« NUKED | Main | Epic X »

Lowering the Board


“Are you nervous,” asked my 3-year old son, with all the right emotion but maybe the wrong words as I sat on the couch in the depths of post-blast blues last Friday.
“Nervous about what?” I asked.
“The board went down,” he said, repeating more or less what my wife had explained to him and his brother in the car on the way home.
“Yes, pal, I’m nervous that the board went down.”
“Okay, I’ll fix it,” he said confidently, and went off to find his red and blue plastic hammer. I’m pretty sure he was picturing a seesaw that had fallen off its fulcrum, a not entirely inaccurate image.

The half-life for fragility and self-pity for a teacher is one week-end, because you have to get back up in front of the class Monday. For dads, it shrinks to a single evening pass good for skipping bath time while madly typing away the pain on the laptop.

I’d be lying if I said I was entirely over the news that a year’s worth of work will not be rewarded with the cash money I had hoped would make this a special Chrismahannuka. But in a relatively compressed time I’ve moved through a remarkable outpouring of grief, affirming emails, and professional dialogue that has made this experience, in ways that NBPTS never imagined, one of the richest in my professional life.

I can’t possibly thank everyone who has reminded me that my worth as a teacher is not the sum of a Very Hard Test. But I can and will keep blogging this thing, because even though I was unable to link my own writing to student achievement to the satisfaction of NBPTS, I am still convinced that putting myself out there and giving other teachers a place to talk is one of the most important things I do as a professional.

Bemoaning the lack of feedback is a common refrain amongst us almosts, but there is a party line, ably presented by a colleague on a listserv who has allowed me to reprint her responses to my criticism of this aspect of the program. She articulates it with more clarity and compassion than anyone I know:

[Emmet] I find that the "no feedback" policy walks a line I didn't know existed between Zen and sanctimony. I like the idea that there are many ways to get it right, but I also would NEVER in my own practice with students give a huge year-long assignment, or any significant assignment for that matter, without providing a lot of chances for coaching, low-risk practice, and improvement. If we claim to be master teachers, why are we creating an assessment that flies in the face of what we know about real learning? Maybe we should be honest and say that there are too many tests to grade and we couldn't possibly get through them if we had to tell everyone where they gained or lost points.

[Nancy] There are three reasons why NB doesn't provide feedback to candidates:
#1) It's a professional assessment. When someone doesn't pass a bar exam, they don't get feedback, they get numbers. It is assumed that the applicant will figure out what needs to be improved, as an aspiring professional. When we give our students feedback, that's
aligned with the purpose of teaching. The NB Assessment has a different purpose: identifying, not building, accomplished teaching.

#2) Although most (over 90%) of teachers who go through the process feel that their teaching has improved as a result, it is not a professional development experience (like NWP). If NBPTS were to give feedback, the discovery process of figuring out what missing--evidence—would be short-circuited. Teachers would be "fixing" what the NB specified needed fixing (i.e., hoop-jumping) rather than uncovering what might be missing on their own. And we all know that discovered learning is better than drill-and-spill.

#3) The scoring process does not provide any product that would tell candidates what was missing or wrong. There are no points or checklists. The evidence presented is scored holistically. The rubric for scoring is given to candidates in their portfolio materials. The
question is the same for every entry: is the evidence provided clear, consistent and onvincing proof that the candidate is meeting the standards? A good candidate support program will let candidates know--in advance--that they will not be receiving feedback, and why.

With due respect to Nancy, who went to lengths that only a master teacher would in responding to me on list and off, for me the argument that Natty Boards is not professional development and therefore shouldn’t give better feedback is specious. It demands the commitment of a graduate program, and its advocates claim that certifying is a transformative experience. What’s more, a common piece of encouragement heard by me and other almosts is: Stick with it-- this is a three-year process. Many do pass on their second or (god bless ‘em) third try. How can a test last three years?

Another common consolation I’ve heard is: You’re a great teacher, and you foster lots of student achievement. You just didn’t show it in your entry and your evidence. This begs the question, of course, about what the test measures: my teaching ability or my ability to show them my teaching ability in a certain way. Since getting better at the latter will make me sixty grand (and because I’m more stubborn than hurt) here’s what I plan to do.

Go for it. But bass-ackwards.
No more worrying about core propositions or standards or (pshaw) good writing. From here on in, it’s all about Student Achievement. I will rebuild Entry 4 not based on the professional achievements outside the classroom that are truly the most meaningful to me—building the canoe, my association with the writing project, publishing this blog-- at least, not simply because they are meaningful to me.

Instead, I will include accomplishments only based on examples of student achievement that I know can be documented in convincing NBPTS fashion. If I can still include my work as a writer, great. If instead I have to keep a communication log of the hundreds of parent contacts that I make without a second thought during the course of a normal school year, so be it. I’ll make the stinking list. It isn’t sexy, it isn’t the above-and-beyond that makes me Teacherman. It’s just the job. I wish I’d figured out earlier that lowering my expectations for what this Test-and-not-a-process can be is what it takes to summit.


