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Education Opinion

NUKED

By Emmet Rosenfeld — November 09, 2007 5 min read

In this post I’m supposed to tell you about how I got kids to dress up like gladiators and chant Om as they brought books to life in our recent “Epic X” unit, but I need to interrupt the regularly scheduled broadcast to bring you this (heart-) breaking news…

I failed.

National Board scores were released online to candidates today and my score of 265 missed the passing score of 275 by 10 points. Some Eduholic readers may have missed the year of blood, sweat and aggravation that was chronicled in this blog’s predecessor, “Certifiable?”, where I wrote about my attempt to scale the NBPTS mountain in pursuit of National Board Certification. Over the course of 67 posts I described the excruciating process of completing a four-entry portfolio that included videotapes of my teaching, and finally taking a day long test at a computer center.

So, HOW does it make me FEEL?

First, there’s the emotional impact. Sort of like a huge fist has been slammed into the solar plexus of my teaching career and it’s down on the canvas, listening to the bright lights spinning like a merry-go-round and watching the dull roar of the crowd like an ocean in the distance.

I’m more or less writing from that place right now, but let me try to stagger back to my corner and answer HOW it makes me feel that way. Here are the numbers.

On each of the four portfolio entries, one can score up to 4 points. Each is weighted at 16% of the total (except one at 12%), and “scaled” before becoming part of the final score; for comparison, I got 50 points on my best entry and 12 points on my worst. My highest score, 3.125, was on “Instructional Analysis: Small Groups,” which was one of the videotaped classes where kids were working on a project to represent the structure of novels with 3-dimensional models. My lowest score was on “Documented Accomplishments: Contributions to Student Learning.” On this I got a 1 out of 4.

Let’s disregard, for a moment, my year-long project building a dugout canoe with tenth graders that ended up on the National Mall, my work as a teacher of teachers at George Mason University, and my nationally published writing about education. (After all, NBPTS did.) 1 out of 4 pretty much means you don’t have a pulse.

On page 42 of the 67-page guide one has to download just to interpret these scores, there is a page-long paragraph of the sort that I would never accept in a student paper which catalogs the woes of one-ness: “little or no evidence that the strategies are effective in engaging parents and other interested adults… little or no evidence that the teacher has strengthened his teaching practice through professional development… little or no evidence of the teacher’s ability to impact student learning through work with colleagues, professionals, families, and the community, and as a learner.”

Clearly, either I or the National Board need to be sued for malpractice.

One nagging suspicion is that they rejected all the evidence I did submit because of a procedural glitch. I redacted identifying information with whiteout in an effort to follow their byzantine directions and later found out I shouldn’t have. I admit it’s far more comforting at this point to think that punctilious bureaucracy is at fault rather than the alternative: I suck as a teacher.

I’m now in the locker room and the haze is starting to lift. Back to the judges’ scorecards. In addition to the portfolio, there was the computer test. There were six essays there, again each earning up to 4 points, but each only weighted at 6.6% of the total. So, in summary, the portfolio was worth 60 % of the total, and the essays 40%.

My highest essay score was a 4, on “literary analysis.” My lowest was a 2, on “teaching writing.” Oddly, I have masters degree in the latter. Do me a favor and don’t tell the school district that hired me last week to present at their inservice on teaching nonfiction writing about that second score. If only to make myself feel better, here’s an email from their staff development coordinator (which is an example of the sort of thing that I thought might constitute “evidence” for Entry 1):

Emmet - Thanks again for coming. Just a quick note with some feedback from evaluations.
-I plan to use the information gained.
- I’ll use this new technique in class tomorrow.
-I would like to use this for short stories.
-The levels of understanding is applicable
-I can use this in my class
Well, you get the idea. Great presentation. Wish I had made it to this.
Jane and Steve
Thanks

I guess I need to take a deep breath and let it all soak in. Part of me just wants to crawl under a rock, but the greater part remembers the ambivalence I felt throughout last year and is saying, in a kind but firm voice, I told you so.

The little voice inside goes on: It was never you, and you knew it. You did your best to jump through the hoops because you wanted desperately to make $60,000 extra over the next ten years, but you gave a way a little piece of yourself every time you sat down with that fricking 300-page instruction manual and tried to translate the magic from your classroom into a voiceless narrative based on those ridiculously convoluted standards.

Hmm, thanks little voice. Maybe you’re right. Or -- and let me anticipate the comments from National Boardists I know my stance will provoke—maybe I’m a prima donna who’s had his sails trimmed and can use this as a learning experience to become a better teacher.

They could be right, I guess. I’m just not sure how much more self-reflection I can take. I might try to recoup the countless hours and resubmit an entry or two next year. Going broke a week into each pay period can foster that sort of resilience. Right now, I just feel like there’s spit up in my mouth. I want beer.

But, first things first. 7th period starts in five minutes and we’re beginning a unit featuring database research in which kids will access primary source documents and assume the character of a historical figure from one of four eras, then debate the importance of his impact on people living in that time and place. I know, I know, I’m pretty much just doing it for my own selfish enjoyment. But, what the heck— maybe we’ll get lucky on the way and stumble across some student learning.

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