Since working to earn her professions top credential, Tawanda Wells teaching has become more deliberate.
She urges her fourth-graders at Lesslie Elementary in Rock Hill to delve deeper into lessons, sharpen critical thinking and make connections among subjects.
The web of state teaching requirements is less daunting because Wells mingles them rather than tackling each one by one.
The sixth-year teacher credits her approach to the months she spent researching, reflecting and writing, in preparation to earn certification from the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards.
My teaching is more intentional now, she said.
Wells is among 32 local teachers who earned the certification in November 2012, according to a roster of National Board-certified teachers released this week. Across South Carolina, 291 teachers from 39 school districts earned the credential.
Supporters say the process turns ambitious teachers into more thoughtful, innovative and effective educators. For many, it comes with a salary bump.
South Carolina gives a $5,000 raise for 10 years to teachers who earn the credential. The amount used to be $7,500, but the state trimmed it amid budget cuts in 2010.
Some school districts offer their own incentives. Clover schools, for instance, give teachers who earn certification a $1,000 raise. Fort Mill and Rock Hill schools used to give teachers a $3,000 raise, but stopped amid cuts in state money.
The raises are intended to attract strong teachers and entice others to get certified, thus improving the quality of instruction for students.
Critics have chided the salary bonuses as ineffective, claiming student achievement hasnt improved enough to justify the expense.
Teachers say it makes a difference. The hard work and long hours spent earning the credential, they say, makes them reflect and focus more on teaching approaches proven by research to be effective.
Teachers pay $3,000 to apply, then spend up to three years fashioning a portfolio of writing assignments, student work and video of themselves teaching. Then they take a six-part, three-hour test.
The certification is good for 10 years. Then teachers can apply to be recertified.
Wells started in August 2011 and was awarded certification a year and three months later.
It felt like it took years, she said.
Her lessons have since become more inventive, Wells said.
In the past, for a social studies lesson about the Boston Tea Party, she would pull a photo and tell students about it. Now, she not only teaches the event in social studies, she ties it to an English lesson in which students read about the event and analyze the image.
This week, shes teaching children about taxes and the tension between American colonists and England that led to the Revolutionary War. Students each received wads of fake money in varying amounts. Each day, Wells pulls a note out of a box, announcing what will be taxed that day.
One day, anyone wearing blue jeans had to pay up. Another day, every student that sipped from the water fountain was taxed.
But thats not fair, children said.
They got a sense of the anger the colonists felt, Wells said.
More than 100,000 teachers nationwide have earned board certification since the program was launched more than 20 years ago. South Carolina has 8,436. Only North Carolina and Florida have more.
Shawn Cetrone 803-329-4072