I also did not pass my NBC. After the weekend greiving period, I realized that my nature is to nurture. I can not blow my own horn; I believe it is sinful to boast. However to be certified I had to brag my tail off about how outstandingly wonderful, better than all others, I am. I can not do that. And I resent the teachers that do.

Dear Emmet,
This is going to sound crazy, but I started crying when my colleague told me that you did not certify. I turned her on to you last year because you were the one treat I allowed myself when I wasn't working on NBC. I LIVED for your blog because, as an ELA AYA, you were, without exception, my greatest resource. I LEARNED the meaning of Entries 1 and 2 from reading your analyses of them. I sailed through the assessments because one of the NBCTs, who commented on one of your blog entries, said that we should relax because we were being scored by teachers who were on our side. This is breaking my heart. I did certify in one year, and it is largely a result of the outstanding TEACHING you did in your blog entries. I'm just crestfallen because of this. I'll be so happy next year when you certify. I owe much of my success to you and this blog. Much love and thank you.

Hey, Emmet.
Glad to read that you're more stubborn than hurt. Bodes well for your lifelong career as an educator, where persistence is sometimes the ultimate virtue.

Re: your comment on choosing "student achievement" over the standards and propositions--student learning is deeply embedded IN those standards, which say that everything you do as a teacher, in and out of the classroom, must be evaluated in the light of the student learning that results. Sometimes that learning is measured conventionally--and sometimes the learning is more affective; it's up to you to tell the story. There is no separation between student achievement and the standards.

It's not about "bragging your tail off," either. Your success depends on whether there are some concrete examples of how kids in your school have benefited from your lessons and your accomplishments. That's all. You can brag all you want, but it doesn't count unless it's backed up by evidence. And evidence matters. We all know teachers who talk a good game, but aren't teaching their kids much at all.

You *are* Teacherman. Your writing and your creative projects may well be effecting some important growth in kids. All the standards and assessments do is ask you to provide evidence of that. The fact that you helped other teachers understand the NB challenge better is a testament to your ability to "write as a way of knowing." You should take that as high praise, indeed.

I am a 65 year old teacher (retired) who gave maybe 3 minutes of thought to getting this certification, over a 3 year period! Money is nice, and heaven knows I could have use it but I was way, way too busy teaching to jump through hoops for some jerks on a national board. The work you do in the classroom, and building canoes is the same that I used to do when I took kids on weekend field trips because there was something interesting out there. Don't fret, consider the source.

The English teachers I remember best and who helped me most didn't have us make canoes; rather, they worked with us to make sure that our writing was concise, that our words were spelled and used correctly, and that what was put down on paper was worth reading. Yes, they encouraged creativity, but they didn't complain about the system--they taught their students to use the system to their advantage. The main value of your experience may have been to warn others not to waste their time "hoop-jumping." As an avid fan of "Certifiable," I found the creative whining to be most entertaining, and I wish you all the best on the next round.

Hello Emmitt--I, too, did not pass NB's the first time. But did the second and feel like I did a better job the second time, actually. Glad to see you are going for it again. While I'm afraid it's hard for me to say that my actual teaching has improved, I am better at reflection and trying different methods and strategies to affect positive student achievement. You have learned what many of us also had to face, it IS about jumping through hoops. Use this new found knowledge and determination to make it thru and best of luck with it. L.Pellechia. NC

Evidence, evidence, evidence. That's what NB is all about. You are likely doing all the right things, but have not documented to the extent needed to achieve certification. Bank your passing scores, and have someone read your entries for documentation of evidence, someone who is a trained NBCT mentor.
Remember, it's not about the money. I was NB certified in 1995, and no one in my school district knew a thing about the National Board. Years later, when the state and district got around to awarding incentives, I was halfway though my 10 year certification program. I stayed in the classroom one more year, received one of the annual stipends, and returned to grad school for a PhD in Teacher Ed.

