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My Final Thoughts
by Stephanie Blackburn

Our five diarists now have completed both the portfolio and assessment portions of the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards teacher certification process. For their final entry of the year, therefore, we asked them to share with the NBPTS and with you their thoughts about the process and how it might be improved to better meet the needs of future candidates.

May 17, 2004

As I reflect on the year and on the entire Board process, I feel as though I have accomplished a major feat. Although I still don't know whether or not I was successful in the eyes of the National Board, I truly believe that my teaching has improved because of the process. I constantly find myself asking, "How is that going to impact students?" That one question, which resurfaced in all the entries, is vital; it's a question that should drive all of education and educational reform. It reveals the instructional strengths as well as weaknesses that need to be addressed.

Now, as I sit and reflect on the process, I also realize that the videotaping was extremely helpful. Not only did it make me aware of some behaviors that were occurring in the classroom without my knowledge, but I also enjoyed hearing the kids speak. There are times at the end of a lesson when I feel as though no one understood the process. There are times when I feel as though no growth is occurring in my classroom. With the videotapes, however, I was able to easily see the positives. A lot of intellectual dialogue went on, and students grasped concepts. Don't get me wrong; there were flaws in the lessons too, and re-teaching needed to be done, but the videos allowed me to determine that by providing sound evidence.

TESTING! That was the worst part of the process. I still am not clear why it is set up in the manner it is. I gave myself six weeks to "study;" what I didn't realize was, there really is no way to study. It's like studying for the SATs.

I was frustrated when I left the testing center. I felt that only 30 minutes to read the question, decipher a plan of action (with no resources), and respond in a clear and concise manner did not provide a true picture of my capability or knowledge. Typically, as a professional, I would rely on print and electronic resources, my colleagues, and other professionals to help my teaching. Standards and good practice teach educators to do that even from our student teaching days. As I look back, I'm grateful I didn't have an unlimited amount of time, because I could have easily sat there for hours contemplating my answer to one question. However, couldn't there be a happy medium? Why only 30 minutes?

The testing atmosphere also was tough. I was afraid to cough or sneeze in fear they would think I was cheating, and yet I couldn't get the clicking of the other keyboards out of my head for weeks!

What can I add? When I began this process, I knew it was independent work. I did, however, think that support classes would be offered throughout the entire process -- with an actual person available to answer question and help us through it. Even something as seemingly simple as packing up the box posed problems. The directions were fuzzy and could be interpreted in a number of ways, but I was intimidated about interpreting them because of all the warnings that if the box weren't packed correctly it wouldn't get scored.

Fortunately, we had one another to lean on and ask questions of; but there wasn't an "expert" to ask at all times. I think I had it easiest because a colleague who teaches fifth grade mentored me -- she had passed the process under the same certification -- although she constantly clarified her feedback, saying, "I am not sure what they are looking for. I am only sharing with you the process that helped me."

I wonder if it might be possible to have available a couple of point people in each state (or at least in each certification area) to help candidates. Or perhaps the NBPTS might offer a course to help candidates -- it even could be online. The instructor could be the NBPTS point person. I also think that some feedback when we get our portfolios back would be beneficial. If I do pass -- what did I do right? And if I bomb out -- what should I be doing differently? All those answers would help us all grow professionally.

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Meet Stephanie Blackburn

Stephanie Blackburn, one of Education World's 2002-2003 teacher diarists, received her bachelor's degree in elementary education from the University of Rhode Island in May 1994. For the first two years of her teaching career, Stephanie worked as an enrichment specialist in the talent development program for the Westerly, Rhode Island, school district. For the past seven years, she has taught fourth grade at Bradford Elementary School in Westerly. Stephanie was awarded a 2002 National Educator Award by the Milken Family Foundation, in a program that provides recognizes elementary and secondary school teachers, principals, and other education professionals who are furthering excellence in education.

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