Park City teachers earn prestigious title |

Park City teachers earn prestigious title

Meghan Zarnetske awoke on a cold Saturday morning in November and logged onto her computer, hoping for good news. A science teacher at Treasure Mountain Junior High, she had spent the last year of her life wading through the grueling application process to become a National Board Certified teacher.

Hundreds of hours of work outside the classroom came down to this. The page on the computer screen loaded. It said this: Congratulations.

"It was pretty awesome," Zarnetske said. " I felt like the work I did amounted to something."

Zarnetske is among three teachers in the Park City School District who received their National Board Certifications in November. Joining her are Mark Parker, an English teacher at Treasure Mountain Junior High, and Melissa Nikolai, who teaches English at Park City High School. Seven teachers in the district have now achieved the designation.

Jennifer King, a district mentor for teachers hoping to become certified, said earning the certification is difficult, often taking about 600 hours. A nearly year-long process, applications require teachers to examine every aspect of their teaching ability and demonstrate competency in several key areas.

King said that when teachers apply alone, the pass rate is below 30 percent, which is why the Park City teachers going through the process band together.

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"If you have a cohort of teachers who are going through shared experiences, and you have somebody sort of serving as your mentor, who has also been through the process, the pass rate tends to be exponentially higher," said King, who also teaches social studies at PCHS and received her certification in 2003.

Benefits of becoming certified include earning a Level 3 Utah teaching license, which is the equivalent of a PhD, King said. Additionally, the Park City School District pays an annual $1,500 stipend to teachers who have earned their National Board Certification.

But perhaps the biggest reward is the growth a teacher experiences during the process.

"Most teachers would tell you there’s more of an intrinsic reward," King said. "Because you’re so entrenched in the process of really looking critically of what you’re doing and why you’re doing it, it’s amazing how much that rejuvenates an educator. It really makes you feel like you’re at your highest skills as an educator."

Zarnetske agreed. For her, the process was about introspection, which allowed her to identify her strengths and weaknesses as a teacher.

"It’s incredibly rewarding," she said, adding that she was weary in the beginning of the workload the application required. "It was also incredibly time-consuming, but worth it. When I was teaching, every minute of my time in the classroom was spent thinking, ‘Am I doing the right thing? Am I meeting all the needs of all my students? Is there a better way I could be doing this?’ Just really focused on reflection and improving."

Zarnetske said one area of growth came in discovering she needed to focus on the needs of each individual student more than a broad lesson plan.

"That makes me plan my lessons with intention," Zarnetske said. "I go into a lesson thinking, ‘What do they need to know to get to that next step?’ I don’t just jump to that next step."

That teachers are able to take what they learn throughout the application process and make improvements that translate directly to the students is what makes certification worth it, King said.

"It has a profound impact on students," she said. "It’s not just a paper on the wall. That teacher is so reflective about their practice and their craft that they’re looking at the holistic picture of their classroom."