First, let me say that I am the husband of an English teacher who did not pass her National Board. Now that I have your sympathy, let me further state that I too am a teacher. Emmet, I know what you went through, and what your family was subjected to. I am sure your wife has heard over and over the angles and shortcomings that you feel caused your not passing the certification.
My wife has poured her heart and soul into working on her National Board certification, just as I know you did. Having been married to her for 9 years, I know too that she does the same in the classroom in preparing her students for their further studies. While she was working on her certification she was lucky enough to have 3 board certified teachers to review her entries. Two of them are assesors. They all read her entries and gave her pointers on what she was lacking and what she needed to do. Not a one of them felt she was anywhere as deficient as the actual assesors believed her to be. After mulling through the reasons why they gave her the scores she got, we have come to two conclusions. One, maybe there wasn't enough documentation. Now having looked at all this myself that would seem to be the part that most easily could be, well, let's say made up! How easy it would have been for her to ask me, "Honey, can you please sit down and write me a few letters stating how much you learned from my lessons, or maybe be a parent and tell how much better your son or daughter did the next year in their English class due to my teachings. No, that didnt happen! The other issue was that of literacy lab. She was one of the first teachers in our district to implement literacy lab. She went to many seminars given by Dr. Ken Stamatis, and when he came to observe her, he let her know that she was doing exactly what was to be done in properly implementing literacy lab. Now if the assesors do not know about or understand litearcy lab then shame on them and shame on National Board. This program has had shining results, and I know for a fact that so many of her students are now reading and writing above and beyond any level that their previous teachers would have ever expected them to attain!
For those of you still stuck in the box of traditionalism, shame on you and shame on National Board for not realizing that there are teachers out there who are willing to learn new concepts and new methods of motivating students to broaden their horizons. I know that the handing out of vocabulary terms and review questions can be quite envingorating for students, not to mention really easy for a teacher that wants to go home at 4 and not have to think of new ways to stimulate those kids who grew up on TV and video games.
Emmet, it is obvious with the scope of your lesson submitted to National Board, you are one of those motivated non-traditional teachers who are so dearly needed in our classrooms! I applaud you and all the teachers out there who are willing to attempt to make learning enjoyable while teaching your frameworks to fulfill your obligations to your district and state!
I had been contemplating my certification also. Now after seeing how you, my wife, and several others whom I know were not deficient in this process have made me think, it may not be worth it. Or at least, it may not be the best thing to tell what I really do in the classroom. Maybe it would be better to give them what they want, and we would all be happy in our little worlds!! Best of luck on your redo!!! Oh, let your wife and family know that there are many others that know what they are going through, and we are thinking of them! We share the pain! Ha!

Hi Mr. Rosenfeld,
I'm sorry you didn't make the NBC... even though I'm not quite sure what that is. I'm sure that you'll make it next time, though!
Happy Thanksgiving and long weekend.

I considered going for NBC, but decided to get a 6 yr. degree instead. There were too many rumours about paying money out and not getting the certificate, that I felt there was a tad of cronyism not to my liking. I suppose I was too close to retirement, too. At any rate, I don't regret the decision to forgo an NBC. I would consider myself to be a non-traditional teacher who loves to learn and who tries to find ways to keep the children interested in learning. Strangely, teacher interviewers don't like to hear, " I only want to teach." You should say something like, " Oh, I think it's important to be a leader in education. You should be heading committees (and brown-nosing every administrator and PTA parent) which, surely, will improve test scores. "

It took me 2 years to achieve the board. Give yourself a month, then go over the rubric and your entries. I could be critical of it after giving myself a break. Do the math and figure what you are willing to redo to get the score you need. The second year was much more relaxed. I KNEW what I needed to focus on - 1 classroom and 1 test. Since it was not the ENTIRE package, it was much better. Worth the effort, worth the money, worth the pride in an accomplishment that is worthwhile.

I urge you to stop this flirtation with NBPTS. When I received the third rejection (each by a fraction of the points I needed) a poor wallpaper hanger who happened to be working in my dining room was the partial recipient of my frustration and fury. I don’t think he will be able to ever come back, despite a ridiculously big tip from me.
I can’t say I know your whole story, but I do have advice for those who haven’t attempted National Boards yet. Don’t sign up as a candidate, sign up as an assessor. To be an assessor you need just three years of teaching experience. Assess first, and see just how the rubric works in action. Read other candidates entries before you try your own.
Emmit, by being a candidate, has removed himself from the possibility of assessing.
My belief about the process is that your interest in good writing is irrelevant to success in the National Boards. I believe that the assessors are just highlighting phrases that fit the constructivist mantra of the NBPTS standards book. Creativity is going to be a roadblock for you.
I teach in a very poor, very segregated urban system. I chose the Middle Grade Generalist assessment, which required me to submit a portfolio entry that included writing done by my students. This was the entry that I could never pass. To this day, I believe the assessors did not know what to make of my work with almost illiterate fourth graders. To own my part in failure, I refused to go down the hall and recruit some gifted students as my successful colleague did.
The clueless assessors did not recognize that the students in her film and reflection were far from the cognitively disabled students she really taught. I wonder if race had anything to do with this? Did you know that high percentages of African American teachers attempt NBPTS certification, but few succeed? Is this tendency to fail Black teachers generalized to those of us who are white, but teach poor Black children? At any rate, I get a door shut in my face anytime I try to question NBPTS about anything.

Comments are now closed for this post.


Recent Comments

  • Peggy: Emmit, I urge you to stop this flirtation with NBPTS. read more
  • Terry G.: It took me 2 years to achieve the board. Give read more
  • Peggy W: I considered going for NBC, but decided to get a read more
  • Jane Hu: Hi Mr. Rosenfeld, I'm sorry you didn't make the NBC... read more
  • RRR: First, let me say that I am the husband of read more




Technorati search

» Blogs that link here