PARSIPPANY — In December, after working tediously for three years and waiting six long months for the final results, Mrs. Joanne Hirsch, teacher of English at Central Middle School and a 40 year veteran of the Parsippany-Troy Hills School District, received the news that she was waiting and hoping for. It was in an email, splashed across the screen, “Congratulations! You are a National Board Certified Teacher!”
National Board Certification is the highest award in the nation intended to recognize excellence in teaching and is regarded as the “gold standard” in teacher certification. There are four components that are required addressing 1) content knowledge; 2) differentiation in instruction; 3) teaching practice and learning environment; and 4) effective and reflective practitioner, all of which must be attempted within three years. If a candidate does not pass one or more of the components, he/she has a total of two additional years within which to complete the process. The four components include an online exam with both multiple choice and written response elements to assess the teacher’s content knowledge, video tapings of students in the classroom engaged in the learning process, analysis of student growth and progress through various writing assignments and assessments, evidence of instructional strategies which include best practice teaching methods along with differentiation techniques and their impact on student learning and achievement, and finally, self reflection on one’s teaching practices. All submissions must be uploaded to the National Board website and submitted by a specific due date in May and scores are not posted until December of each year. Candidates are all scored anonymously by the National Board which includes highly trained professionals, many of whom are National Board certified teachers.
At a recent faculty meeting, one of Mrs. Hirsch’s colleagues, Sarah Hare, honored her with a beautiful tribute in which she stated, “…besides Mrs. Hirsch’s superb work ethic, immediate feedback to students on their written work, deep respect and calmness in responding to and interacting with her students, she is one of those talented teachers who simultaneously finds ways to make work seem like fun, actually makes it fun, while maintaining the highest of expectations.”
Mrs. Hirsch started in 1979 at Parsippany Hills High School where she worked for over twenty five years. She has also worked at Parsippany High School, and for the last decade or so at Central Middle School. Her various roles throughout her time in this district have included advisor for the PHHS literary magazine, assistant director of PHHS school productions, advisor for the PHS Voice of Democracy speech competition during which several students placed first in the county, coordinator of the CMS school wide spelling bee, and recipient of several grants. In addition, in 2015, one of Mrs. Hirsch’s students won first place in a nationwide writing contest sponsored by Ringling College of Art and Design which awarded both her and her student a substantial prize.
When asked why she would choose to pursue the challenge of National Board Certification so late in her career, Mrs. Hirsch responded, “I didn’t do it for any accolades. I did it solely for myself as affirmation of my vast content knowledge and pedagogical techniques, my veritable commitment to students to strive for academic excellence, and most importantly, my infinite love of teaching.”
In New Jersey, only .25% of teachers hold this certification and less than 3% in the nation. Mrs. Hirsch is the only teacher in the entire district who holds this certification.