Education Opinion

Introducing the Journey

By David B. Cohen — July 14, 2009 3 min read
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My suitcase is packed, all of my materials and electronic gear accounted for, and I’m heading to Atlanta for the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards 2009 National Conference and Exhibition. This trip will be my third in as many years to participate in national teacher leadership activities with NBPTS, but there’s an important difference this time, as I’ve taken on this live-blogging assignment for Teacher Magazine. I’m also proud to be writing under the banner of the Teacher Leaders Network (TLN), an outstanding group of educators whose collective wisdom and support helps to shape nearly every conversation I have and every word I write about education. I hope you’ll be interested in reading some of what happens along the way in my journey, and I invite you to add your thoughts and comments as well.

As I share some of my observations and reflections about the National Board Conference, my goal is to find a balance in my writing - to capture what this conference represents about the conditions and urgent needs in American education, while also sharing some of my own and other people’s personal experiences and anecdotes. If you’ll stick with me for the next few days, maybe we’ll see how these all fit together and have a chance to reflect on what America’s students and teachers really need to be successful.

On Monday, confirmation hearings began for Sonia Sotomayor’s appointment to the Supreme Court, and there’s been much made of the idea of empathy this time around: how might a judge be informed, or unduly biased, when seeing a case through the lenses of identity and personal experience? But this conference is not a trial, and I trust that no reader of this blog will expect complete impartiality and a dispassionate analysis of events. I am not here to be a cheerleader, either. I am a participant and an interested observer, so I figure I ought to let readers know where I’m coming from as I enter into this project.

I’m about to enter my fourteenth year of teaching, and my eighth at Palo Alto High School in Palo Alto, California. We sit across the street from Stanford University, which has played a significant role in the life of the community, the school, and my own path in the profession. I graduated from the Stanford Teacher Education Program (STEP) in 1995, and had the great fortune to spend parts of that time learning from some luminaries in the field of education. The most influential of them was Lee Shulman, whose pedagogy shaped my understanding of how teachers develop and grow as professionals.

Around the same time, Shulman was helping to launch NBPTS, which was gradually expanding its available certifications. The type of careful observation, analysis, and reflection that I was taught at STEP was also central to achieving National Board Certification, and it just seemed natural that after the novice phase of my teaching, I too would pursue advanced certification.

I earned my certification in 2004, again with the help of Stanford, this time through the National Board Resource Center. With the support and leadership of Linda Darling-Hammond, Misty Sato, and Sandy Dean, this program has helped many hundreds of teachers to navigate the complex and stressful process of certification, which can take one or two, or occasionally, three years. In 2006, I began working as a candidate support provider at Stanford, helping other teachers as I had been helped myself.

In that position, I had the opportunity to glimpse teaching and learning across the spectrum of schools and students, and the upshot of that work was a growing desire to make a difference in education on the broadest possible level. My father always modeled for me that you don’t just complain about problems – you speak up, and you take on the system. In the past two years, I’ve been involved in both TLN and a new teacher leadership group called Accomplished California Teachers, both of which came into my life further down a path that flowed from National Board Certification. I am a firm believer that teachers can and must use our expertise to help shape policy and influence research, rather than wait for outsiders to deliver unto us that which we don’t need or can’t use, while ignoring or withholding some vital tools that would help schools and teachers to do our best work with students.

The theme of this conference is, “New Voices, New Visions: Teaching for Tomorrow, Today.” As I arrive in Atlanta for the next phase in my journey in teacher leadership, I will be trying to push myself, my peers, and NBPTS, to make our voices loud and confident, make our visions bold and optimistic, and lead for tomorrow, today. Stay tuned!

The opinions expressed in Live From NBPTS are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.