In the school districts in the five athletic conferences south of La Crosse and west of metro Madison, since 2003 14 teachers have achieved certification from the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards.
Five of those teachers work in the School District of Platteville.
The first teacher to be nationally certified in Platteville is Maureen Vorwald, who got hers in 2008. Vorwald teaches physical education at Platteville High School.
“I originally decided to pursue my national board certification for the academic challenge and financial compensation,” said Vorwald, who has taught in Platteville since 1991. “The process is very rigorous, but it is also the most beneficial and rewarding professional development I’ve ever done. I wanted to prove to myself that I was an accomplished educator and am current with best practices in my field.”
One year after Vorwald, fellow PHS teacher Ann Kroncke, who teaches biology, got hers.
“This is a tough process and I would compare it to getting a master’s degree,” said Kroncke, who has been at PHS since 1990. “I decided to pursue my national boards because I wanted an outside assessment of my abilities as a teacher. Every day as I prepare my lessons or look for new activities I have to think how this helps my students. Writing up to 13 pages of reflection for a national board entry really drums that message into your head.”
Two years after Kroncke, Julie Julius, who at the time taught four-year-old kindergarten at Neal Wilkins Elementary School, got hers.
“I decided to go though the process because I needed to challenge myself and was not able to do so by moving grade levels at that time,” said Julius, who now teaches fifth grade at Platteville Middle School. “The drive to get this certification gave me a new spark and allowed me to focus back on individual students and their learning outcomes.
Two teachers got their certifications this past year — Yvette Marshall, who teaches kindergarten and first-grade special education at Neal Wilkins, and Laura Digman, who teaches sixth-grade reading/language and social studies at Platteville Middle School.
“The process has proven to be the most rigorous professional experience of my career,” said Digman, who has taught in Platteville for 10 years. “The time commitment to the process was somewhat overwhelming, as I had to put maximum effort into teaching, coaching and family along with the National Board process.”
“I decided to pursue National Board Certification because of my commitment to student learning and a willingness to critically examine and fine-tune my own practice,” said Marshall, who has taught eight years in Platteville. “I believe it is the best professional development for teachers. It strengthened my teaching practice, which helps my students succeed.”
Marshall described the process as “a performance-based, peer-reviewed assessment of a teacher’s pedagogical skills and content knowledge. One way the process differed from when I earned my master’s degree was the final review. When I earned my master’s, I was able to defend and clarify my ideas in front of a committee. For National Board Certification, all the information presented must be clear and concise to the reviewers, as there is no opportunity to defend or clarify. Also, once materials are submitted, there is a several month wait to find out the score.”
Digman decided to seek national certification after Vorwald and Julius shared their experiences in seeking certification.
“It entailed video entries of my instruction, documentation of student achievement/work samples communication logs, research, and written portfolio entries demonstrating my proficiency and knowledge of literacy and instruction,” said Digman. “The reflection on my teaching strategies that were imperative to this process has made me a better teacher. As I reflect on my strategies and student learning, it’s enforced my willingness to modify to achieve desired learning outcomes.”
“The National Board Professional Teaching Standards define what teachers should know and be able to do,” said Vorwald.
Vorwald can speak authoritatively on “what teachers should know and be able to do” because she was part of the process. In 2011, she served on a national committee to revise national standards for physical education.
“It was an awesome process to be a part of,” she said.
The national board process makes teachers self-evaluate how they teach.
“I think one my strengths as a teacher is the enthusiasm I have for my subject,” said Kroncke. “I appreciate when a student is comfortable enough to bring in a strange spider for identification. I hope this excitement piques the interest of my students and gets them to engage in what is planned for that day. I am constantly looking for new labs and online activities that allows them to explore the almost daily advances being made in Biology.”
“I feel I am a good teacher because I put students’ needs and interests first when I am designing our curriculum,” said Vorwald. “I encourage all students to enjoy being physically active, and I equip them with the knowledge and experience that they will need to live a healthy and active lifestyle. I am motivated to make physical education a positive experience that will benefit them throughout their life.”
“I feel my strengths are shifting as I switch positions,” said Julius. “I used to be very effective at parent communication. Although it is a goal of mine to become a better communicator at the middle school, I am very focused on the new Common Core Curriculum and how we can help students become successful, lifelong learners.”
“I am an advocate for addressing the needs of a student through activity and movement,” said Marshall. “I use a treadmill program to help students organize and regulate themselves. I incorporate jumping on a trampoline for similar reasons.
“It’s more than just a job. Because I know the students and families for several years, they become a part of me. In the end, I may have been their teacher but my students inspire me.”
“Having experience with multiple grade levels gives me insight to where kids have come from and where they’re going,” said Digman, who has taught first, second, third, fourth and seventh grades. “If students connect with me or the way I present content, so much more can be taught. I love how each day is different. I never have to do the same thing twice, as each student and class brings a dynamic element to every day.
“It’s amazing to see the growth students make in one year, whether it be academic, social, or confidence in themselves. It’s important for me to be productive, and the demanding setting of school gives me a sense of accomplishment. It’s gratifying to encounter students years later and have them say, ‘I remember when we did this in your class.’”
In some cases, the certification process reinforced why they teach.
“I feel I reflect on my teaching much more now than I did before I went through this process,” said Julius. “It forces me to look at the standards and use them to encourage all learners in my classroom. Also, this process stresses the importance of looking at the school as a district and using everyone’s strengths to further student achievement. We are very focused at the Middle School to doing just that.
“I love my job and work each day to see students become more confident in their ideas, relationships and thinking outside the box. When talking to friends and family, I always regard my students as my children. I feel my classroom is my extended family. I get so much out of working with my students.”
“What do I get out of teaching? Joy and immense satisfaction,” said Kroncke. “We really have great students in the Platteville district, students who want to learn and aren’t afraid to show their curiosity. I get to see them mature over four years and I would like to think that I helped in that process.
“But I am also humbled by the stories I get after they graduate and realize that small acts in the classroom can affect career choices. This is something I have learned about the responsibility I have as a teacher.”