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How Many Angels?

By Emmet Rosenfeld — February 20, 2006 2 min read

How many angels can dance on the head of a pin? This question of cosmic choreography, long the realm of medieval rabbis and more recently of interest to Madonna, a famous celebrity convert to the strain of Jewish mysticism known as cabbalah, suddenly seems more important to me than it did before I started on the path to National Board enlightenment.

You see, the National Board’s Standards alone run to about 90 pages. (These are sort of like the Ten Commandments, except there are sixteen of them, identified by Roman numerals.) Download and print the instructions for the portfolio, and you add another bible thick three-ring to the pile on your desk.

Granted, I’m not sure the holy Box spoken of by my already ordained colleagues is quite what it used to be. In years before one waited to receive the novitiate’s treasure trove by snail mail. Now all divine guidance comes by a single cd rom.

Numerology in cabbalah assigns values to letters, and so reveals mathematical patterns in scriptural phrases. NBPTS has its own arcana. For instance, the fourth portfolio entry, I found out last class, should be twelve pages long and demonstrate achievement across three standards by discussing eight accomplishments within three distinct categories. (As described in the NBPTS instructions for Entry 4: the standards are: X. Reflective Practice, XI. Linkages with Families, and XII. Professional Leadership; the three “categories” are: as a partner with students’ families and their community, as a learner, and as a leader or collaborator.) When mailed in, I’m pretty sure all this must be submitted under the seventh seal.

“It’s all teacher-written,” our instructors assure us. Composition by committee instead of divine hand may account for the use of words like “Linkages” instead of “Links,” or that “Linkages with Families” is assigned Roman numeral XI in the “English as a New Language” certification area, but is given a different name and Roman numeral in the Adolescence and Young Adulthood category (XVI. Family and Community Involvement).

Hopefully it also means that the standards, awkwardly packaged as they may be, speak to some fundamental truths about our profession. Once I have studied them more deeply I may have some answers. Until then, I and the other experienced teachers starting this quest for self-improvement feel as Madonna probably did at her first session with a bearded Talmudic scholar.

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