National Board Certification: Is It Worth It?

Whether it was last year or last decade, your experience of earning your initial teacher certification is probably still fresh in your mind. In many states, the process is long, complicated, and costly. Even if your experience was relatively easy, you probably breathed a big sigh of relief when it was over, because you never had to do it again.

But approximately 20,000 U.S. teachers are choosing to supplement their state certifications by entering into an even more rigorous, challenging, and lengthy process: National Board Certification. It’s a pretty exclusive club: there are approximately 3.5 million teachers in the United States; about 112,000 hold National Board Certification in one of the 25 specialties.

Unlike the certification requirements you met to become certified in your state and area of specialty, National Board Certification isn’t mandatory. Instead, it can enhance the credentials you already have.

Earning National Board Certification can be career-changing, and life-changing. Seeking this credential calls for a substantial commitment of time and money. Gathering as much information as you can find will help you decide if this endeavor is right for you. Here are some things to consider:

Your students might benefit.

All teachers share a common goal: to give their very best efforts every day to engage their students and be the best teacher possible. Plenty of teachers can achieve excellent results with their students without national certification. But if you’re curious about the student impact, you can review this large body of research from a range of respected sources and funded by the NBPTS. Overall, multiple studies have shown that students taught by nationally certified teachers outperform their peers.

It can facilitate a transition to another school or state.

Some teachers earn their initial certifications in one state, but circumstances lead them to pack up and relocate across the state border. In theory, it should be easy to navigate the reciprocity pathway. Unfortunately, depending on where you move to and where you’re from, it’s often difficult and confusing. But National Board Certification is recognized by most states. While it’s not a replacement for certification in your new state, it can smooth out the process and possibly get you in front of a classroom quicker. If you remain in your state, but decide to seek a job in another district, having this credential on your résumé will probably put you at the head of the candidate pack.

You have to invest a substantial amount of money, with no guarantee of success.

Initiating the process of earning National Board Certification requires an up-front investment of a significant sum, with no guarantee of successful completion. Though the overall cost has recently been lowered from $2,500 to $1,900, the amount may remain a deterrent for teachers still paying off student loans or with other financial commitments. However, in an effort to encourage participation, some districts and states offer scholarships. For example, New York State teachers who seek this credential are eligible for the Albert Shanker Grant Program, which provides funding for much of the cost.

Your rewards may not be financial.

Many professionals in other fields who pursue and earn prestigious credentials are rewarded with increased salaries. For example, accountants who pass the Certified Public Accountant (CPA) exam can make from 5 to 15% more than their non-certified accountant peers. But this isn’t necessarily true of teachers who earn advanced credentials. Only about half of all states offer a stipend or raise to teachers who successfully earn national certification. However, many of these are dependent on budgets and could be subject to elimination in a lean year. Some states, including Florida, Georgia, and Missouri, once offered pay increases but no longer do so. Individual school districts may offer a stipend or incentive, even if the state they’re located in does not.

It’s a lengthy process.

This should come as no surprise. Candidates have a five-year window to complete the process. It’s permissible to take a year hiatus from working on any components, however, they need to attempt all four components within the first three years.  Up to two retakes per component are allowed within the five-year window.

Teachers don’t enter the profession seeking glory and recognition; they’re often aware it can be a thankless job. But earning this credential will put you among the top teachers in the nation, which is a humbling and well-earned achievement, and it can provide you with opportunities you might have otherwise not had. You’re the best person to decide if National Board Certification will enhance your career and help you meet your professional goals.

Tracy Derrell is a Hudson Valley-based freelance writer who specializes in blogging and educational publishing. She taught English in New York City for sixteen years.