Now that I have your attention  ……

This is a personal reflection on undergoing the process for certification under the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards.   if you have little interest in tales about teaching, or things like educational policy, you would be well advised to ignore this diary and move on.  But if you want a further understanding about some of what is involved in improving teaching, at least as seen from the perspective of teachers, then you might find this diary of value.

I will explain a little bit about what NBPTS is, and in general how the certification process works.   I will then offer my perspective on submitting oneself to the process, for which I completed the last of my tasks this morning.  Not knowing whether I will pass, or have to redo some part of the process, I will offer some comments on what it all means.

I invite you to experience my perspective by reading further.
[NBPTS is an attempt within the profession to have some kind of uniform and nationally accepted standards to for indicating quality teaching.  Traditionally each state has had its own standards for the certification of teachers, and often what was acceptable in what state was rejected in another.  Further, research consistently seems to indicate that students who have quality teachers learn more and have more positive classroom experiences.  For much of the past several decades America has been on a mission to improve the quality of teaching in our public schools.  I will not recapitulate all of the efforts to this point.  Let it suffice to note that one of the requirements imposed by the new Federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), popularly known as No Child Left behind (NCLB), is the requirement that all teachers be “highly qualified.”  While there is some flexibility in how states determine who is “highly Qualified” (and I already am, having achieved in Maryland my Advance Professional Certificate II), the NBPTS approach offers in theory an independent evaluation of teachers and teaching, in support of better teaching.

To be eligible, I believe one must have taught at least 3 years, and be fully (not provisionally) certified, and have the support of one’s administrators (principals).

Many states and local educational authorities believe that having NBPTS certified teachers is both prestigious and can lead to better quality teaching.  Thus they may all or part of the fees for applicants, and offer additional stipends to successful candidates, sometimes such additional stipends being conditional on agreeing to work in schools most in need of improvement.  In my case, the $2,300 fees were paid by the State of Maryland and by Prince George’s County Public Schools, and if I am successful (which eventually WILL be the case) I will receive between the two levels of government an additional $5,000 /year, and I am not required to change schools even though I teach in a high performer.

 I will offer several quotations from the NBPTS website to demonstrate what the approach is.  Thus I begin with a  description offered on their website, that

NBPTS is an independent, nonprofit, nonpartisan organization governed by a board of directors, the majority of whom are classroom teachers.  Other members include school administrators, school board leaders, governors and state legislators, higher education officials, teacher union leaders and business and community leaders.

This is a model of the kind of cooperation from all segments of society in attempting to improve our schools.  This is notwithstanding attacks from the educational and political right on the NBPTS process.

Let me offer a few more quotes from the website to give a sense of the orientation:

The future of our communities, our states — indeed, of the nation — turns on education.


The National Board for Professional Teaching Standards® is rooted in the belief that the single most important action this country can take to improve schools and student learning is to strengthen teaching.

 The National Board for Professional Teaching Standards is leading the way in making teaching a profession dedicated to student learning and to upholding high standards for professional performance. We have raised the standards for teachers, strengthened their educational preparation through the standards, and created performance-based assessments that demonstrate accomplished application of the standards. 

 The mission is to advance the quality of teaching and learning by:
    *      maintaining high and rigorous standards for what accomplished teachers should know and be able to do,
    *      providing a national voluntary system certifying teachers who meet these standards, and
    *      advocating related education reforms to integrate National Board Certification in American education and to capitalize on the expertise of National Board Certified Teachers.

 The success of the National Board came from the power of a good idea: Quality teachers are necessary for student learning. 

Each area of certification has slightly different requirements.  My area is Social Studies and History for adolescents and young adults, 14-18.  For this I had to submit a portfolio with four parts

  1. illustration of using writing to teach the content and thinking, with three prompts from related instructional material, in each case with exemplars from the same two students.  In this section I had to submit supporting instructional material, an explanation of why I picked these two students and the instructional challenges they represented, and analysis of their work, and a reflection on whether my goals for the prompts had been met, what I had learned about teaching these students, and similar issues.  In this section, as in all others, there are very strict limits on format and length, and specific questions that must be addressed Applicants are provided guidance on how to plan for the task and select exemplars, and guidance is given on  how the submitted material will be scored.
  2.   15 minutes of video tape (must be VHS, unedited, with no breaks) demonstrating a whole class exercise working on addressing an issue of civic competence.  There is a lot of written material, including the instructional context in which the lesson occurred, the planning and instructional goals for the lesson, an analysis of the tape with questions on specific things for which one was supposed to provide evidence as seen on the tape, and a reflection on what the teacher learned about the students that affected how one taught those students in the future.  Clearly one was supposed to indicate what worked, what didn”t, and why.  
  3.  Another 15 minute video, this time in groups, demonstrating both Civic Competence and Social Interaction, with respect for others and a lot of the kinds of issues that drive some on the Right nuts.  The general reflective process was the same as in the first video.

On all reflections in the first three parts, one question was always what one might do different if doing the lesson again.  Also true for the first 3 parts was that the material must be from within the past Calendar year

4)  Documentation of professional achievement within the last 5 years.  Within the limit of 8 illustrations totaling no more than I think it was 12 pages of documentation, illustrate achievements in working with parents and communities, role as a leader locally, statewide or nationally in a role as teacher working cooperatively with others, and demonstrating accomplishments in the role of teacher as learner.  In all three domains one is supposed to explain, in a total of no more than 10 pages double spaced, how these accomplishments related to improving student learning.  

In fact, that is the key for all elements of the portfolio  — how is what one does a positive influence on improving student learning?  How do you demonstrate it?

