Ready to Throw My Canoe
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.