National merit becoming common for area teachers

February 5, 2014

By Neil Pierson

As her students returned to the classroom from afternoon recess, Michelle Toth had a table filled with tools for a science lesson.

Toth’s fourth-grade students at McAuliffe Elementary School were about to experiment with various water temperatures, and determine whether hot and cold water is more or less dense than room-temperature water.

Michelle Toth, a fourth-grade teacher at McAuliffe Elementary School, leads a science lesson about water density with her students – from left, Sophia Carlson, Arnav Babel and Ava Wiese.  Photo by Niel Pierson

Michelle Toth, a fourth-grade teacher at McAuliffe Elementary School, leads a science lesson about water density with her students – from left, Sophia Carlson, Arnav Babel and Ava Wiese. Photo by Niel Pierson

“We made a thermometer last week and found out that water expands when heated, contracts when cooled,” Toth explained. “We’ll talk a little bit about how using water to compare density levels is very common in chemistry and the real world, and a way to measure other substances or objects.”

It was an ordinary lesson in some ways. But Toth, who is in her eighth year with the Lake Washington School District – all at McAuliffe – had likely prepared differently for the lesson than in past years.

In December, Toth earned her National Board Certification from the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards. It’s a relatively rare title – only about 3 percent of the nation’s 3 million educators have done it, the NBPTS said.

However, Washington topped the nation this year with 516 newly certified teachers, and is now fourth among the 50 states with 7,333 overall.

Along with 15 peers in the Lake Washington district, Toth spent much of the 2012-13 school year earning her board certification. Applicants are required to submit student work samples, videotape their lessons, and provide a thorough analysis of their classroom work, among other items.

Filming herself was one of the most valuable parts of the process for Toth.

“It makes you reflect on that, think, ‘Oh, how can I change that? How can I engage them a little further? How can I connect this to something in the previous unit, or the unit coming up?’” she said.

While the process is primarily aimed at improving teaching standards and student learning, there’s a side benefit for teachers, said Rachelle Horner, an Eastlake High teacher who also earned certification for the first time.

“Straight up, you get paid more, and there are so few opportunities as a teacher to improve your economic situation,” she said.

Applying for certification isn’t cheap: This year’s candidates paid $2,500, although that will decrease to about $1,900 next year.

Horner, who teaches advanced U.S. history, honors English and a University of Washington-sponsored composition/literature course, said achieving her certification is “definitely one of the hardest things I’ve had to do as a teacher.”

Horner has taught at Eastlake for six years, and wanted to get her certification much sooner, but candidates are required to wait until the end of their third year. She said she understood why after completing the process, because veteran teachers have mastery over certain skills.

“I don’t know if it’s made me a better teacher, but it’s made me realize my strengths and where I really do excel as a teacher, and that’s brought me a lot of confidence,” Horner said.

Her Eastlake colleague, Christina de Vidal, also achieved certification in December. A world literature, English composition and Running Start instructor, de Vidal said the task required a lot of extra hours and sacrificing time with her husband and two sons.

“Part of it was for the money, but part of it also was for that sense of taking the time to reflect on, ‘How am I doing as a teacher?’” de Vidal said.

The certification process was “evaluative,” she said, allowing for self-assessment in several areas. And she felt it ended up being more valuable than the Washington ProTeach Portfolio, a state-sponsored certificate.

“I think I spent a lot of time second-guessing myself in the classroom, and having something external that shows me where my strengths are … was a really powerful process for me,” de Vidal said.




In December, 16 teachers from the Issaquah School District and 15 from the Lake Washington School District earned their National Board Certification for the first time.

The distinctions are given out by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, and must be renewed every 10 years. Lake Washington had five teachers renew their certificates this year, and Issaquah had two.

Here are the teachers based in Sammamish schools who were certified in 2013:

  • Alcott Elementary School: Rachel Holland
  • Cascade Ridge Elementary: Dana Shawver
  • Discovery Elementary: Bethany Stead
  • Eastlake High: Christina de Vidal, Rachelle Horner
  • Inglewood Middle: Barbara Wendell
  • McAuliffe Elementary: Michelle Toth
  • Pine Lake Middle: Jeff Burgard
  • Skyline High: Brendan Hyland
  • Sunny Hills Elementary: Jessica Clark, Damaris Melton
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