In my case I have some advantages over other many other applicants.  First, I have always been reflective about my teaching, often writing about it, as those who have read my blog post are all too aware.  Second, a major part of my practice has been have heavy contacts with parents, recognizing that their children’s success requires a partnership.  We also have a tv production class at our high school, so I was able to get skilled camera operators for my tapings, able to have the camera follow me around the room, and focus in on individual students.  Many applicants have a fixed wide lens camera that does not provide as much detail, or else are having to overcome the jumpiness of someone inexperienced holding a camera by hand.

I also provide a great deal of feedback on the writing of my students, so having exemplars to met the requirements of the first item were not as overwhelming as it might be for some other applicants.

All of those items are packaged according to precise instructions and shipped to New Jersey in a special box, and must arrive no later than March 31.  In my case I had a bit of a panic  — I shipped mine next day postal service, dropping it off at the Post Office at 11 AM on Tuesday the 29th.  B ut when I got my information bak from tacking the package, it was delivered at 10:41 the next day not to Ewing NJ, but to Trenton NJ to a different zip.  I took until midday today to get assurance from the NBPTS people that the name of the person who signed for the package was listed as one of their employees, and yes, he worked at a different address.

Then the final part, the assessment center exercises.  For this one has to go to a computerized center, exactly the same place you would go to take the GMAT for example.  In my case I had 6 30 minute exercises, to be answered on the computer.  I cannot talk about the specifics of the questions I was asked because of nondisclosure.  I can say that I was required to demonstrate a depth and breadth of knowledge in social studies far beyond that to which I was submitted in sitting for Praxis exams when i first became a teacher a decade ago.  I am fortunate that I read quickly, that I type quickly (albeit with far too many typos, as readers of my blogging well know  – and the program did NOT have a spelling checker!!).  One other advantage comes precisely from my blogging  — the prompts I was given were in several cases less challenging than the questions and statements to which I have found myself responding on line.   I never ran out of time, although on one prompt I was somewhat unbalanced in my time and in the amount of writing i did on the third part of that prompt as compared to the other two.  The one question about which I probably had the least background knowledge just happened to overlap with something I saw on an educational cable channel within the past week, so that also helped.

All of the work I submitted will be scored by other classroom teachers, people who do work at least somewhat similar to what I do.  That is, they will teach high school social studies, so that they will be experienced peers.  They may or may not themselves be NBPTS certified.  They cannot themselves be current candidates.  And if it happens that they recognize me or my school in the video, or me from my submitted professional accomplishments (which is the only place my name appears in the material being evaluated), they are required to recuse themselves and be replaced by another evaluator.

All items are reviewed by two evaluators, although no one sees more than one part of the overall process (the four parts of the portfolio, or I believe ONE assessment center exercise).  In the event of a discrepancy between the two evaluators, a third senior evaluator examines the material in question.  The sc ores are aggregated, and on a rubric score of 4 down to 1, the applicant has to average a bit  below a 3 in order to be certified.  It is possible therefore to bomb in one dimension but do well enough in the others to achieve certification.

Further, if one does not achieve a passing score, one does not have to redo the entire process.  One can “bank” the good scores and redo those parts on which one needs improvement.  Only about 1/3 of applicants fully achieve certification on the first attempt.

If you have read to this point, and are not bored out of your mind, let me now reward you with my personal reactions.  I found the process at times more than a little anal retentive  – I found tat at some points I was being asked to do things that are not how I teach.  But it did force me to ask myself why I didn’t do those things.  In at least one case I came to the conclusion that changing somewhat in the direction they were demanding might be of benefit to my students, so I did.

Watching myself on videotape is always challenging.  I have taped my classes in the past, so the experience was not totally overwhelming.  Still in the second taping I realized that I had missed something very important about one young man in my class that has led me to make a significant change in how I set up groups.  I also realized that I needed to do a better job getting to all groups near the beginning of a group exercise so that no one was floundering.  Thus going through this process improved the educational experience I am able to give my students, both in general and for the one young man in particular.

That said, I’m glad it’s over  — for now.  Most of my fellow applicants will not sit for the assessment center until after school is out for the year.  They want time to study up on the content for which they will be responsible.  I took a chance that it would not be a problem, and i was correct.

it will be a while until I know how I did.  I can make guesses at my scores, but based on the experiences of the those in my building who already have NBPTS certification, one can never know how the evaluators will rate any part of what one has submitted.

I feel most comfortable about the assessment center and my professional accomplishments, fully expecting fairly high ratings on both.  I am somewhat uncomfortable with what I submitted for the first first part of the portfolio, the writing, and feel that it is possible on both tapes that those assessing will have to decide how strictly I meet the requirements of the rubrics.  Other teachers who have viewed the tapes say they are very good examples of teaching, but strictly speaking they may not meet all of the requirements  —  remember what I wrote above about being asked to do things not exactly how I normally teach.

I am most grateful that I was able to do almost all of what I had to when classes were not in session  — during an enforced snow break, during the long weekends around Thanksgiving and Presidents’ Day, and over Winter and Spring Breaks.  And I still have several days left of the later during which I can relax.  I was able to get through the process without it taking too much time and energy from my primary task of teaching my students.

I know that at least one reader of my blogposts has also been undergoing the same certification process as have I.  I hope that person has been successful.  If you are a teacher, it is certainly something worth considering, although had my fees not been paid for me, I doubt very much that I would have attempted it, even for the potential pay back of twice the fees in each year’s additional compensation — most of us who teach do not have that kind of additional money.

So now dear readers, other than my normal responsibilities  – of teaching, coaching, marriage, and citizenship, I am free to resume my blogging.

Watch out world:  teacherken is on the loose again.

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