Tough new standards for student achievement set off alarm bells statewide, but they don't frighten Teri DiPasquale, a fifth-grade teacher at Buffalo's Riverside Academy.
"I look at them now and think: I've already done this," she said.
That's because Ms. DiPasquale is one of four local teachers to recently earn certification from the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, after a voluntary and demanding year-long assessment.
Beverly Palmer of the Riverside Academy, Caroline Parrinello of the Stanley Makowski Early Childhood Center, and Dale Crane of Williamsville's Mill Middle School also were certified. An additional 10 local teachers completed the process but fell short of the rigorous grading requirements.
The teachers spent an average of about 120 hours preparing portfolios of student work samples, lesson plans and videotapes of their classes, then two full days writing self-evaluations.
"It's like looking at what you do under a microscope, or watching yourself from the outside, as somebody else would," said Ms. Palmer, a fourth-grade teacher with 20 years of classroom experience. "You take a good look at what you're doing from day-to-day."
The certification process, participants said, emphasized ways to individualize instruction and stress critical thinking, along with other techniques that mesh with the new state standards.
"After 15 years of teaching, I realized there was so much more to learn," said Ms. Crane.
She said the experience encouraged her to use more humor in class and helped her improve communication with parents and streamline the collection of classroom material.
Ms. DiPasquale, who fell short in an earlier effort to gain certification, said she became more adept at detecting problems among individual pupils and at weaving together different subject material.
"When I plan a lesson now, I really think about how I can pull in art and music, and how to include math and social studies," she said. "It's an integrated thing, and when you're really teaching it just flows."
Nationally, 376 teachers have been certified by the board, a non-profit organization based in Southfield, Mich., and dedicated to improvement in student learning. Having two of those teachers at one school has lifted morale and given the Riverside Academy staff a boost as it prepares for the new state standards, said Arlene Shappee, principal of the Ontario Street school.
"What Teri (DiPasquale) and Bev (Palmer) accomplished makes the teachers feel that much better about themselves," Ms. Shappee said. "If we can achieve national certification, we can do whatever we set out to do."
There is normally a $2,000 fee for seeking certification, but the local teachers participated free of charge as a part of a pilot program. Unlike teachers in some other states or school districts, however, they do not receive salary supplements or continuing education credits for successfully completing it.
The local participants said they were motivated instead by the opportunity to improve their skills, to gain new insights, and to see how they match up with teachers throughout the country.
"It was a challenge, and I couldn't say no," Ms. Parrinello said. "I figured if I got through it, that would be my reward."