Should Social Studies Teachers Become Nationally Certified?


Ann Lockledge and Nancy P. Gallavan

Why would anyone go through the arduous process of becoming a nationally certified teacher?

Because it is a “powerful individual growth process,” say successful applicants. Most teachers care deeply about how well they are doing as teachers. Often, though, they don’t have the time to think or write about it. The process of becoming nationally certified, which includes constructing a portfolio, forces that kind of reflection. Self-reflection helps teachers to change and grow. Not only do they learn what they do well; they also develop a greater understanding of who they are as teachers and who their students are as learners. That is the purpose of the national certification process. It causes teachers to reflect about their teaching.


Is there social studies certification for elementary teachers?

No. It is expected that elementary teachers will integrate social studies instruction into everything they do. Rather than focusing on any one discipline, an accomplished elementary social studies teacher integrates social studies throughout the entire curriculum. Social studies is used as the basis for many of the writing tasks that teachers assign to their students. What one may think of as social studies skills and pedagogy is often exactly what the national certification examiners are seeking. Getting children to inquire, problem solve, and work cooperatively is important not only in social studies, but across the curriculum as well.

The national certification portfolio requires selecting artifacts, a task that may seem overwhelming at first. Making collections is fun, but sorting, organizing, and choosing does not come as easily. Justifying the evidence selected is even more daunting because too much education has involved relying on the judgment of others regarding the quality of work produced. The concept of depending on one’s own evaluative skills can be staggering to most teachers.


How do successful teachers go about getting ready to prepare the materials?

Most make a plan before they start. As one teacher states, “You have to make a plan ahead of time. Then you go through the standards and start jotting things down for each component.” Some teaching strategies are best shown via the artifacts produced through the children’s efforts. Other strategies have to be shown on video. But one important thing to remember is that the process is not about staying within one’s own little world. “I use my students’ parents to help with things and do presentations. I included them in my video vignettes. That showed I was well rounded and didn’t depend just on myself,” said one successful applicant. She continued, “I used veteran teachers I had taught with and showed them my plan because they have seen you do things that you forget about. Since you have to do things about family partnerships, one suggested the parent letters that I did and the newsletter I write for Phi Delta Kappa.”

Teachers have to read and review the components required for national certification. This helps prospective candidates to jot down things they know they do each year that will document their competency. Another teacher said, “I selected activities that I knew were successful. I had one video cameo of my children decorating their United States cookies and another using bio dots in science to gauge anxiety. I used things that I knew from past experience every class had really liked. In fact I had five activities on that video and all were favorites of mine and the children.”

The instructions for national certification specify exactly what applicants are to write. If applicants don’t follow the guidelines, their applications are rejected. One teacher stated, “I had three or four people proofread each of my papers. I picked people who I knew would be good at picking up grammar or syntactical errors.”


What is the most difficult task in the process?

Almost all teachers at every level agree that assembling the final package causes the most stress. “Pulling the whole thing together as a product to send was the hardest part. I had to decide how it all fit into a whole fabric,” said one teacher. It is necessary to prepare a personal guideline in advance that takes into account demands on an individua#146;s time. One teacher said, “I started in November and had all of my papers written over Christmas. Then I concentrated on the videos of the activities that I had written about. My goal was to finish before spring break.”


What happens if you don’t pass?

Until recently, candidates had to pass all of the components in order to receive credit. Now applicants can bank passed items. Teachers can retake one or several components. It is also possible to challenge a score, but that is rarely successful.


Are there any specific requirements?

Teachers must have taught for three years. Applicants may find it advantageous to have a earned a master’s degree. Strong writing skills are also a definite plus. Tests are given in late spring or early summer. Because there are only a few sites, teachers may have to travel a great distance, possibly out of state. Two recent changes that have proven helpful are (1) the limiting of the testing to one day and (2) the provision that computers may be used for writing answers. It may be six to eight months before final results are determined.


Will anyone help with the fees or with advice on beginning the National Teacher Certification process?

It now costs $2,000 to apply for national certification. Financial assistance is a big deal. Help across the nation varies, as do rewards for being successful. For example, the best state is probably North Carolina, which will pay for the whole process. Teachers there get a promissory note to send with their application. They need not pass to have the fee paid—just complete the process. For more information about what is happening in specific states, check the National Board’s Web site (


Are there rewards?

Personal satisfaction is still the primary motivation for most teachers. In addition, teachers can write and find out how different states respond or give awards. For example, one state mandates a 12% raise. As a teacher, though, that shouldn’t be the main motivation. Teachers should sit down and say to themselves, “I want to do this to learn something about myself.” If the only goal is a monetary reward and you don’t pass, you’ll be devastated. Not passing does not mean you’re not a great teacher! You may not pass and still be a better teacher than someone who does. You may just not be as good a writer.


What about recognition?

That comes even more slowly. The National Board sends forms that teachers can send to the newspaper or school district administrators. Some respond; others do not. Sometimes the local university is more interested than the school system because people in schools of education realize what went into the accomplishment. They often publicly recognize those teachers who achieve national certification, regardless of whether the teachers are their own graduates.

This National Board process is important to the whole education profession. It says excellence in teaching matters — regardless of the age level or subject taught. Beware the old attitude, “I’m just an elementary teacher.” No, you are a TEACHER — and one who undoubtedly deserves recognition!


About the Authors

Ann Lockledge is a professor in the Department of Curricular Studies at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington. Nancy P. Gallavan is an assistant professor in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction, University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

©1999 National Council for the Social Studies. All rights reserved.