This is my post critiquing National Board Certification for Teaching

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This hardly seems worth writing, except that so few people write about this stuff.

Six, maybe seven years ago, I started thinking about what it would take for me to teach in public schools. I had already been teaching for a couple years, and the idea of taking time off of teaching to get a teaching degree…I couldn’t convince myself it was financially feasible, and it seemed like it would be a bore, compared to teaching.

Somewhere along the line I tossed off a doomed application to NYC’s teaching fellows program. I remember writing something, like hey, you could use a teacher with some experience, I need a teaching degree, you scratch my back I scratch your’s. Dear applicant: no. 

For a while NY had an independent pathway towards certification that seemed possible, but then they discontinued it.

I kept on reading this bit of the certification website, making sure I wasn’t misunderstanding it: “An applicant who possesses a National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS) certificate may obtain an Initial New York State certificate in a comparable title through the National Board Pathway.” This seemed like exactly what I needed.

So, four years ago, I started the process. They were revising the NBPTS portfolios, so I could only do it one bit at a time.

The math test was my first encounter with a Pearson Testing Center. I tried to prepare for the exam by cramming some calculus that I was rusty on. The entire test day was surreal. Went into a surprisingly small office in midtown Manhattan. I was imagining that it would be like when I took the SATs, that a whole crew of stressed out teachers would be sitting for an exam simultaneously. Nah, it’s more like a self-service gas station. Put your belongings in a cubby. Sign here. Here is your computer. Here is your sheet of plastic and a dry-erase marker. Boop. Time’s up. Have a great day.

Component 2 was my first experience with the written stuff. It was then that I learned my most important NBCT lesson: how to condense text.

How little I knew about condensing text when I began NBCT! This is from my first draft of my C2 written commentary:

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Awful, right! I mean, look at all that space. Here is what I ended up submitting, after getting feedback from a couple NBCT geniuses:

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I passed C2. The next year was C3, the video portfolio. This was annoying because you couldn’t do any preparatory work until you had the video, and the little camera that I had set up would constantly run out of battery in the middle of the lesson.

The hardest thing about the videos was that you needed them to provide evidence for exactly what NBCT was assessing you on. I felt like it was hard to capture a video that gave them exactly what I wanted. Here is the feedback I got from NBCT after I received my passing score (3.375) on the portfolio:

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OK, yes, there is irony in the quality of the feedback that NBCT gives you. Good luck parsing any of that. I just read “evidence of insight on your future instructional practices” three times to figure out if I can figure it out — not yet.

That left Component 4, which was no question the worst component. It’s sort of a mess. There are three parts, each calling for exactly the right kinds of evidence, and the three parts have very little to do with each other. It’s like three mini-portfolios glued together. I hated it, but I did it, and it’s done.

It’s done — I passed.

If a teacher tells me that they are NBCT, I think I know something about that teacher. They’re hard-working, because NBCT is a lot of work. They are likely ambitious, probably not on their way out of the profession.

All this I know because NBCT was a ton of work. I can’t imagine a teacher going through this without something pushing them — either a financial incentive or something internal.

So I know they’re hard-working and committed to teaching, but that’s pretty much all that I know. Nothing about the NBCT process gives me any confidence that it was assessing the quality of my teaching in any sense at all.

I have a couple friends who have been on the other end of things, assessing candidates. I believe them when they tell me there’s a clear difference in quality between different candidates. But having done all the work, I have trouble seeing exactly how you can tell the difference between a candidate who just didn’t understand the prompts and someone whose teaching meets the standards. Because it was really hard to figure out what the prompts were calling for — that was a lot of the work.

Maybe I’m just in a grouchy mood. Even though I love working at my school — public school is going to have to wait — I’ve been feeling a bit down lately.

It all feels sort of bad right now. Writing’s bad, I won’t even edit this piece. Bad at math. Kids hate math, though kids like class. Small apartment, we try not to flush in the AM because it might wake up the kids. Kitchen’s small, fridge is small, always catching mice.

Education can be so, so dumb so often, math education in particular. The dumb stuff is the most lucrative. Teachers seem to love this stuff, though, so what am I doing? All the people I knew teaching math six years ago are off doing other stuff.

But I got this certificate, and now I’m NBCT, and I also have a letter from NBCT saying “your voice matters,” so there’s that.

***

A quick shout out to proteacher.net. The people on there are the best. If you have questions about NBCT you should absolutely hop on there and make an account. If you’re starting NBCT, you should go there and make an account. The people there were just ridiculously generous with their time and it’s a lovely corner of the internet of teachers. That’s my only useful piece of advice for NBCT.

