Teachers Achieve National Board Certification

Teachers Achieve National Board Certification
Tinley Park High School chemistry teacher Lee Rucinski and Tinley Park High School physics teacher James Birrell were recently recognized by the Illinois State Board of Education as Nationally Board Certified Teachers. This achievement is one of the highest levels of accreditation a teacher can receive in the state of Illinois.

The program is available to all teachers but isn't for the faint of hearted. The National Board Certified program can take anywhere from one year to five years to complete. If the applicant doesn't finish in five years, then he or she must try again at a later date. Additionally, the program can cost up to $4,000 making it not only a challenging goal, but potentially a risky and expensive one as well.

Rucinski and Birrell were fortunate enough to receive funding through the state. Each year, the state awards teachers funding for the program. To be accepted, all teachers have to do is apply.

After two years of hard work and a lot of dedication, Rucinski and Birrell can officially say they are Board Certified Teachers. However, they both claim their reasoning for wanting to achieve the title had more to do with personal satisfaction and growth.

"I did it to see if I could," says Rucinski. "I wanted to know how I rated and if I really am as good of a teacher as I thought I am. This program is a way to re-affirm self-belief and accomplishments."

"How good of a teacher you are has nothing to do with how many letters you have after your name," says Birrell. "I did it more as something for me, personally, to prove my growth."

What exactly is the National Board Certified program?

Teachers must complete four components within five years. Each component is designed to test a teacher's skill set. The four components include content knowledge, differentiation in instruction, teaching practices and learning environment, and effective and reflective practitioner. Rucinski and Birrell explained that the components include a four-hour test meant to assess a teacher's content knowledge, essays explaining how to specifically use different teaching styles to match student needs, videos analyzing class environment, and multiple essays reflecting on student progress and growth through teaching practices.

Rucinski has been a teacher for 14 years with 12 of those years spent at Tinley Park High School, and Birrell has been a teacher for 13 years with all 13 spent at Tinley Park High School. With so many years of experience, one might think the program would be easy for them, but both agreed it's "a lot of work" and is really for teachers who are trying to prove growth or improve in their field.

"If a teacher wants an honest evaluation of themselves, they should definitely try out the program," says Rucinski.

"Or if they're genuinely trying to improve as a teacher," adds Birrell.

In a world where the latest technology or flexible seating seems to be what attracts students and teachers to schools, Rucinski and Birrell say the program helps remind them that teachers can still resonate with students and be great at their jobs in other ways.

"We often see a lot of flashy technology in science classrooms being publicized or highlighted," says Rucinski. "It's hard to publicize what makes us, as teachers, or our class, special or unique. But we genuinely focus on giving feedback and offering various teaching styles that will hopefully impact and work for every student who comes into our classroom. It might not seem like our classes are anything out of the ordinary, but when we have students come back years later who remember us, it's really something special and meaningful. This program helped remind us that we are doing important work in our classrooms."

Additionally, Birrell says, "The program really helped me craft an idea around how certain types of teaching can really help students and be used effectively. There is no one right way to teach. This program proves teaching can be effective in so many different forms."

Luckily for Birrell and Rucinski, their classrooms are across the hall from one another. Additionally, they reach many of the same students over the years as these students complete science coursework. Both teachers agree that their collaboration and discussions on teaching will continue outside of the National Board Program for years to come. They look forward to continuing as thoughtful teachers ready to meet the needs of the Tinley Park High School population.

For more information about the National Board Certified program, click here.