NBPTS: Beyond the Classroom

How rare for an administrator to have more talent on her staff than she knows how to handle. Such may be the case here. National Board Certified Teachers (NBCTs) represent a new level of expertise in schools. They hold great promise, and they also carry with them rising expectations for their professional behavior. Will administrators blend the basic ingredients of talent and expectations to yield frustration or will they produce success?

The school year is in full swing. Fifth-grade teacher and team leader Patricia Fuller is adjusting to her achievement of National Board certification.

Patricia glanced at the newspaper over the rim of her coffee cup. There she was, in black and white. In a small article on the front page of the local section, Patricia had her 15 seconds of fame. The article announced her achievement of National Board certification, and it made Patricia smile. She read it twice, finished her coffee, and headed to work.

See the newspaper article below:

On her way into the building, Patricia bumped into Mrs. Ledman, the mother of one of her students.

“Oh, hey, Miss Fuller. I just read about you in the newspaper this morning. Congratulations!” said Mrs. Ledman.

“Thanks.” Patricia found herself sheepishly wanting to change the subject.

“Well, the article said the superintendent was thinking of reassigning those teachers, you know, to spread the wealth, I guess. But we, I mean, I don’t really like the idea. Anyway, how would he even know if these teachers are better than the rest? How’s he going to measure the impact of these changes?”

There are lots of ways to measure…” Patricia began.

Mrs. Ledman, glanced at her watch. “Oh! I’ve got to dash! See you later.”

Patricia was deep in thought as she unlocked her classroom door. The banner that greeted her announced her new National Board Certified Teacher (NBCT) status to anyone in the building who might have missed yesterday’s announcement by her principal, Katherine McDaniel. Patricia tried to guess who had hung the banner as she gratefully dropped her bulging bags on the table.

Patricia and Kirk reading the acceptance letter

She guessed Kirk could have been responsible for the banner. He was the only other National Board Certified Teacher at her school and understood well the challenges of achieving that status.

Patricia recalled their conversation the day before when she had told her the good news. Katherine had been pleased. “Congratulations! Well, now we have two NBCTs on staff. I’m sorry to say, aside from the little I know of the process you and Kirk went through, I don’t know much about the National Board. But, you must be relieved to be finished.”

Patricia had taken the opportunity to explain the broader goals of the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS), including school reform through teacher leadership and mentoring. She offered to bring Katherine some National Board information. Patricia made a note on her planner to gather the information from home and prepared for the day ahead.

That evening, Patricia revisits broader education issues.

The sun had set. The dishes were done. Pulling herself up from the couch, Patricia began digging through her NBPTS files for the information she had promised Katherine.

As she skimmed through the documents, one thought drifted in the back of her mind. She may have been finished with the certification process, but she liked to think of this as more of a beginning than an end.

Among the guidelines and requirements for certification, Patricia found a document she’d ordered from NBPTS. She had only skimmed Why America Needs National Board Certified Teachers before, but she was eager to give it a more careful read. She returned to the couch and began.

…For too many of our nation’s teachers, teaching is still organized essentially as assembly line work. Most teachers who display professional skill do so in spite of, not because of, the way schooling is organized in America…In no other profession are neophytes thrust into full service without a period of transition…A major managerial challenge for the schools then becomes how best to deploy their most valuable resource, teachers, in a manner that maximizes the opportunity to utilize the knowledge, skill and expertise of the most proficient practitioners. This would include creating conditions that assure the positive influence of National Board Certified Teachers is felt not only by those few students who are directly assigned to such teachers, but also by all students in the school. This can only be accomplished by changing the predominant “egg crate” model of schooling that isolates teachers one from the other, and by giving National Board Certified Teachers a role in instructional decisions…

Why America Needs National Board Certified Teachers

Clearly, there was a lot of work to be done. Patricia added the Why document to the other NBPTS information in her bag, realized she hadn’t graded the science test she’d given that day, sighed, and headed for bed. She would have to get up extra early.

