MORRIS – When the 3 p.m. bell rings, students pour out of their classrooms and flood the hallways of Morris Community High School.
But in Room 121, students hang around Mrs. Zarley’s desk, asking questions about homework or that day’s lesson. Several wait to tell her goodbye or say thanks.
“Mrs. Zarley is one of those teachers that, in the process, kids feel like is challenging and difficult, but they know she’s always fair,” said Kelly Hussey, principal at Morris Community High School. “Kids send emails – either directly to her or to all of us – saying how thankful they are for what she’s gotten them to do.”
Angela Zarley has been the primary chemistry teacher at Morris High School for 14 years and currently is the head of the school’s science department. In November, Zarley became the first teacher in Morris High School history to achieve National Board Certification, completing a rigorous two-year program and a series of six assessments to achieve the honor.
“The process is fairly intense,” Hussey said. “It’s likened to getting a master’s or a doctoral degree.”
There are more than 100,000 National Board certified teachers nationwide, but many candidates have to go through the process two or three times before actually receiving their credentials. Zarley did it on her first try.
Zarley said she was elated when she received her scores in November.
“I was so nervous I had to have my husband log into the computer for me,” Zarley said. “He just said, ‘Congratulations,’ and I was immediately so, so relieved and excited.”
To achieve the certification, teachers must analyze their teaching methods and students’ needs, submit videos of themselves working in their classrooms and provide student work samples that demonstrate growth and achievement.
Over the course of several weeks, Zarley was peer reviewed and given feedback based on her submitted materials so that she could align her teaching process to National Board standards.
At the end of the process, she was scored based on a series of six tests.
“I’ve totally changed the way I teach,” Zarley said. “I’m still teaching the same content, but my students are arriving at the answers in a different way. Instead of me telling them the answer, they’re discovering it.”
Zarley said there are two major changes she has made: Letting students sit in groups instead of rows – like she has done for the past 17 years – and incorporating laptop computers into her lessons.
For the past two years, each student in her classroom has had a laptop to use during the class period.
“That’s another thing the National Board really stresses – the implementation of technology,” Zarley said. “Because of the way I’ve designed my class, my students are more engaged with that tool in front of them.”
Before applying to the National Board, Zarley was enrolled in a three-year program at the University of Illinois where she learned about using computers in the classroom.
That experience helped her in meeting National Board standards, but she said she learned even more about technology in the classroom through the certification process.
“It was through that three-year program that I first was interested in becoming board certified,” Zarley said.
Becoming board certified also can be a financially straining process as the application and fees associated with the process can be in the thousands of dollars. Zarley said thanks to a grant from the state, she was able to cut back on the costs. She also will be receiving a stipend from Morris High School for completing the process.
Zarley said she couldn’t have completed the process without the support and cooperation from her students, their parents and her fellow teachers.
“I went to other teachers and asked them about ideas I had and they gave me great feedback,” Zarley said. “The board focuses on communication and collaboration with your peers and I think our department is really good at that.”
She said to film in her classroom and provide evidence of student improvement, she worked a lot with parents who gave her the permission she needed.
“I owe a heartfelt thank you to those parents and students,” Zarley said.