Will Cabana and Elizabeth “Molly” Chester, two Scarborough Middle School sixth grade teachers, completed the National Board Certification after working on the program over the course of a school year. They are the only two teachers in the district to be certified, said Chester. Catherine Bart photo

SCARBOROUGH — Elizabeth “Molly” Chester and Will Cabana, two Scarborough Middle School teachers, completed the National Board Certification, the highest level a teacher can achieve, on Dec. 7, after a year of hard work.

Offered by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, The National Board Certification, according to its website, is a professional development experience and optional teaching credential based on high, rigorous standards.

The sixth-grade teachers are now the only two in the Scarborough School District to be certified, said Chester, and fewer than 40 percent attain certification on their first try.

“Attaining National Board Certification and gathering all of the evidence that goes along with that is a huge task that takes hundreds of hours over a long period of time,” said Principal Diane Nadeau. “Both Mrs. Chester and Mr. Cabana committed to this work at the start of the 2018-2019 school year and worked as a cohort to support each another, above and beyond their roles as teachers.”

Chester and Cabana said that they’re proud of themselves and want to encourage other teachers to become certified.

“It was a huge, exciting moment and continues to be,” said Chester. “Definitely proud — it’s validation that we’re doing good and helping kids, which is why we’re here.”

Cabana, a social studies teacher, and Chester, a science teacher, said that they were encouraged by their now-retired coworker, Randee Allen, who had been certified, to enroll.

“We saw what a good teacher she was,” said Cabana. “So we were like, ‘All right. This is legit, then. This is something she has done and says this helps her practice, and she’s a really good teacher.'”

“She was our mentor through the process and really an invaluable support system there,” said Chester. “She just retired this past year and we were really lucky to have her here.”

Chester and Cabana said that certification focuses on four components, each of which include the same five core principles, and there is a heavy emphasis on writing and reflection.

Through methods like traditional testing and watching recordings of their own teaching, Chester and Cabana were able to complete each of the four components: content knowledge, differentiation in instruction, teaching practice and learning environment, and effective and reflective practitioner.

“Through all of the components: reflection, reflection, reflection,” said Chester. “Really, you had to give a lot, but it also made you think about your practice. And that was one of the reasons why it’s considered such a good thing for teachers to do, not just because it shows that you can do all of this stuff but because it forces you to be a much more thoughtful teacher.”

Chester equated the workload to what she had completed to receive her master’s degree.

Certification taught Cabana and Chester how to be more prepared for the unexpected in the classroom, something a good teacher already needs to know, said Cabana, and how to recognize a class as both a group of individuals and a collective group.

“You plan things ahead of time, but if you come in expecting that everything will go perfectly, you’ll quickly find that that’s not the case,” he said. “If something doesn’t go well in period one, mix it up in period two. At least change it up the next time around. You’ve got to think on your feet, especially with sixth graders.”

“Be able to take your knowledge of a student and a group of students and apply it on a large scale,” added Chester.

The two are in their fifth year of teaching, they said, and share a passion for teaching the at sixth-grade level.

“I did my student teaching in seventh grade and always had it in the back of my mind that I wanted to do middle school,” said Cabana. “I just like the energy that they can come in with, particularly in the sixth graders.”

Chester said that she had thought she wanted to be a high school teacher while completing her education in New York City.

“When I moved to Maine, I was an ed tech at the middle school,” she said. “And I was like, ‘Wow, I love this.’ And then saw this job posting for the Scarborough sixth-grade science and got this job, and it really feels like I found my niche.”

The teachers said that they love the transitional period that sixth graders are going through: the balance of independence and leaning on adult help.

“It’s a whole new situation for them,” she said. “They’ve got multiple teachers for the first time. They’re going through a lot of personal changes as well. It’s scary to come to a new school. It’s a really big year. They’re moving in between buildings here. Keeping themselves organized is something they’ve never really had to do.”

There is also an ability to instill a passion for a science into the students, who are still figuring everything out, said Chester.

“It’s a good balance between helping them be more independent but then still understanding that they are coming in with a whole new set of skills and abilities and the different challenges here,” Cabana said. “Yes, they’re getting older — they need to be more independent, but you still have to help them along the way. They’re still 11. They’re still kids, which can be awesome.”

Nadeau said that music teacher Steven Bizub and art teacher Garrett White are currently working on becoming certified.

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