VINTON–Heather Balsley, the librarian at William Byrd Middle School, has some new initials after her signature—“NBCT” –National Board Certified Teacher. Those letters represent months of effort and a significant financial investment on her part to achieve a goal only 3% of the teachers in the United States have met since the program began in 1987.
“Getting the National Board Certification is a difficult process for teachers,” said Dr. Lorraine Lange, Superintendent of Roanoke County Public Schools.”We are proud of Heather and her efforts to receive such an honor. She is an asset to William Byrd Middle School.”
National Board Certification is a “voluntary advanced teaching credential” administered by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS). According to their website, the NBPTS is a non-governmental, non-profit organization which sets rigorous standards for highly effective teachers. The standards are above and beyond what is required for a state teaching license.
National Board Certification is part of the growing education reform movement intended to advance student learning and improve teaching across the nation.
As part of the process, candidates submit four extensive portfolio entries, three of which are classroom based, with videos of lessons taught and examples of student work as documentation. A fourth portfolio relates to accomplishments outside of the classroom which influence student learning. The candidate also completes six written assessments to demonstrate content knowledge.
It generally takes from one to three years and from 200 to 400 hours to complete the requirements. Only 40 percent of those who participate are successful on their first try.
It took Balsley about 15 months to complete the process, starting in January of 2011 and submitting her work for evaluation in March 2012. She received National Board Certification on her initial attempt.
“It took hundreds of hours, months of three to five hours a night, and entire weekends to put together the portfolios,” said Balsley.
Balsley is grateful for the support of her husband and son which allowed her to complete the NBCT process, and for the support of the staff at WBMS and the Roanoke County School system.
The cost of completing the NBCT process is $2500. Some financial support is available from the state and local school districts. Balsley received some assistance from both.
There are incentives for going through the process. Not only does the teacher or administrator who completes the program receive recognition, there are also recertification points and financial benefits. As long as funding is sustained, a National Board Certified teacher receives compensation of $5000 the first year and $2500 for nine succeeding years from the Commonwealth of Virginia, in addition to $2500 from Roanoke County each year for the ten year life of the NBCT certificate.
To pursue National Board Certification, a teacher must hold a bachelor’s degree, have three years of experience, and a valid state teaching license.
Balsley, who grew up in Vinton and graduated from William Byrd High School, completed her undergraduate and Master’s degree programs at Radford University, and obtained her library endorsement from the University of Virginia.
She has been the librarian at WBMS for nine years and taught special education at Cave Spring Middle School and in Bedford County for several years prior to that.
As for the benefits of the NBCT program, “The program forces you to examine and analyze what you already do,” said Balsley. “You can clearly see your strengths and your weakness.”
“It made me aware that I need to be an advocate for the library program, to promote the library and its activities, to incorporate the library in every class throughout the school,” said Balsley. “I can work SOL’s for any grade and subject area into library lessons. I have the potential to impact every class in the school.”
“I wish more teachers would apply for the NBCT program. It’s a wonderful opportunity. The end result is providing better library services to students and teachers, who deserve the best.”
As for her next goal, she would like eventually to teach classes part-time to school librarians in training.
“I would never leave this job that I love, but I would like those entering the field to know how much fun the library can be.”
Balsley’s mission has always been to alter the stereotypical image of libraries as quiet, sedate settings.
“For students, I want to not only develop a library program that will help them academically with classroom materials, but encourage their recreational use of the library,” said Balsley. “I want to see more of those kids who come running into the library for fun because they just can’t stop reading.”
Balsley herself was not a fan of reading as a young child, but once she discovered Nancy Drew novels she was immediately addicted.
“It was love at first word,” said Balsley. “I would get so engrossed that teachers had to call my attention back to class and drag me out of the book.”
As for her accomplishments outside of the classroom that impact student learning, Balsley has chosen to partner with the Vinton Public Library.
“Heather is an enthusiastic supporter of the Vinton Branch Library and the Roanoke County Library’s teen program,” said Emily Metrock, Children’s Library Assistant at the Vinton Public Library. “She organized an outreach program for us at the middle school, during which Sarah Vaughan, our Young Adult Librarian, gave presentations on our programs to all the English classes, while I manned a sign-up table outside the auditorium.”
“Heather is a huge champion of our Page Turners Book Club for fifth through eighth graders, encouraging students to participate and arranging for them to receive extra credit in the their English class each time they attend,” said Metrock. “She is one of the main reasons I have the level of participation that I do. Heather is so dynamic and passionate about her work, books, and libraries, it’s contagious. Every public library should be so lucky as to have their own Heather!”
Balsley was named Regional Librarian of the Year in 2011 by the Virginia Association of School Librarians. She makes frequent presentations at a variety of meetings and conferences, and participated in writing a grant for the Library of Congress which helps teachers incorporate primary documents into their instruction.
“Mrs. Balsley is an integral piece to the instructional program at William Byrd Middle School said Tammy Newcomb, principal of WBMS. “Her accomplishment is to be commended.”