the grade
Wednesday, 16 January 2013 15:09

Educators earn national certification

by Nicole Rodman

    Two local middle school teachers recently earned national certification, making them two of only 118 nationally-certified teachers in the county.
    In Dundalk, Katherine Bullock, a language arts teacher at Dundalk Middle School, and Mary Shears, Mathematics Department chair at Holabird Middle School, both earned National Board Certifications in language arts and early adolescence.
    National Board Certification, offered by the National Board of Professional Teaching Standards, is an advanced credential earned by teachers across the country.
    A voluntary certification, it does not replace a state teacher’s license but complements it.
    To earn national certification, teachers must complete a portfolio of video recordings and examples of student work.
    In addition, teachers must complete six assessment exercises designed to determine their knowledge of the subjects they teach.
    Once completed, each teacher’s work is evaluated by a panel of 12 teachers who then score the work and determine if national certification has been earned.

A time-consuming and difficult task taken on in addition to classroom teaching, national certification is fairly rare.
    In Baltimore County, only 118 teachers have achieved national certification — six of them this year.
    Dundalk Middle school teacher Katherine Bullock saw national certification as the natural step in her decade-long career.
    “I felt that it was time in my career to take a step back and reflect upon what I do in the classroom and what I’d like to change about my craft,” Bullock explained in an e-mail last week, adding, “I knew a lot of work was involved, but I honestly really enjoyed everything about it.”
    According to Bullock, completing the work toward national certification took most of the last school year.
    As part of the process, she submitted a four-part portfolio detailing professional accomplishments, student achievement, lesson plans and reflection.
    Bullock also completed a six-part assessment of her content knowledge and teaching strategies.
    For Bullock, the main benefit of national certification is in the practical training it offers.
    “Many people can study educational theories in a textbook or create beautiful lesson plans, but struggle with applying those ideas to their classrooms,” she explained, noting, “The National Board for Professional Teaching Standards is all about becoming a better teacher in meaningful, practical ways.”
    And, according to Bullock, through the national certification process she did learn to become a better teacher, becoming, as she noted, “more adept at teaching the way my students learn best rather than the way I learned.”
    For his part, Dundalk Middle School principal Seth Barish lauded Bullock as “an asset to DMS.”
    In an email to The Eagle last week, Barish added, “Ms. Bullock is an excellent educator and committed to the success of our students at Dundalk Middle School.”
    Like Bullock, Holabird Middle School Mathematics Department chair Mary Shears sought national certification as a way to sharpen her teaching skills.
    “I wanted to learn more about myself as a teacher, and I wanted to know what I could do in the classroom to better prepare my students,” Shears explained last week.
    While it also took Shears a full year to complete her certification in mathematics and early adolescence, she noted that it was time well spent.
    “I often reflect on the lessons I teach, but the in-depth reflection that is required to complete the portfolios allowed me to go so much deeper with my thought process,” she explained.
    She continued, “I was able to analyze both my strengths and areas for growth in a way that truly transformed my teaching.”
    In addition to her role as Holabird’s Mathematics Department chair, Shears teaches gifted and talented math as well as Algebra 1.
    Not only has the national certification process made her a better teacher, but it has made her a better department chair as well, she says.
    “This process has strengthened my skills and knowledge as an educator which allows me to effectively plan with, observe, and provide feedback to the math teachers that will enable them to strengthen their teaching so that the needs of every student are met,” she explained.   
    In an e-mail to The Eagle last week, Holabird Middle principal Julie Dellone agreed with Shears’ sentiment.
    She explained, “Mrs. Shears provides teachers with instructional support in her role as Math Department chair.  She works tirelessly to support the needs of our students, teachers and community.”
    Calling her “an asset to Holabird Middle School,” Dellone also noted that Shears “utilizes her knowledge of students, math content and instructional practices in order to provide students with high-quality daily instruction.”
    “We celebrate with Mrs. Shears in recognition of this prestigious accomplishment,” she added.
    Students at both Dundalk and Holabird middle schools will also reap the benefits of Bullock’s and Shears’ accomplishments for years to come.