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Master Teachers

6 Utahns earn the profession’s highest credential

Shelley Pierce remembers running down the halls of her school screaming in elation.

She passed the test.

She is a master teacher, certified under the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards.

"It was so hard, and not very many people make it," the Ecker Hill Middle School special education teacher said of the year's worth of certification work, put in every night after school and every weekend.

Pierce received a bouquet of flowers from the teachers union, a cake from her aide and a call to teach a class at Westminster College.

But if the Park City educator lived in California, she'd get a $10,000 check.

Or, if Ecker Hill were part of Florida's school system, she'd receive a 10 percent pay raise and a 10 percent bonus if she agreed to mentor others.

The six Utah teachers from Washington to Cache school districts receiving national board certification in 2001 will receive no extra pay. Neither did the eight teachers who walked the grueling path before them.

But the State Office of Education did help pay certification fees for each candidate, at $2,300 a pop. The Utah Education Association also kicks in some cash.

"I know how tight our state is financially," said Shelly Otte, first-grade and, now, master teacher at Sunrise Elementary in Smithfield, Cache County. "But if we have people in this state willing to go through the process and go through the work to become expert in all these areas, we should be rewarded."

The National Board for Professional Teaching Standards was formed 14 years ago to define the knowledge, skills and accomplishments that define teaching excellence.

Certification candidates must demonstrate excellence in: commitment to students, subject and teaching knowledge, risk-taking and school contribution. They also submit portfolios — which take about 120 hours to create — videos of their work and letters from colleagues. They take four 90-minute tests.

More than 16,000 teachers nationwide have earned the teaching profession's highest credential. Fourteen are from Utah.

Despite the lack of monetary rewards, Utah's new crop of master teachers say the certification is worth the work and the journey as rewarding as the ultimate goal.

Here are their stories.