When Jennifer Merkle turned into the drive at 555 Warren Street for the very first time, she had no idea what an incredible journey lay before her. We are proud to announce that Merkle, Special Education Teacher for TST’s Turning Point high school program, has earned the prestigious distinction of being a Nationally Board Certified Teacher (NBCT).
National Board Certification is the highest certificate an educator can achieve in the United States. Administered by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, it was designed to develop, retain, and recognize exemplary teachers and to cultivate ongoing enhancements in schools nationwide. In fact, in the state of New York, only about 1% of teachers have completed the NBCT process.
Growing up in Fairport, New York, Merkle’s post-secondary quest as a lifelong leaner first took her to Oxford, Ohio where she earned a BA in Psychology from Miami University, and then to Boston, Massachusetts where she attained an MSEd (Master of Science in Education) degree from Simmons College. Throughout her career, she spent 15 years teaching in schools in Boston, then in San Diego, CA.
After returning to the Ithaca area to be closer to her family, she sought a school that was focused on helping students with special needs. This continued dedication to helping those in need is what drew Merkle to a career at TST BOCES.
Merkle recalls embarking on her NBCT journey in 2019, when suddenly in March of 2020, the world was spun into the turmoil of COVID-19. “As everything changed and continued changing, in school and our world, it was really hard not to give up on completing the process,” she said. “I had to scrap a lot of what I had been working on and pick it up again the following school year and figure out how to complete my components with half of my class in-person and half online. I really had to utilize the resources around me for practical and moral support, and I just never gave up.”
Of those resources, Laura Havill and Maria Fenton, NBCT Professional Learning Facilitators for the Candidate Support Cohort at TST BOCES, were both instrumental in helping Merkle succeed. By sharing the reasons for the strategies used in the program and focusing on improving student outcomes, the cohort successfully coached Merkle through the program.
The National Board believes that reflecting on current practice and focusing on evidence-based strategies is vital to growing as a professional. As part of the cohort, candidates pursuing their own National Board certification meet to work on their submissions and receive feedback from each other, as well as other certified NBCT professionals. Contributors are continually encouraged to analyze their work and add more concrete examples of strategies used, outcomes, and how to adjust instruction to improve student success. “The support of the NB Coaching from TST BOCES and the Southern Tier cohort writing retreats led by Laura Havill and Maria Fenton were incredibly helpful, I do not think I would have stuck with it and achieved my goals without that support,” Merkle reflected.
Having worked with NBCT candidates for many years, Havill understands the process and how to successfully navigate each step, and she strives to make each candidate’s journey the most effective for their overall goals as an educator. “Professional learning can sometimes be lonely,” Havill points out. “If you are interested in reflecting on and improving your professional practice, that can mean you are stepping away from your familiar colleagues or immediate department. The TST BOCES' COSER allows like-minded professionals who are willing to reflect, stretch and grow through the National Board process to come together from across the Southern Tier, and from any content area, to establish a supportive, meaningful and therefore hugely impactful professional learning community. For teachers who take the leap and opt to be a part of our cohort community, collegiality and personalized support is often a highlight of their experience. We help educators find a way to improve their practice without having to go it alone!”
When Merkle reflects on the hard work and dedication put into the process, one of the things she is most proud of is how it has enhanced her role in helping students at TST BOCES, adding “I think so much more now about each of my students. Who they are, where they are academically/emotionally, and what they need to grow into adults that will be productive and important members of our community."
Jennifer Merkle has continued to grow as a lifelong student, an educator, and a leader throughout her time with the cohort and TST BOCES and encourages other educators to explore what NBCT can add to their toolbox, adding, “I would tell any teacher considering National Board certification that it is a challenging but worthwhile pursuit. There is a lot of support in the region, and I recommend taking advantage of all that support, since it made this a really positive experience for me.”