As some of you already know, I spent most of my free time from 2014-2017 pursuing National Board Certification. I can't believe it, either. I wrote about my experiences with Component 2, Differentiation in Instruction, here and Component 3, Teaching Practice and Learning Environment (where you film yourself teaching), here. Last year, I worked on Component 4, Effective and Reflective Practitioner, and Component 1, Content Knowledge (a big, computer-based test that you take at a center).
While I will describe my work on these Components in detail later on in this post, let me begin with a spoiler: I am now a National Board Certified Teacher! As promised, it was a very challenging, and at times overwhelming, experience. I felt deep self-doubt and was scathingly critical of my own teaching some days; other times, I felt like I'd climbed the highest mountains of my practice. Ultimately, National Board is a very rewarding process that forced me to stretch my teaching in many new directions. Here are a few of the ways that I've grown, phrased as Can-Do statements:
• I can describe my teaching in terms of national standards and best practices
• I can analyze my teaching, planning, and assessing in a deep way
• I can forge professional relationships with experts and peers to seek guidance and grow
• I can present at conferences, give workshops, and write for professional publications
• I can be disciplined and focused in finding more...and MORE...time to do this work
I also want to make it clear that becoming a NBCT will not crown you Queen (however: check out these sashes shared on Twitter after score release...jealous!), nor cure your case of impostor syndrome (thinking, If I just become X, then I'll finally know and believe that I really am competent).
When I began the process, I remember thinking that I wanted to either find out, or prove, how good I was. Having an audience of middle school students for nearly 20 years may have created that hunger in me. During the application, I often felt like I was facing all of my weaknesses head-on. Now that it's over, I still feel this endless striving in a few ways. For one, I now appear to wear a permanent set of "laser vision" glasses that allow me to see all the weak spots in my planning, instruction, and assessment. Before I was blind to some of the areas where I wasn't intentional or effective - no more. I can choose to cut corners now, of course, but I see the consequences very clearly. Secondly, the Component that I completed last, when I ostensibly had learned the most about the process and improved my teaching the most, was by far my weakest score. Somehow I managed to spend far more time on it, solicit help from a larger group of experts, and yet - totally screw up! As a result, I feel like I still don't know if I "get" this business about being a Effective and Reflective Practitioner. And I really, really want to get it - so that I know that I know what I know (are you still with me?), and so that I can coach others who want to complete this process. So that is frustrating. Right now, all I know is that I don't know that I know what I know. And I like to know what I know, people!
Here's a description of my work on these two Components, likely only of interest if you're preparing these yourself:
Component 4 has many, many parts, and I spent months trying to understand what I was expected to do. It was by far the most involved component and the hardest for me to wrap my head around. I worried a lot about questions such as: Which parts needed to connect to one another? What evidence was sufficient to demonstrate my actions, yet without revealing my identity? How could I possibly explain all of this work in just 12 pages? I began by creating a profile of one of my French 8 classes based on many sources (eg French 7 teacher, school data, student surveys, parent surveys, observational data, state testing results). Then, I gave a formative assessment (in my case, a quick write/fluency count) to those students, analyzed the results, and asked students to self-assess. Next, I planned instruction to help students improve their writing with a focus on reaching the course target of Intermediate Low. Finally, I gave a summative assessment (in my case, a polished written letter to ePals) and analyzed students' growth. A whole second portion of the component wasn't directly tied to any of this: I also needed to identify a professional need and document my participation in PLCs and the outcome for student learning, so I focused on assessment by mode; and identify a student need that required advocacy, collaboration and/or leadership and show how I collaborated with others to meet it, which I did by working to increase contact with authentic resources and authentic audiences so that students could focus on real-life communication skills.
Although I wish I could say that the hundred(s) of hours I spent on this component changed my practice and for the better, I think I was mostly spinning my wheels. Nonetheless, I can say that two new professional collaborations yielded rich learning for me. One was very close to home (actually, someone IN my home!) and the other was a totally new face.
From my husband, who's a research scientist:
• I learned how to record data about my students
• I learned how to share my findings in table and chart format
• I learned how to use Microsoft Excel
This was the first time that we ever worked together on anything professional, and I loved it! We each got insight into one another's worlds, and we had something totally new to discuss at night once the kids were in bed.
From our district's data coordinator:
• I improved my ability to write in a descriptive way without judgement
• I learned new ways to show the impact of my teaching through
This very generous woman spent hours brainstorming with me and then editing my drafts. She was able to point out places where I was unconsciously revealing my own biases, and she scaffolded a lot of my data collection so that it was focused and purposeful.
Component 1 is a half-day test that I only began studying for once I'd submitted Component 4, and I suggest that you do the same. I had from late April to early June to prepare, and that was it! I was quite intimidated by the idea of this test because: 1. I hadn't taken a standardized test since the GRE in 1998, and 2. I'd never taken a computer-based test before (other than the OPIc). However, my 30+ years of French learning, traveling, friendships, and 20 years of teaching built up a depth of knowledge that made this a relatively painless experience. Because one's proficiency in the language is now assessed by the OPI for NBPTS, Component 1 is about language, language acquisition, language teaching, and culture. I found that I was able to answer most questions with confidence because I'd done so much reading about the standards and SLA as part of my work on the other components, and because I'd brushed up on my French for the OPI through speaking with natives (whom I found on The Mixxer) and reading and listening to French in a more regular way (podcasts of France Culture, reading 1Jour1Actu & Okapi to find articles for my classes, reading short novels & memoirs). On the day of the test, I came in well-rested, did some light exercise, ate healthy snacks, drank a lot of water, took advantage of the free earplugs, and did my thing. It is amazing that this short, rather pleasant experience counted for far more than the cruel slog of Component 4!
And that, dear reader, is the end of my National Board saga. See you in 2023 when it's time to renew my certification!