Number in 2010-11 // Percentage increase // Total certified
Tennessee // 49 // 10.1 percent // 535
Georgia // 9 // 0.3 percent // 2,611
Alabama // 123 // 6.1 percent // 2,133
North Carolina // 1,224 // 6.9 percent // 19,193
United States // 6,226 // 6.9 percent // 97,291
Source: National Board for Professional Teaching Standards
For national board certification, Hamilton County teachers receive $4,000 annually, split into two $2,000 payments. A teacher can earn an extra $40,000 over the course of the 10-year certification.
By most accounts, it's not easy to become a National Board Certified teacher.
Considered the highest teaching credential in the country, the certification requires teachers to complete multiple assessments and submit several portfolios, including videotaped lessons, examples of student work and evidence of their accomplishments. It can take up to three years as teachers critique their own lessons, perfect their portfolios and retake exams if necessary.
Hamilton County got its first National Board Certified teacher six years ago. Since then, 33 teachers have received the designation, and 27 are working in local schools this year.
"That's really probably some of the best professional development a person gets is when they're doing it themselves and basing their practice of what they do on the national standard," said Sharon Vandagriff, a retired teacher and former president of the Hamilton County Education Association -- the teachers union -- who is contracted to work with the national certification effort here.
Vandagriff said about 40 local candidates actively are pursuing the designation, with more than 100 more exploring the process. Several dozen will find out this month whether they've received the certification.
A study from the National Research Council shows that teachers certified by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards have a larger impact on student achievement than their peers. And unlike statewide licenses or awards, it's a standardized, national measure of rigor and teacher quality.
For years in Hamilton County, teachers showed little interest in the certification, even after the school district started offering financial incentives. But a partnership between the district and the HCEA has put more local teachers through the certification in recent years.
Since 2008, the association has received two grants from the National Education Association Foundation to help with the work. HCEA trained nearly 100 teachers to help support those pursuing the national certification. The school district and state have offered partial reimbursement of the $2,500 certification cost, while the Chattanooga Area Schools Federal Credit Union has offered interest-free loans to pay for it.
Aside from recognizing those who were already quality teachers, teachers say the process makes them examine their practice much more closely.
"It affirmed the things I was already doing," said Big Ridge Elementary School kindergarten teacher Steven Hinkle. "But it also helped me to think analytically and reflectively about what I was doing."
Hinkle, a 20-year veteran teacher, said the certification process forces teachers to think about what they do, how they do it and why they do it. He received his certification last year after working on it for two academic years. But the designation isn't for the average teacher, he said.
"If you're just coming to work every day and doing basically what is required, that doesn't make you outstanding," Hinkle said. "That makes you an employee in good standing."
As more local teachers go through the process, Hinkle said it's becoming more of a desired credential.
Those who do receive the certification are part of an elite group. Of about 3 million teachers across the country, only about 100,000 have received the designation.
"Anywhere those National Board teachers go, it's recognized as a national accomplishment, usually with some extra compensation," said HCEA President Sandy Hughes.