Superintendent Schatz gives a presentation to the PTO.

Superintendent Schatz

Patricia tried to make it to most of the monthly PTO meetings. The March meeting was no exception. She entered the conference room and quickly found a seat next to Susan Reynolds. The two teachers served together on the school’s leadership team and enjoyed finding the bright spots in what might otherwise become dull or difficult. She and Susan sat side-by-side, waited for the superintendent to begin, and counted the familiar faces of parent volunteers. Those parents who were lucky enough to have the time continued to support the school, and the teachers were thankful for their help.

Superintendent Schatz had been leading their district for two years. He had a firm grasp of the differences among the 47 schools and a “no nonsense” demeanor. After beginning his presentation with an overview of district and school budget issues, Dr. Schatz turned his attention to student achievement.

Patricia cringed. Although she was proud of her NBCT status, she was uncomfortable being singled out from her peers.

That spring, Patricia meets with the other upper-grade team leaders and her principal to begin planning for next year. 

The team meeting

Kirk, Patricia, and Susan were the fourth-, fifth-, and sixth-grade team leaders. They waited in the library for Katherine to return from her planning meeting with the superintendent. Katherine and Dr. Schatz were working together reviewing test scores for their joint school progress report to the school board. Though it was hard for her colleagues to imagine, Katherine always insisted that even she got nervous when speaking in front of the board.

See Watkins Elementary’s test scores below:

The teachers heard Katherine’s voice as she made her way toward them.

Patricia was dumbfounded. Move Kirk!? She and Kirk had been friends since he was her team leader

Kirk listening to Katherine

several years ago when they both taught 4th grade. Kirk had coached Patricia during her quest for NBPTS certification. Facing next year’s challenges would be difficult enough… and taking-on a homogeneous class of low-achieving students… Did they think she could work miracles?

The conversation continued with Katherine filling in more information from her conversation with Dr. Schatz. In addition to improving test scores and moving teachers, Dr. Schatz had urged beefing-up mentoring to improve literacy instruction. Seeing an opportunity, Kirk suggested using the National Board Standards as a basis for mentoring and professional development next year.

NBPTS Middle Childhood/Generalist Standards

Katherine continued, “So, we have an additional one-half of a position to support literacy improvement. Have you had a chance to look at the staffing breakdown I gave you last week?”

The team leaders were typically involved in staffing decisions and had been given the task of ranking needs for next year. Together, they had come up with two scenarios they thought might work.

See staffing scenarios below:

As the meeting progressed, the group wrestled with the staffing points, but they could find no way to relieve the school’s expert teachers from some classroom duties to facilitate mentoring within the school day. The choices boiled down to these: increase class sizes; decrease art, music, or P.E. offerings; or add mentoring to the full class loads of the mentors. The best Katherine could do was to offer a small stipend to each mentor from the general school budget. Mentoring meetings would have to occur during teacher workdays and after school.

Susan, Kirk, and Patricia were quiet as they packed up. There was a lot of work to do, and the question of school and classroom assignments for Kirk and Patricia remained up in the air.

As they make their way home, each educator reflects on the decisions just made.

Patricia walked past her mailbox and remembered her excitement on the day she received her letter from the NBPTS. Since then, much had changed and much remained the same. Patricia still had a classroom full of students with diverse needs, six subjects to teach, and papers to grade. Now, she also had the added responsibilities of mentoring, exposing the faculty to National Board Standards, leading them in professional development, and the possibility of teaching a remedial class next year. What was she thinking? To top it all off, Kirk might be leaving AND receiving a big, fat raise. She looked at her modest house, wondered how she’d ever get it painted, and went in to fix dinner.

