The master teacher, the über teacher, the best of the best.  That’s the one that all parents want in their child’s classroom.

But how does someone know whose skills are top-notch?  Since 1987, one important indicator has been National Board Certification. More than 82,000 teachers have met its standards through study, expert evaluation, self-assessment and peer review.

Vancouver certification seekers Meredith Gannon, left, and Marna Hopkins

The certification process is tough, but teachers don’t have to go it alone. Support programs are available, including the National Board program offered by the WSU College of Education. Director Debra Pastore and her team of certified instructors have helped 900 teachers from 95 school districts.

“WSU helped launched the statewide National Board Certification support system in 2000,” says Deb. “That’s when our dean, Judy Mitchell, wrote the initial grant proposal along with Pat Wasley of the University of Washington, Patty Raichle of the Washington Education Association, and Lin Douglas of the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction.”

The Gates Foundation, Stuart Foundation, and Washington Mutual came through with $4.5 million. Since then, a new group of teachers has started WSU’s program each June. They work with facilitators all over the state. Some even complete the program on line.

Each teacher invests approximately 300 hours of work outside of the classroom during the year-long program. Much of their labor involves documenting student learning through work samples and videos. Those materials are part of what goes into a portfolio—aka “the box”—that is mailed off for assessment in late March.

“This is an extremely important day in the process,” says Deb. “The only other day more important is the day scores are released, usually in late November.”

Between 65 and 70 percent of teachers enrolled in the WSU program get good news, compared to a 40 percent national success rate. In Washington, those who earn certification get an annual bonus of $5,000 from the state, plus an additional $5,000 if they teach in a high-needs school. Those who continue teaching get the bonus for 10 years, until the certificate expires.

There is no expiration date on the pride of being at the top of their profession.

“Teachers have been the scapegoat for what’s wrong with education for many years,” says Deb. “Anyone who believes that has not spent time in the classrooms of these teachers.”