ASPEN - A group of Aspen teachers have taken their commitment to education to a new level, having completed a rigorous course of study and receiving national certification in their fields.
"These teachers have taken it upon themselves to enrich their teaching practices, which has so many benefits for them and their students," said Julia Roark, assistant superintendent for the Aspen School District. "This is very exciting for our district."
According to Roark, 12 Aspen teachers completed the course work for certification by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards. Before the Thanksgiving break, five of those teachers learned they had qualified for certification. Roark said the fact that not everyone becomes certified on their first attempt - the national pass rate is between 35 and 50 percent - speaks to the prestigious nature of the recognition.
"This is an incredibly rigorous process, and it is truly an honor to receive certification," Roark said. "These teachers chose to do this; they chose to challenge themselves to this great extent."
The process - which takes a full year to complete and includes a four-part portfolio as well as the completion of six different computer-based tests - was done completely on the teachers' own time. And since there is no organized program for local teachers seeking certification, the Aspen group was left to create their own support systems. Roark said the teachers met once a month for about four hours and then put in countless hours on their own outside the class.
The teachers who received their certification - elementary school teachers Jamie Mahaffey, Sara Lowe and Kim Knol and high school teacher Mark Benedict (as well as one other teacher who asked not to be named) - pursued the recognition for mostly personal reasons. They are not guaranteed a raise or bonus, though district administrators will ask the Board of Education to count their work as education credit for a pay increase, and they are not given any special treatment in the workplace.
"I think teachers decide to do this for different reasons, but I think the underlying one is that they want to be better at what they do. They want to grow in their field, and this intense, reflective process really helps them achieve this," Roark said, adding that much of the work the teachers did during the certification process dovetails with new state requirements for educator effectiveness. "I think they really get a renewed sense of purpose around what they are doing."
In fact, Roark hopes the energy these teachers bring back to the classroom will inspire other teachers to pursue certification.
"I think all the teachers - whether they passed this first time or not - will tell you it's been an amazing experience," she said. "And I have felt all along that if we were able to get a handful of teachers certified, we can keep the momentum going.
"We have an amazing staff of dedicated teachers, and this is just another example of that."