By SVERRE BAKKE
Columbia High language arts instructor Katy Dutra believes she is a better teacher this year--more attuned to what she is doing in her classroom, how she is presenting information and how students are receiving and processing it.
She attributes this belief to the personal growth she experienced while going through a yearlong process of reflection and self-assessment that culminated in her certification by the non-profit National Board of Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS).
"It was really difficult, very stressful at times," Dutra says of the certification process. "But I needed a new challenge at this point in my career and this looked like a good thing to try."
Now in her fourth year at CHS and seventh year of teaching overall, the University of Colorado graduate tested for the certification last June and found out last month that she had earned the prestigious national honor.
The process of gaining national certification, she reflects, was in some ways more difficult than the one she went through at Portland State University to obtain her master's of science degree in education.
"It's very time-consuming," Dutra notes, but was well worth the effort she put into it.
"I would do it again because it forced me to think about what I'm doing in my classroom," says the reading and 10th-grade English teacher, "and I can tell my students are benefitting from the knowledge I gained about myself as a practitioner."
Dutra is the second teacher from the White Salmon Valley School District to receive National Board certification. Her CHS colleague, Shirlee Jellum, was the first, in 2002.
Nationwide, 40,200, or less than 2 percent of some 2.5 million teachers, have the certification, which is considered the highest credential in the teaching profession, according to the NBPTS.
The certification is valid for 10 years and allows a teacher to work in any state.
More than 20 percent of the country's National Board certified teachers (8,282) are in North Carolina.
In Washington, the number of nationally certified teachers is 578. Of those, 235 teachers got their certification this year--ninth most in the nation for 2004 (roughly 3 percent of the 8,056 successful candidates in the U.S.).
The NBPTS states certification is voluntary and "achieved through a rigorous performance-based process that can take one to three years to complete and measures what accomplished teachers should know and be able to do."
Washington's Initiative for National Board Teacher Certification supported Dutra's candidacy with a scholarship to help her defray the $2,300 application fee. Dutra also received financial aid from the White Salmon chapter of Rotary International.
Moreover, the Washington Initiative gave Dutra access to a network of teachers around the state who had been through the NBPTS process and made themselves available to her requests for assistance.
Part of the application required Dutra to put together a portfolio of her work, including student work she had graded and videotaped classroom sessions of her teaching and interacting with students.
Having to critique her own performance, Dutra says, enabled her to identify her strengths and weaknesses as a teacher and see whether her teaching methods were fostering understanding.
"It made me a lot more conscious of how I'm presenting material so that students are actually learning," Dutra notes. "Before, so much of what I did was based on lesson plans and daily assignments."
That approach was OK, to a point, she says, because curriculum provides the framework for what she's teaching and what students need to know.
"But," she adds, "it didn't always take into account that a classroom is such a dynamic place, where being in the moment, knowing when students are or aren't getting something, plays such a big part in the learning process."
As does a teacher's own willingness to learn and refine his or her classroom practices, Dutra says.
"That's something that I think parents need to know, that we're not just shuffling papers and going through the motions here," she says. "It's important they know that their children are being taught by highly qualified teachers who care deeply about what they're doing and are committed to improving themselves so that students are learning what they need to know."