Six Core Propositions
Maybe I’m making this whole thing out to be harder than it is. Let’s begin at the beginning...
Although there are nearly 30 different fields of certification over four different age groups, common to all of them are Five Core Propositions. For you, dear reader, as much as for my own sake, let me attempt to set them out. Maybe here, early on in the process, we can decide whether this program’s heart is in the right place. In bold below I will quote directly NBPTS verbiage, and offer my own comments after each.
1. Teachers are committed to students and their learning. We who pee at 10:23 and lug home manila folders that sit in our brief cases like a guilty conscience until Sunday afternoon hold this truth to be self-evident. Why else would we do this job? A devil’s advocate might say: Ego. To pontificate, to bully others with what we know. Brilliant college professors aside, I think natural selection weeds the show-offs out. Teachers who aren’t fair, adaptable, and respectful towards their students tend to be the ones grumbling in the lounge about how dishonest, unaccommodating and rude kids are.
2. Teachers know the subjects they teach and how to teach those subjects to students. A two part equation. You can be great at math, but not a great math teacher. Or, as I sometimes tell skeptical students: I’ve never had a teacher. What I mean is, everything I know I learned myself, by struggling with material or problems that a teacher, or life, placed before me. Of course, I also like to tell them when we’re reading a play in class, This is not a play. What I mean is that drama has to be performed, and viewed, to come alive. Contrarian as I can sometimes be, I cannot argue with proposition two.
3. Teachers are responsible for managing and monitoring student learning. Yeah, sort of. I think the onus is on the student to be engaged, interested, and energetic. There’s a right time-right place side to learning that I don’t think even the best teachers can deny. Put another way, “responsible for” is different than “responsible to.” That said, I can’t argue with the verb choice: we “manage” by constructing the challenges and guiding the trip, i.e. designing assignments and selecting or guiding the selection of texts; and we “monitor” with assessments of various kinds to make sure they’re getting it as we go along (or, to see what it is they are getting, in my frequently constructivist practice).
4. Teachers think systematically about their process and learn from experience. Systematic may be an overstatement for all those “do next time” thoughts scribbled in my teacher’s notebook next to lesson plans. But the premise that we are always learning ourselves is irrefutable. That’s why I find exposing our thoughts-- as we read a poem aloud with students or work through a chemistry problem on the overhead-- is one of the best things we can do as teachers. In talking through it, we not only model the lingo and patterns of our discipline, we reveal ourselves as learners, too. We aren’t answer machines, we’re practitioners like we want our kids to be, albeit with a lot more practice. On a metacognitive level, talking through our teaching does the same thing: it shows we know our stuff but at the same time we’re always trying to improve.
5. Teachers are members of learning communities. There have been years when I found the best defense against asinine administration and ludicrous laws was to shut my classroom door and just teach. Me and the kids against the world. Thank goodness there were other years when I was thrown into workshops and collaborative activities that reminded me that there is more to be gained through connection than isolation. Becoming a teacher/consultant with The Northern Virginia Writing Project after a five-week summer immersion is still something I point to as a turning point in my career. This year, in a new school with a dynamic faculty, the collaboration has once again reinvigorated me. I even had the chance to do a unit with my own 10th grade English teacher!
6. You are not alone. Okay, so I made this one up. NBPTS lists only five propositions. But I added this because I was so surprised and gratified by the responses I have received to my blog thus far. A couple dozen readers from around the country have taken the time to write supportive and encouraging emails. One that was typical said, “Holding oneself to a higher standard is what drives any profession. You are not working in isolation, you are giving to all of us! You are not nuts, you know inside that there is more to our profession. Working for excellence raises us all! Go Man Go!” Thanks to these teachers, and the ones I work with every day that further inspire me. And while I’m at it, thanks to all those teachers I never had. I think I may have learned something after all. Now I just have to prove it to the board.