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Got Your Twizzle On?


My wife thought I was lame for crashing in front of the TV every night for the past few weeks watching the winter Olympics. Little did she know I was gleaning valuable lessons as I set my sights on NBPTS gold.

One lesson came while watching the replays of the men’s Super G. Big sweeping turns and the speed of the downhill combine in an event where, despite hitting speeds of 70 mph, the outcome is decided by hundredths of a second. Through the magic of digital editing, the runs of the gold and silver medalists were superimposed over one another at the conclusion of the race. Though they’d raced at different moments, both men were shown shussing through the gates side by side. Suddenly, it became apparent where those miniscule fragments of time had been lost. The slower man’s turns were just a bit wider and lower on the hill; he lingered in the air a moment longer going over a roll.

What struck me was how much understanding can be gained by rewatching an event. This relates to the board certification process, of course, because we are asked to tape ourselves teaching, and then reflect. How simple. Yet when, with the papers flying and the next day’s lessons to plan, do we teachers ever stop to catch our breath and really observe closely our last run. Where did we cut a gate too close? What was our best turn of the race?

The most recent assignment in the prep class was to tape our class. This wasn’t an Olympic run, mind you, just a practice session. Find a camera, figure out how to set it up in the room and turn the darn thing on. Don’t worry yet about finding ten perfect minutes, our instructors wisely told us. Just make sure you’re not shooting into fluorescent lights or failing to record sound. I did it today, and I can assure you, I followed their advice to a tee. My footage isn’t perfect; probably not even usable. But I captured myself and my kids in our natural habitat. And that’s a start.

My next Olympic lesson has to do with twizzles. Those are the tandem twirls performed by pint-sized ice dancers and their graceful partners between acrobatic triple leaps. The twizzles look easy in comparison. But woe to the couple that is not in sync — Dick Button, stylish medalist of yesteryear and now a stickler of a color commentator, will point out the wobble to the world while keen-eyed judges mercilessly deduct fractions of a point.

Twizzles, to me, are the little things that teachers do in between the big things. The difficulty of keeping a class running smoothly is seldom noted, in part because when it’s done right it’s unnoticeable. When do you hand out the assignment, how are the desks configured, can Suzie go to the bathroom? Countless details are negotiated every lesson. During this certification process, we will in effect become our own Dick Buttons, bringing to the attention of our audience the meticulous but generally underappreciated efforts that keep us and our twenty-five dance partners in sync.

The last lesson I learned from the Olympics was from biathletes. Ski, ski, ski, shoot… again and again, over many kilometers and until your heart’s about to burst. In the finals of one of the events, the unfavored Italian team managed a remarkable win. Their third leg broke away from a tight pack with a heroic uphill climb, giving his anchor man such a commanding lead that the Tourinians were already celebrating by the time the race concluded. The home team triumphed! The “Olympic spirit” so elusive to spoiled, hot-dogging and bickering Americans overflowed from my TV set and washed over me as I lay prone on the beige couch.

The lesson here was simple: keep skiing, no matter what hills pop up in front of you. And, when it’s time to pause and shoot, take a deep breath, ignore the pounding in your ears, and do what you’ve trained so long and hard to do. You might not hit the bull's eye every single time. Just worry about the shot you’re on. The gold will take care of itself.


As a lover of the Olympics and a 2001 National Board Certified Teacher, I think that you have seen and completely understand what the "process" is all about. Good luck and happy trails on your journey to the GOLD.



An informative article on NBC is
Ballou, D. & Podgursky M. (1998) Some unaswered questions concerning National Board Certification of Teachers. Education Week 17(39), 39-41.

As a non-teacher considering a foray into the field, I've found your blog about the certification process amusing and interesting. I also enjoyed your obtaining-certification-as-scaling-a-mountain metaphor. And what, indeed, is wrong with our society that we value ice dancers and biathletes more than teachers?

I did have one small gripe (if I were in law enforcement, I'm afraid I'd have to ask to see your literary license): I don't believe the olympic biathlon is a team event. I remember the drama you mention: the underdog, home-team Italians prevailing over supposedly more powerful foes, but I believe the event in question was 4x10KM cross-country ski relay, not the biathlon. As a cross country skier who has never held a gun, I must insist on this distinction.

Besides that: jolly good show. Good luck getting your certification.

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