Well, I did it. I’m a National Board Certified Teacher. Here’s my favorite of many tweets celebrating after the score release last weekend:
I don’t think that being National Board Certified makes me a great teacher. I can give you dozens of ways I’m not. I do think it reflects that I care about the teaching profession, and that I’m working to get better. Board Certification is premised on five core propositions, and I think that these came through in my portfolio — but notice that these speak more to teachers’ growth than their expertise.
- Teachers are committed to students and their learning.
- Teachers know the subjects they teacher and how to teach those subjects to students.
- Teachers are responsible for managing and monitoring student learning.
- Teachers think systematically about their practice and learn from experience.
- Teachers are members of learning communities.
Some things were frustrating about the certification process. The feedback on my portfolio was hard to understand and not very helpful. The guidelines and rubrics were complicated and took forever to sort through. For Component 1, I had to drive two hours to the nearest testing center in Denver and sit in a cubicle staring at math on a computer for three hours; not fun. For Component 2, I had to figure out how to assess student learning at the beginning of a unit, use that assessment to differentiate and give feedback effectively within some uncomfortably prescriptive guidelines, and assess progress again at the end of the unit. For Component 3, I had to struggle to get intelligible audio and video of my teaching, throw out lots of bad clips, and then write something articulate about my teaching. For Component 4, I had to gather information from colleagues and students’ families about their learning, show evidence of how I design assessment systems based on student needs, and demonstrate that I’m learning outside of my school to meet those needs. This last one was a mess; it was hard to sort through exactly what I needed to do for each step and how the different pieces fit together. For the three portfolio components, I had to do a ton of pre-work planning when and where I was going to gather evidence and be prepared when things didn’t work out the first time. Then, I had to piece together what I wanted to communicate in my portfolio, and then actually write the thing. Luckily I like writing about teaching, but it was exhausting.
I think part of the value of Board Certification is that it is a ton of work. It takes time, it costs money, it’s complicated. Teachers can’t start the certification process until they’ve been in the classroom for at least three years, and the credential isn’t worth much outside of schools. It’s not something people are likely to do if they’re on their way out of the profession. And all of the work is embedded in teaching; it’s not like writing papers for a master’s degree because so much of what I did was analyzing my actual teaching practice and talking about where I was working to improve.
Some folks say that the certification process is one of the best professional learning opportunities for practicing teachers. I don’t think this is true, but I feel incredibly lucky to have the MTBoS as a space to share ideas on teaching, hear from others, and push my thinking forward. The NBCT community won’t replace that. But the MTBoS community is different. For one, it’s not all teachers. Lots of people I connect with work in curriculum, technology, instructional leadership, PD, and more. And that’s great! I went to NCTM in Seattle two weeks ago, and those were lots of the people I was hanging out with, and lots of the folks who read this blog. Hi! I appreciate you. The MTBoS is the best place I’ve found for engaging intellectually with teaching math, and I wouldn’t be the teacher I am today without it. National Board Certification dug into the practicalities of classroom teaching in a different way. It was messy and imperfect, but so is the reality of schools and teaching. I have no illusion that being Board Certified will influence my career the way the MTBoS has. But it serves as a symbol of my commitment to the classroom, and my commitment to improving my teaching in the classroom.
My advice to other teachers: if you’re committed to teaching and your school or district is willing to support you financially, take a look at Board Certification. Be careful taking on too many components at a time. Learn to love writing. Know that the first lesson you want to videotape or assessment you want to use work samples from might not work out. Plan the logistics early. Know that it will be frustrating, the rubrics and criteria will be obtuse, and the portfolio will feel like a mountain of paperwork at times. Find someone you trust to look over your work. It’s less about being a brilliant teacher than it is showing off what you already do well, and being willing to reflect on where you want to improve. And you might fail — I didn’t pass by much, and better teachers than me have failed but pushed through.
Board Certification doesn’t decide what good teaching looks like. But it does serve as a marker of commitment to the hard intellectual work and richness of teaching, and a step toward a profession that defines and regulates excellence and receives the respect it deserves.