Williams, who is in her 11th year teaching at the Sikeston Kindergarten Center, is only the second teacher in the Sikeston district to achieve the status. Cindy Mayfield, a preschool teacher at the Kindergarten Center, received national certification in 2001.
Four other teachers applied for certification in the Sikeston district, but Williams was the only one to pass; however the others are eligible to retest in the future.
"It was pretty tough," Williams sighed.
Work on Williams' certification began during the summer of 2002. She turned all of it last February, took a computerized test in March and didn't find out she received certification until the end of November.
The process is an extensive series of performance-based assessments that includes teaching portfolios, student work samples, videotapes and thorough analyses of the candidates' classroom teaching and student learning. Teachers also complete a series of written exercises that probe the depth of their subject-matter knowledge, as well as their understanding of how to teach those subjects.
"You're just kind of consumed with it because it's so overwhelming," Williams said. "You just can't turn your mind off from it. You don't stop thinking about it because you think about things you could do to make it better."
Videotaping was one of the hardest things Williams said she had to do because she had to critique herself and be critiqued by others.
The testing portion was hard, too, Williams said. It was computerized and the questions were essays with only 30 minutes to complete each one.
"You do a lot of thinking," Williams recalled. "It was tough. They give you situations and then you have to explain how you would teach it."
Williams is one of 58 Missouri teachers who earned their certification in 2003. Missouri now has 199 National Board Certified Teachers (NBCTs). Nationwide, 8,196 teachers earned their profession's top honor this year by achieving National Board Certification. This achievement brings the total number of NBCTs to 32,131.
"It's one of the ultimate professional development things a teacher can do because they have reflected on their methods of teaching, examined themselves, used strategies they've been taught, have a knowledge base, too, and they've allowed other people to critique their work," said Dr. Larry Bohannon, assistant superintendent of secondary/professional development.
Founded 16 years ago, National Board Certification is the highest credential in the teaching profession. A voluntary process, certification is achieved through a rigorous performance-based assessment that takes between one and three years to complete and measures what accomplished teachers should know and be able to do.
"When you go through this, you are under a magnifying glass. It's a big honor if you achieve it, and it's big honor for the district to have nationally certified teacher," Bohannon said.
Bohannon added that Sikeston was even complimented for having five candidates -- some school districts have none. "They give up a lot of their spare time writing, examining, and then after all that, they have to take a test," Bohannon said.
During the process, Williams spent time researching, reflecting and conferring with other teachers over their profession and teaching methods, she said, adding that she's spent a lot of time with Mayfield.
And it was after all, Mayfield, who got Williams to apply for certification.
"Cindy Mayfield talked me into applying and told me it was a good learning experience," Williams recalled. "She said she grew a lot as a teacher doing it."
The fact that Williams will receive a little more pay also played a role in applying for national certification, she said.
For the Sikeston district, teachers have a monetary incentive and teachers who are eligible for career ladder may have some of the criteria waived, Bohannon said. However, each school district can pick their own incentives, he added.
And of course, there's the reception for Missouri teachers who received certification held at the governor's mansion Jan. 28 in Jefferson City. While Williams is excited about attending, she admitted she just wanted to be a better teacher.
"I love what I do," said the mother of two boys, ages 10 and 7. "I love being with the kids. And it's a very rewarding job. It's trying at times, and it also has lots of rewards."