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10 thoughts on “This is my post critiquing National Board Certification for Teaching

  1. I totally hear you on the “it all feels sort of bad” paragraph. Except the mice part. Our mice sprint across our glue paper to go hide somewhere else in our small apartment while we inevitably trip over the sticky, useless traps. It’s hard to come up with the fuel to keep yourself going each day. That’s great that you were able to stick through and finish this to make it work. What are you going to do with all your free time now?

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Wow! I’ve been following this blog for awhile as I was thinking about doing NBCT. I’m finishing C3&4 right now. I came to the same conclusions you have. I spend my life formatting margins rather than reflecting. But, everyone blogs take the high road, giving glowing reviews, bordering on masochist like teachers enjoy CrossFit pedagogy. In my state, we are close to striking over changes the government wants to do to our pension, low pay, rising insurance costs. For me to earn the highest pay, I must hold a degree higher than a masters! The cost is nothing I can afford, so NBCT will substitute and I can live like a normal person. This passing grade will be for better groceries, not teaching insight, unfortunately.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. I had an interesting opportunity? experience? a couple of years ago. The general thought was, “hey, NBCT is sort of passively stockpiling a bank of teaching videos – and, no less, from people who have passed this ‘bar’ of sorts. Shouldn’t we do something great with all these videos – like for teacher certification programs?” To answer that question, some folks were given access to a random sampling of these videos, with the goal being: allow these researchers who have some strong inclinations towards better teacher ed experiences to watch and play with these videos, and to create mockups of lesson plans that use them. As in, plans for lessons for undergraduate or graduate teacher certification folks.

    I had the opportunity to do some looking/watching/analyzing/lesson planning with the small and random sample of videos they gave that research team access to [all of which were videos of people who passed NBCT]. I only looked at the math videos, and focused on elementary at that. My take-aways were the same as yours, Michael. These seem to be people who were willing to work really, really hard for this stamp. And yet I can’t necessarily say, by watching videos of their classroom, that they are portraits of excellent, or more excellent, teaching – at least not by the descriptors that orgs like NCTM has typically stood behind.

    It was a weird, rude awakening for me as someone who’d learned almost nothing about NBCT before then. I came away with it thinking, “wait, what does this stamp mean again?” and I’m still not sure I know the answer.

    By the way, EdTPA is very similar in my mind. I’d LOVE to hear from someone who’s done both EdTPA and NBCT and see if they can compare the processes that go into both and the meaning of the ‘stamp’ for both.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Thanks for this reflection. I can’t remember if I ever considered going through the NBCT process…if I did it didn’t get very serious consideration. Congratulations for seeing it through, and I hope you found the journey, if not the actual certificate, meaningful.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Really interesting post. I may do NBCT soon, so this is very good info. How do you keep up the motivation to do all the work if it seems like it’s not really helping you improve?

    Interesting comment from Charlotte.

    Most interesting to me is your observation that many of the folks you knew 6 years ago aren’t teaching anymore. I often think about your comment from a past post that teachers have to have an ethic of not trying to scale things up. That the code of a teacher is that unique moments and particular students matter, and that retaining that attitude means trying to let yourself be drawn preferentially to specific situations rather than general solutions or grand plans.

    This idea shook me a bit because I have always hoped that in our lifetime, math ed would become more life-giving and joyful to students, and I do think that requires the profession to develop some new tools and materials at scale.

    Anyways, about all those colleagues who have moved on to different things: it’s really great when someone thoughtful and talented decides to stay a teacher and keep the faith of a teacher, that given any particular kid and situation, there is a helpful approach I can take even if I don’t know what it is right now.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. How do you keep up the motivation to do all the work if it seems like it’s not really helping you improve?

      It helped a lot that I only did one portfolio per year. That both kept the workload manageable, while also raising the sunk costs I would have to stare down if I walked away from it.

      This idea shook me a bit because I have always hoped that in our lifetime, math ed would become more life-giving and joyful to students, and I do think that requires the profession to develop some new tools and materials at scale.

      No complaints about this from me. I think scale and non-scale are complementary perspectives. On the margins, though, I think that scale is overrated. That’s part of what keeps me in teaching and out of the scale-seeking projects of math education.

      Like

  6. Thank you. I appreciate someone writing honestly about the NB process. I am submitting component 4 this year. I waited to do it last as it’s so confusing. I am searching the web now for help on understanding it! And you are right. The teachers with NB cert move on…in our area they are now TOSAs.

    Liked by 1 person

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