Are you a Master Teacher?


This week I was asked by an administrator if I would like to go observe “some master Science teachers” in one of the big cities here in Colorado. I said yes. I’ll jump at any chance to see other science teachers in action, especially those that are in another school district.

But then I got to wondering about the phrasing of this offer, especially the bit about “master” teachers.

How does one earn the label of Master Teacher? Are these teachers self-identified experts at science teaching or is this a label granted by their administrators? Do their state science test scores blow my students’ scores away so that the state grants this title? What metric are we using here?

Of course, the obvious answer is that these may be National Board Certified folks. That seems to be the only metric that Colorado officially uses to determine if you are a master teacher. The NBCT site claims that “to date, 890 Colorado teachers have achieved National Board Certification.” I guess I find it kind of sad that out of all the teachers to ever teach in Colorado, only 890 of them are master teachers.

The subtext to the offer to visit another school is an interesting one, too. I teach in the only high school in a town of about 8000 people. The master teachers that I would be visiting work in schools in one of the big cities a few hours away. The folks at CDE who made us this offer clearly thought that teachers in the little school districts could benefit from seeing how its done in the cities. But is the teaching and learning that happens in big cities any more masterful than that happening out in the rural schools? Do we not have access to the same academic journals, blogs, and online networks of truly masterful teachers that they do? Shouldn’t they be visiting us instead?

I guess I am obsessing about titles and labels and the rural vs. urban socioeconomic dynamic here since I’ll be presenting at the National Science Teacher’s Association national meeting in Chicago in just a few weeks. I’ll attend sessions led by folks on the National Research Council and Achieve Inc. (the forces behind the NGSS) and surround myself with the high society of the nation’s science educators (and yes some functions at the conference require “evening attire”).

What sort of labels matter when science educators get together? I for one am sorely tempted to only seek out presenters with the label “current teacher” in their bio, because these are the folks who are most obviously trying to do right by their students on a daily basis. Likewise, I strongly suspect that there will be conference attendees who will look for certain credentials or affiliations after my name in the session listing and find them lacking.

In summary, I guess I would have been happier if this offer of a visitation simply asked if we wanted to meet and observe some fellow teachers in another school district. I still would have said yes, but without wondering whether someone was trying to compare my teaching skills with theirs. Who knows, maybe I will get to meet these master teachers and judge for myself. Maybe someday they’ll meet me and do likewise, but I probably still won’t be a Master Teacher, just a darn good one.

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4 thoughts on “Are you a Master Teacher?

  1. Aaron B.

    Hi Chris – long time no comment on your blog but I still follow and enjoy your work. So to answer your question – yeah, I am a Master Teacher – at least that’s what it says on my teaching license. Wisconsin also uses National Board Certification to distinguish between “Professional” educators and “Master” educators.

    For me, the decision to go through the process was twofold. My initial motivation was that I just wanted to keep improving and keep getting better. Secondly, I thought I was pretty good at what I did so I wanted to put my money where my mouth was and take on the challenge.

    Now, 10 years later, the process and the things I learned about myself as an educator are still things I think about. And I don’t know if this is good thing or not, but sometimes it helps me get through ridiculous parent issues or administrators that “don’t get it”, or just feeling under valued or under appreciated.

    I guess I see National Board Certification as something that teachers can do for themselves which not only improves their practice but also validates the work they do. And the $2500 check from the state each year doesn’t hurt either.

    So, I can’t speak for all NBCT’s, but if you were coming to visit me I’d be hoping to learn as much or more from you than you might from me.

    1. Chris Ludwig Post author

      Thanks for the comment, and thanks for still following!

      I have occasionally thought about going for the National Board Certification, but haven’t found the right time in my school and family life to make it happen just yet. It truly is a lot of work and I agree that it can be used to distinguish yourself as a master teacher. I’ve got a lot of respect for the NBCT’s that I know, and now I can add you to that list!

      I think your diagnosis of “under-valued or under-appreciated” is pretty spot-on for most teachers these days. I think NBCT status is really cool, but it would be nice to have some sort of regional or state recognition program in place that might be a step below the work (and money) involved in earning the title of Master Teacher. Maybe I need to look around for more opportunities to apply for programs and grants that would be those little nods of recognition that could carry me through those rougher times that you mention.

  2. Chris Ludwig Post author

    Update 2/23/15: Today is the day that we were to travel up to Boulder for our visit. Contrary to the snarkiness of the post above, I was actually looking forward to our visit. But sadly the randomness of Colorado weather in the winter intruded, and our trip was snowed-out.

    I did have the chance, however, to learn who exactly we were to meet with, and indeed they are master teachers. The group of teachers we were to meet with included people that have presented at NSTA as well as a Colorado Teacher of the Year. Hopefully we’ll get our trip rescheduled so that we can swap ideas in the near future.

  3. Cathy Weselby

    Hi Chris,

    We’ve featured your blog in our article about becoming a science teacher at Concordia University Portland ( Just wanted to let you know in case you wanted to link back to the post.

    Also, it’d be great if you provided a quote about why you like being a science teacher. We’d like to bring the description of the career to life as much as possible and provide aspiring teachers with real stories from actual science teachers.

    I know you’re incredibly busy, but if you have a moment to jot something down and send it back to me, I’d really appreciate it.

    Best regards,

    Cathy Weselby
    Digital Content Producer


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