Susan sat at a red light, wishing she had beaten the rush-hour traffic. She wondered how the rest of the staff would react to using valuable teacher workdays to make room for mentoring and a National Board-based professional development model. Traditionally, those days were used for student assessment and report cards; now those tasks would spill into the evenings and weekends that were already devoted to so many other school duties. Susan shook her head knowingly. She accelerated through the intersection and decided to check with their union representative. She wanted some more information about paying stipends for teacher transfers.

Kirk slipped his key into his car lock. He felt uneasy about his possible reassignment. He could sure use the money, but he had a solid footing in this school community. And, if he stayed at Watkins Elementary School, he faced the prospect of leading the faculty through mentoring and professional development. It was one thing to mentor Patricia. It would be another to shepherd an already overloaded faculty through exposure to NBPTS ideas. Though he understood the need, the thought of standing before his weary peers filled him with dread. How could he motivate and excite them when their plates were already so full?

Katherine was wondering about the effectiveness of colleagues leading one another in professional growth as she rounded the last curve before home. The speakers she brought in last year seemed quite effective. On the other hand, the NBPTS ideas could provide a real fit for each teacher’s unique needs. She wondered if they would get the staff to buy into the NBPTS inspired changes and how the teachers would react to peer facilitators. She worried about Kirk, too—would she be losing one of her strongest teachers?

Patricia leads the faculty meeting on the NBPTS-based professional development proposal.

The library was full of chatter and snacking, but it was all white noise to Patricia. Her thoughts focused on the queasiness in her stomach. She and Kirk had checked and rechecked her video, notes, and transparencies. She was well prepared. That was not the problem.

The problem was giving an in-service session after school to a faculty already overwhelmed by year-end evaluations and report cards. The problem was her standing up there as if somehow she knew more than her peers. To be sure, she had worked herself to near exhaustion. But hadn’t her colleagues done the same, each in his or her own way?

Just then, Mary Ackman caught her eye, and Patricia overheard her whispering, “I see she got out her blazer this morning to match her National-Board-certified persona. Nice touch.”

Patricia knew better than to dwell on the cynical few in the audience. She had the best interests of students and teachers at heart. She hoped this would keep her going. Trying to refocus, she made her way to the front of the room. It was time to begin.

She first shared an overview of the NBPTS and the Standards that could serve as a guide for their literacy push, mentoring, and reflective practice. (Revisit the NBPTS Middle Childhood/Generalist Standards.) Then Patricia explained the NBPTS certification process and how it affected her teaching.

Part of the National Board certification process required using video to document teaching and learning. Patricia was looking forward to sharing the video of herself and grabbing a sip of water. She started the tape and took a seat among her colleagues.

There wasn’t much time to think. It wasn’t long before Patricia realized that sharing video was a mistake. Early on, there was a good breaking point in the video; Patricia made a quick decision. She hit pause, kept the lights off, turned on the overhead projector, and put on the Standards summary transparency. She asked each teacher to start by picking the area that most closely matched his or her literacy instruction needs, and then to take 10 minutes to brainstorm how they might address these in an ideal teaching situation. Patricia eyed the recycling bin near the library printer and passed out paper blank on one side. She waited, watching. The room was quiet. Finally, she breathed a sigh of relief as her peers began their engagement in National Board issues.

Patricia reflects on her day.

Patricia considers the stack of student journals

“I’m glad THAT’s over,” Patricia said to Kirk as they headed down the hall.

“Me too. You were great. I think people seemed really engaged in exploring the Standards. But, I must admit, at first I didn’t know where you were going when you nixed the video. Good call though.”

“Thanks. See you tomorrow.” Patricia headed toward her desk and its tower of student journals. Before she could tackle those, she needed to take a moment with her own journal to clear her head.

Patricia paused, watched the afternoon turn to evening outside her window, and looked at the list of phone calls she needed to make. On the top of the list was Mrs. Ledman, Dustin’s mother, who would be helping on next week’s field trip. Patricia hesitated. She continued to feel doubted by this otherwise helpful volunteer and often returned to the questions she raised about National Board teachers. Patricia had no tidy answers.