Sunday, April 27, 2008

O What I Don't Know (But Will)

Entry #3 in a periodic series on National Board Certification

It's always a slap in the face to find out what you don't know you don't know.

Well, in typical "get outa your comfort zone" fashion, I took an assessement center practice session using retired questions and got a wake up call, if not a full smack down.

The first question involved a scenario about an type of student I have had few of and a novel I had not read. Actually, I think after the OMG moment of reading the question, I recovered rather nicely. Still the greater lesson is that if one is going to be a master teacher, he or she must excel at areas of which one has little experience as well as those areas that one has much.

So I can see my reading list growing for the summer so that I can learn more about issues, students, and subjects that I now know I don't know.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

The Power of Art to Get Inside a Play

Today I included a favorite lesson, one I learned from Anthony Cappa, last year's student teacher in my class. The lesson involves Henrik Ibsen's play A Doll House and the work of his contemporary and acquaintance Edvard Munch. By examining a half dozen of Munch's works through the lens of Ibsen's play, students unfold both--sets of images and scenes from the play.

We start with "The Scream." Familiar territory and a moment of recognition. They find connections that bridge the playwright's realism and the painter's expressionism. Themes, moods, characters, episodes, and bits of dialogue resonate outward from Munch's pictures.

By the time we get to Munch's portrait of Ibsen himself, we need the momentary chuckle over his mutton chops to shake the despair, longing, and alienation that stem from our better understanding the meaning of what Nora, Torvald and all go through.

Art has that power. Couple drama with painting--wow!

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Teaching and Self-Loathing

Entry #2 from a periodic series on National Board Certification

For all the buzz of past decades on self-esteem for students, teachers could use a boost. When I got to my second installment of NBPTS pre-candidate classes, I was nearly stymied to find that cancelling the program was a real possibility. Why? Lack of funding? No. Lack of teacher interest in taking the challenge of becoming National Board Certified.

I was crushed. I had tried to get into last year's class to find I was too late. Now that I was in, was I going to be denied the chance because no one else wanted to?

Fortunately, the happy few of us that showed up were able to commit, cross our hearts and hope to die, and convince the leaders to hang in there with us.

But this got me to thinking why? Why aren't teachers clamoring to become Board Certified? With the promise of state funding, money can't be the excuse? Time? Sure, time is always precious for good teachers. Yet, I think it has to do with fear of not measuring up and low self-esteem.

Teachers have so many nay-sayers to their talents. Media, administrators, parents, even students' criticism can get a teacher down. (Why this week alone, I was obliquely called a "goat," " a fool," and "cruel" by students.) So, of course, why would they want a National Board to give 'em one more hit? It's easy to see their view.

Ironically, that's exactly the opposite of the NBPTS's intent. It's to take account and certify all of "what teachers should know and be able to do." It's portfolio assignments and assessments are aimed at acknowledging the great things teachers who become candidates already are doing well.

Our National Board advisor tells me we are thirty years away from when National Board Certification will have established itself as the hallmark of educators' professionalism. Maybe by then teachers will be less fearful and more proud.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Midway in My Career

Entry #1 from a periodic series on National Board Certification

I've decided to record some of my reflections on a process toward National Board Certification for Teaching. I considered starting a separate blog for this, but have decided to have it be part of If Bees Are Few, color code it blue and tag it "National Board." In this way, perhaps it will show how the process integrates with other aspects of my reveries.

This is my seventeenth year in the classroom as a career. Sixteen down and sixteen to go, God-willing. I'm not sure I'll stop teaching then, but I'll probably retire from the public school system as I reach 60. Thus, if all goes well, this is my hump year.
This week I "celebrated" by beginning pre-candidate classes for becoming a National Board Certified Teacher from the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards. The first step was printing nearly 400 pages of standards and portfolio requirements and the panic of "what am I getting myself into? I'm an award-winning teacher, lead of my department, consultant . . . why do I want to be board certification?"
Well, I love teaching and I express my love through the quality of my teaching. I also like reflective practice. So this seems like an arena in which I can heighten my reflection, challenge myself, and improve the quality of what I love and do well. So binder in hand I head off, a bit daunted by the work ahead I know it represents.
Locally, Duquesne University is a host center for NBCT/NBPTS. At our first meeting which previewed the foundation and five core propositions, I was reassured to find out that "Standards" for our profession are much more authentic than "standards and standardized testing" that is been limiting education's scope, creativity, relevancy, rigor, and ways we assess students. Here they are:

Policy Statement: What Teachers Should Know and Be Able to Do
1. Teachers are Committed to Students and Learning.
2. Teachers Know the Subjects They Teach and How to Teach Those Subjects to
3. Teachers are Responsible for Managing and Monitoring Student
4. Teachers Think Systematically about Their Practice and Learn from
5. Teachers are Members of Learning Communities.

Moreover, I was reassured by the level of inquiry I sense in a half a dozen fellow teachers in our class. What we lack in numbers, we will make up for in quality. After three hours of working with them and our experienced and enthusiastic leaders, I may not have yet have a clear idea of "what I'm getting into," but I'm more confident I want to "get into it." What an incredible boost to one's motivation to have the time and space and structure and interest with colleagues to talk about "what teachers should know and be able to do." I left heartened that the NBCT process will be an exhausting but energizing experience. Sort of like teaching itself.