Tuesday, November 20, 2012

I can finally add those four letters to my email signature....

NBCT. Yes, after all this work, I happily placed those letters after my name.

I have worked for three years to earn this certification. The word "Accomplished" is used often in the process. This always sort of bothered me though, especially when I didn't pass in my first two tries. I knew I was an accomplished teacher. I knew that I went above and beyond for my students. It bothered me that I was not getting the official stamp of approval from this organization to validate what I knew.

Of course, certifying feels great. I am very glad that I stuck with the process. For anyone else thinking of doing it, or anyone who did not pass in their first (or second) year, I would say, do it, and keep going.

However, you have to keep this thing in perspective. There are tricks to it. You have to play by their rules. You have to show you are accomplished in the VERY PRECISE ways that they ask for. For those of us in urban districts like Philadelphia, we do not always get to teach in a world where this is easy to do.

My first year, I know that I fell short of what they were asking me to demonstrate in the classroom. However, much of what I wrote up in my entries ended up sounding like a blame-game, and I see that now. I repeatedly mentioned that I just "couldn't" teach the way that they were asking, because our principal never allowed for any flexibility. And this was very true, I was at a school at the time, where I was threatened with write-ups if I strayed from the core-curriculum. However, the National Board people don't want to hear this. They want to see that accomplished teaching, and evidence of its success, no matter what.

Alas, I tried again. My second year, I had to "borrow" classrooms of students, as I was a traveling teacher. This made things quite interesting. So now, I had to prove I was accomplished while working with students that I barely knew. And, was paying $700 to do so, which was beginning to nag at me. (Don't want to digress too much, but many of us in the process were wondering at the money making purpose of this organinzation, much like all the standardized testing out there in the world.)

So, here is where I will call out the NB scorers a bit. I did my video entries in two very different schools. For those that know the city, one classroom was a very tough 9th grade mix of kids at Gratz, and the other was a very respectful group of kids at the Leeds Military Academy.  I taped one time, one 20 minute lesson, and had exactly what I needed at Leeds. This small group entry scored wonderfully, passing, and labeling me "accomplished." To be honest, I barely knew these students. Yes, my lesson was quite awesome, as was my write up, but I was floored that this system labels someone accomplished based on 15 minutes of tape, when they knew nothing else.

Now, for the Gratz taping. I taped MANY times in order to get a lesson that I thought could even possibly work. (And had to bribe the kids with pizza in order to get the most out of the lessons, as they were quite used to not participating actively in their Enlish 1 class.) Through the months, I really got to know these kids. I tailored and changed my lessons to meet their individual needs. I know in my heart and gut that my write up was just as good for this entry, but I did not pass. This entry was not scored as if I was an "accomplished" teacher.

So, this left me perplexed and quite jaded with the process last November, when I learned that I fell short of passing for a second time. I began to see just how subjective this really is. I KNOW that I was genuinely a more accomplished teacher with my Gratz students, yet that entry is not the one that passed. It did make me wonder who scored it. It made me wonder if it was someone who never saw a typically urban, high risk classroom setting, and if that altered their ability to score fairly.

But, frustrated as I was, I was not going to try for the first two years, and not finish the third and final attempt. I only had a few points to make up, so I only re-took some of the tests. (Still, three re-takes, that was another $1000...adding to my pressure and frustration). I figured that the tests were at least a bit more objective, even though they are still essays that someone must read and score.

Well, fast forwad to last Saturday, I finally passed!!! I was, and am, thrilled. I did learn a lot about myself as a teacher in the process. I also learned though, that there is no way you should allow some outside group of assessors, who never meets you or your students to make you feel accomplished or not.

I will do my best now to help others through this process (though there are very strict guidelines to what is allowed, so please know that). If you have any questions, just ask!

Happy Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Back from Hiatus

I was getting frustrated with sharing my thoughts and observations, as I felt I was seeing the same things year to year.

However, each day there truly is something (or a few somethings) that I see that that makes my head buzz with either shock or awe. I don't think that most people outside of the education world really know what goes on inside school walls, and as it is "public" education, that it should be made more public. Hence my original idea for the blog title.

If I can be one small voice in expressing what really goes on in a large urban district, then despite my frustrations, I feel like I might as well keep on sharing. Whether it is for simple awareness, or to hope on a larger scale for political change in education, truth is needed.

So, I am going to make a real effort to share more of my experiences in Philadelphia high schools. In the meantime, starting again today, I will re-commit to my daily "Thumbs Up/Thumbs Down" on Twitter.

And as an afterthought...some statistics I just learned in a course I'm taking. Just some mind candy for y'all.

58% - the graduation rate of Special Ed. Students
5% -  how many in our nation's adult population are ex Special Ed. Students
50% - how many in the prison population are ex Special Ed. Students

The professor said, "Our traditional special education model is fatally flawed."

And as an after, after thought...perhaps a homework assignment... Find any research at all that shows that summer school helps to close an achievement gap or brings struggling students closer to grade level success. Please share if you find it. I doubt you will.