As I drove to work one morning last week, dark clouds began to form. I was discouraged with the feedback I’d been getting about my accomplishment write-ups. Responses to my Entry Four attempts from various quarters, this blog included, have essentially been a no-nonsense chorus of so what’s.
Should I pull the plug on this NBPTS thing, I half wondered? Am I just not the kind of teacher that registers on their scale? Forgotten comments on earlier posts came back to me, those voices of teachers who hadn’t made it. I read those words of warning with a cavalier attitude then—this won’t be me, I thought. Now I wasn’t sure.
Thank goodness I ran into Barb, an already Board-certified colleague whose own no-nonsense advice dispelled the clouds. First, she said, stop worrying so much about “student achievement,” the drumbeat of Entry Four. The NBPTS process, she postulates, is largely geared to a population of kids we don’t have—low- and mid-level achievers whose test scores need to be raised. Not that Barb and I don’t care about making kids better. We’re teachers. Of course we do. But at our school, achievement per se is not an issue. Scores on virtually any scale are incredibly high. Our challenge is how to engage the gifted learner.
To me, for example, making the canoe in this context is a dynamite experience. These bookish kids need to get out there and swing an axe— I know this project is something that they’ll always remember. While the connections this project fosters with parents, community and my colleagues are strong, I can see that I’ll have to struggle to link it to student achievement. Unfortunately, by the NBPTS measure, the character building and hands-on experience that matter to me in this project don’t rate. That’s disheartening.
Being a freelance writer is another accomplishment that’s important to me and central to who I am as a teacher. But, in the words of a recent commenter on the blog (and before that, Miles Davis): So what? Showing the link between my writing and student achievement will be difficult at best, even though I know it’s there.
Accept the fact that you may not fully convince the readers, said Barb, and move on. Or, consider other things you do that are less glamorous but easier to document, like sponsoring a tutoring program at a local elementary school. Get your points on the other entries, Barb concluded, and just assume that for your accomplishments, you won’t get the highest score.
Remember, she adds, that your goal is to get the points. In order to pass. To get the money. This may sound Machiavellian, but, as Alfie Kohn acknowledges even if most educators do not, any point system begs to be gamed. And, as I stated frankly in my first post, while I relish the professional challenge, if this process wasn’t worth $50,000 to me, I wouldn’t be doing it.
(By the way: Wednesday wasn’t as bad. I went to the NBPTS support class and made headway in revising my entries, following the explicit advice of “Marybeth NBCT” commenting on “Phew”: keep the bible open next to you on the desk. That’s a little depressing, too, but it works.)