Instead of asking Studdard to help them solve their problems, they turned to each other. Some asked questions of classmates in the next desk. A couple of students, already done with the assignment, got up and leaned over their classmates’ desks to offer one-on-one assistance.
“Used to, this amount of chatter I wouldn’t have allowed,” said Studdard, who has been teaching for 22 years.
She said her idea about the proper decorum of a classroom began to change about three years ago when she sought her National Board Certification, which requires a rigorous evaluation process. Twenty-four percent of Piedmont teachers have now earned the same certification since the system began offering incentives in 2010 to teachers who seek the distinction. That’s significantly higher than the state average of 4.5 percent and the national average of 3 percent.
“This is uncommon to have such a high percent of National Board Certified Teachers in a district,” said Andy Coons, the chief operating officer of the program, based in Alexandria, Va., who is himself a National Board certified educator. “We hope to learn from Piedmont and how they did it.”
Piedmont schools Superintendent Matt Akin said the system three years ago began offering to pay the $2,500 cost of the program for each teacher who would seek the designation. At the same time, the system offered to give teachers two additional paid days off during the year to work on the certification process.
In addition, teachers who earn their certification are promised $5,000 in extra pay by the state for 10 years.
“I’ve read a lot of research that National Board Certification is the best professional development that teachers can receive, and it makes an impact on student achievement,” Akin said.
Brandi Todd and Leighann Ford, Piedmont teachers and sisters, began the certification process together three years ago because of the incentive.
“It made it even more appealing,” said Todd. “It was something that I always wanted to do, but I knew that it cost money,”
Ford, a ninth-grade history teacher, echoed her sister’s statements.
“That certainly made it more appealing,” said Ford, who holds a master’s degree. “I knew I didn't have time to do a doctorate just then because I had small children.”
Both women said the experience has made a difference in their teaching.
“Before, I think I was a good teacher, but I think National Board has made me a better teacher because I’m much more reflective of my teaching process,” Ford said.
Todd and Ford also agreed that the certification process made them evaluate their own teaching techniques.
“Reflection has become a daily part of my routine. It’s something I do without really realizing I’ve done it,” Todd said.
The National Board Certification process can take as long as three years, though 40 percent of teachers earn the distinction in one year. Those who don’t complete it in the first year can try up to two more times to earn the certification.
One of the most beneficial elements of the program, local teachers said, is that it causes them to assess their own performance and to consider ways they might improve.
“You’re having to analyze yourself as a teacher,” Akin said. “That process makes you better.”
During the certification process, teachers are required to submit four entries in a portfolio. For the first entry teachers must submit examples of student work to show they can understand the differences in student needs. For the second and third entries they are required to submit video entries of their work with written analysis that examines their performance and student responses. Teachers are also required to submit one entry that provides specific examples of their leadership in the school and in the community.
In the end their work is evaluated against national standards by teachers from across the country. Coons said the evaluation process is intensive and detailed.
“Going through this process is very personal,” Coons said.
In addition to the review process teachers must also complete timed tests to earn the certification.
In Piedmont, teachers who earn the certification are recognized by school board members at a meeting, and by a small plaque that is mounted to the wall outside their classroom doors.
“The level of teaching in this system continues to elevate year after year,” Akin said. “I think National Board certification certainly plays into that.”
Staff Writer Laura Gaddy: 256-235-3544. On Twitter @LGaddy_Star.
Editor's note: This story has been modified to correct a word in a quote from Andy Coons, who said, “Going through this process is very personal."