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Ready to Throw My Canoe

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This week for our support class, instead of meeting at the high school we had to post responses to three threads and comment on others’ posts. Below are the questions and my responses.

I don't think, by the way, that mine are entirely representative. Many of my classmates seem more positive about the experience. I'm not sure if I'm being too honest, or just tired. Either way, I find it hard to revel in the experience at this point. I'm just looking down at the trail, putting one foot in front of the other as I try to shift the canoe to some place on my shoulders that isn't sore. We gotta be getting close to the next lake.

1. How has working through the National Boards process impacted your teaching?
When all this is behind me, I am sure I will have a different, more charitable take on the experience. I remember wanting to fling the canoe from my shoulders during long portages between lakes in the Boundary Waters of Minnesota; now I look back on my time as an Outward Bound instructor almost twenty years ago as a formative period of my life.

But at this moment, a month before the portfolio is due, I feel that the main impact National Boards has had on my teaching is to stress me out. Time I might use for grading papers is spent gathering up assignments and rubrics. Energy I could put into planning a lesson is spent fussing with video tape or poring through a 3-inch thick sheaf of directions trying to make sure I am meeting every requirement.

Another impact of the process is that I have altered some lessons, not to make them better but to make them better for my portfolio. For my second video tape, for example, after numerous attempts to get the first one right, I carefully staged a lesson that I knew would work well, and got usable footage on the first take. I’m not sure if I learned how to teach better, but I definitely learned how to videotape my teaching.

2. What have you learned about yourself as a teacher as you go through your candidacy?
I have seen the big picture: how a lesson fits into a unit fits into a year. Being forced to describe what is often an unexamined continuum has confirmed for me what I had hoped was true when I started; that I do what I do for pedagogically sound reasons and in the context of a larger plan.

I’ve also appreciated the chance to look closely at individual butterflies flitting amidst the flowers of learning, something we don’t often give ourselves time to do during our purposeful daily march through the fields of academe. This too gives me satisfaction: I can see progress in my students, with the evidence pinned down and labeled under a display case. There’s validation in such meticulous cataloging that tempers, to a degree, the resentment I feel at the extraordinary effort required to get a raise.

3. What do you feel are the implications for your future as you work through this process?
I have added my voice to a national discussion about teaching. I confess that at times this blog has been more important to me than the portfolio itself. It seemed more immediate (due each week and not at the end of a year), fulfilling (feedback comes immediately via readers’ comments) and useful (published for all the world to read, not just sent off in a blue box to anonymous readers). As a result of blogging my National Board experience, I was interviewed by a Washington Post reporter, engaged in a debate in a different national publication with another reporter, and joined a nationwide network of teachers, called TLN, dedicated to impacting education policy. In short, I have come to feel connected to a community that extends beyond my classroom walls, my division or my school. That sense of being part of something larger than myself will stay with me for as long as I remain a member of this maddeningly complex yet profoundly rewarding profession.

5 Comments

Your comments are very much an echo from my past! I'm sure we’ll be hearing this from many others in the future as well. Take heart; it’s only been a couple of years and already I’d forgotten those frustrations. (Your blog brought this all back to me. Yikes!) Don’t worry. Reviewing your high scores next November/December will assuage and mitigate your current quandary, not to mention an increased paycheck (something I’m not getting).

Another couple of tips: Allow an entire day to pack your box. Incredulous, I first heard this at Stanford from someone I had heretofore regarded as fairly bright. However, like with everything else NB, I dutifully followed every instruction to the letter. Several hours into the mailing day, I’m glad that I allowed more than an hour before FedEx closed. Also, go ahead and pay for the “NEXT DAY” even though you may not need it. The cost differential is nominal compared to what you’ve already spent this year. The peace of mind you’ll feel after seeing (via the online tracking) that THE box has arrived safely after only a few hours will be well worth it to you.

Good luck. You’re almost there-

Marybeth NBCT

Just about every National Board candidate "hits the wall" about now. You're overwhelmed, not just with things to do, but things to ponder. It's the Wayne & Garth Syndrome: I'm not worthy! Nobody can do all the things the NBPTS standards lay out, nobody can be that perfect teacher. It's good to have those standards, however--the NBPTS standards represent something we've not had before: a framework for professional teaching, high and rigorous goals.

Just about every teacher also feels that they have constructed a lesson to please the National Board (as inane as that sounds). The portfolio requirements for lessons are created to ensure equity in assessment, so scorers are comparing apples to apples. The requirements may seem frustratingly rigid, as you're trying to ensure that there are between 4 and 6 students per small group, or save 4 assignments for 2 students over 6 weeks (or was that 6 students for 2 weeks...arrrgh)--but they're there to make the evaluation fair and consistent.

Marybeth is right. You do need some time away from this, to gain perspective on the process. You also need some strokes! Keep in mind that you are doing something incredibly brave: laying your teaching practice open for scrutiny. Only a tiny percentage of teachers have the confidence and commitment to do that. Rock on.

So, are you learning anything of value to your students?
You clearly state that you have learned how to make yourself look better to improve your portfolio. This is the trouble with the “business model” that’s being pushed in every area of our modern lives as a method of improving performance. We’ve got the ozone hole to thank for that.
You know, I spent most of my adult life starting and growing a successful business, and I hate the idea that teachers are being hoodwinked by businessmen into thinking there’s something inherently better about a “business model” as opposed to an “education model.”
Let’s get focused on what’s important. It sounds like you were a pretty good teacher before you began this expensive certification experiment – try to remain one despite the national board’s efforts to distract you. Stressing yourself out and adjusting your image to fit some consultant’s idea of what makes a good teacher is so “business” it makes me want to puke.
Maybe if Wal-Mart was pressed by government and armies of consultants into incorporating an “education model” they would become better corporate citizens. We need good public schools, the bedrock of our national culture for the past century, not Wal-Mart clones. We businessmen owe a debt of gratitude to you and your colleagues, but instead we often blame you for cultural/economic problems that have been mostly created by slash and burn business practices of the past thirty years – the business model.
Keep up the good work and stay focused on what’s really important – what teachers do.
p.s. I left a couple earlier posts about what I think is a certification scam attached to “Another Gray Hair.” I wonder if you feel comfortable commenting on them?

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