BILLINGS - Craig Beals has his master’s degree. He’s already won Montana Teacher of the Year. Really, how much was left for the Senior High science teacher to learn about his profession?
A lot, apparently.
Beals has become the latest of almost 50 Billings educators to earn National Board Certification after a yearlong process of self-review, portfolio preparation and written testing.
“It’s not a rubber stamp kind of thing,” said Senior English teacher Steve Gardiner. He’d know. He helped write the standards for the certification program’s English teachers and sits on the program’s board.
Gardiner received his certification in 2002 and re-upped in 2012, following the program’s 10-year cycle.
One of the program’s most valuable components for both Gardiner and Beals was reviewing videotaped lessons.
“It’s a little unsettling the first time you watch yourself,” Gardiner said. “It’s like a football team watching tape — it can get really critical.”
“When you’re giving the lesson, it seems like the greatest thing you’ve ever done,” Beals said. But when checking the tape, “you question, ‘why would I have ever done it that way?’”
“Why” is a driving force behind the program.
“You have to think about what you did, why you did it and what you could do better,” Gardiner said.
It takes most teachers about the length of a school year to prepare their submission for the program, averaging about 300 hours of work, Gardiner said. About 150 educators in Montana have the certification, and seven of those teachers, including Beals, earned it this year. Gardiner said that each year about 60 percent of teachers who go through the process are certified.
Montana rewards teachers with a $3,000 stipend when they earn the certification. Superintendent of Public Instruction Denise Juneau presented the stipend to Beals on Thursday afternoon at the Lincoln Center.
“It’s a very elite group,” Juneau said. Senior High has 10 certified teachers and five more who previously taught at the school.
It’s a very different process from earning a master’s degree, said National Board Certified Senior librarian Lyn McKinney. She learned a lot about education theory while earning her degree.
“This was such a good practical application of those theories,” she said.
Other parts of the application are also demanding — Beals had to answer a series of essay questions for a formal test that left him “in a fog,” and materials had to be submitted aligned with exacting specifications.
Beals was actually rejected last year but didn’t know exactly why. It could have been for simply putting something in his submission out of order or for its actual content. The experience gave him insight into his own grading process.
“Is that a fair assessment of what (students) are accomplishing, or are you just trying to teach them a lesson?” he said.
His own reflection on his lesson tapes made him re-evaluate how he teaches labs, making sure he focuses on enabling student learning instead of simply following procedure.
Both he and Gardiner said the certification is a good step for teachers looking for professional development.
“If you’re going to continue your education and be at the top of your game, it’s a good option,” Beals said.
Just be ready to check some game tape.