Rock Hill High School English teacher Candice Phillips spent several arduous months working for her profession's top credential. Last month, she got word: she's now certified by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards.
Her effort has already paid off, she said.
"It makes you reflective as a teacher," Phillips said. "You begin to truly assess what you do and why you do it."
The eight-year veteran joined 93 other teachers in York, Chester and Lancaster counties who earned certification. Statewide, according to results released this week, 755 teachers did the same.
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The national push to boost school systems' numbers of board-certified teachers mirrors the federal No Child Left Behind law's mandate to hire teachers who are highly qualified.
The credential has proved to be a lucrative investment for instructors. South Carolina, for example, offers $7,500 annually to any teacher who wins certification. On top of that, some districts offer extra incentives.
The Rock Hill district gives certified teachers a $3,000 annual bump. The Fort Mill system this year quit giving $3,000 raises. Fort Mill teachers who were certified in November will be the last group to receive the bonus, said district spokesman Bob Ormseth.
York, Clover and Lancaster County school districts don't offer extra money. Chester County school officials couldn't be reached for comment Wednesday.
The title also makes teachers attractive.
"When a candidate is nationally board certified that raises more interest for us, because that shows they've made a commitment to teaching already," said Rebecca Partlow, Rock Hill schools executive director of personnel.
Districts offering incentives tend to have more national board certified teachers than districts that don't offer them.
According to district figures, Rock Hill has the most in the area with 226. Fort Mill is next with 168. Lancaster County has 92, Clover has 76 and York has 35.
The National Board for Professional Teaching Standards' application process is grueling. It costs $3,000 and can take up to three years to complete.
Applicants must fashion a portfolio of extensive writing assignments and video of themselves teaching. Next, they take a six-part, three-hour test.
Then they wait.
"Six months of not knowing," said Fort Mill teacher Heather Morris. "That was kind of hard."
The experience, Morris said, has forced her to constantly look at all she does in her Riverview Elementary fourth-grade classroom and say: "How does this impact student learning?"
It also has changed her communication with parents, she said. She now sends home a weekly parent newsletter with space for feedback and questions.
A practice Phillips said she picked up is "fish bowl discussion," in which she and her class of 11th-graders arrange their seats in a circle. "The discussion bounces from person to person," she said. "The teacher's not the center of attention. It puts more responsibility on the students."
Moreover, she takes a new approach: "I am a lot more willing to do things differently ... I am willing to go to my kids and say, 'Your last set of test grades weren't that good. What can we do to make them better? Let's put our heads together.'"
BOARD CERTIFIED TEACHERS
These area teachers won certification from the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards
Clover school district
Fort Mill school district
Rachel Elia Fura
Rock Hill school district
Marjorie Nix Pusey
York school district
Chester County schools
Lancaster County schools
Jean Boulware Neal
Mary Beth Mize