Sunday, May 31, 2009

Is National Board Certification in NC Worth Saving?

Legislators in North Carolina have proposed eliminating the payment of the assessment fee for eligible NC educators to pursue National Board Certification through the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards. This would eliminate approximately $4 million from the state's education budget. (This figure varies each year due to the fluctuating numbers of NC educators that choose to take advantage of this payment and due to the increased cost from NBPTS of the assessment fee.)

Over 14,000 educators in North Carolina have achieved National Board Certification (NBC) and the status of National Board Certified Teacher (NBCT). Some of those educators have retired; some of them have moved to other states; some of those educators are no longer in the classroom, having moved into administration or having chosen to get out of teaching altogether.

Critics of NBC say that the results generated in the classroom by students taught by an NBCT is no different from those non-NBCTs. Other studies have proved otherwise, stating that students of NBCTs show greater gains on end-of-grade tests.

So is National Board Certification in NC worth saving?

In my almost 2 1/2 years as the NBC Coordinator for the state, I was amazed at the extremes surrounding the certification process. First, there were those strong, intelligent, highly motivated, passionate professionals who saw National Board Certification as an incredible, personal professional development opportunity, a chance to really reflect and analyze instructional strategies and improve classroom instruction and ultimately impact student achievement.

And then there were those educators who signed up with only the dollar signs in their eyes. For NC pays a 12% salary differential to those educators who achieve National Board Certification and meet the guidelines under the statute.

But with recent budget shortfalls and economic depressions and the impending education cuts, the conversation is starting about putting National Board Certification on the chopping block. While many of my colleagues will argue that the state should not eliminate the paying for the assessment fee to pursue NBC (currently $2500 per candidate), I am going to step out on the proverbial limb.

I don't think the state of NC should be footing the bill for the assessment fee for teachers to pursue National Board Certification. (Okay, let the whining and shouting begin!)

Look, here's how I see it. My professional growth is my professional responsibility. I should not have to rely on another entity (state government) to fund my pursuit of advanced degrees and advanced certifications. I DO believe that we should get compensated (you know, a raise, bigger salary) for those advanced degrees and certifications, but that's another conversation for another blog entry perhaps.

While the number of candidates who did not fulfill the responsibilities of the promissory note that they agreed to with NC was a small percentage of the total who pursued certification, it has amounted to millions of dollars in lost funds over the past 12 years, something I only understood once I saw the NC NBC budget up close and personal. Teachers who did not complete the process (turn in the entire portfolio and take the assessment exercises) or who did not teach the year following the initial certification process were expected to repay the state the assessment fee that was paid on their behalves. Some people took care of their obligations; others did not.

Too me, it's those others that ruin it for us all, and make me take the strong stance of saying, NO! to payment of the assessment fee.

Yes, there were educators with legitimate sob stories: illnesses, injuries, RIFs, accidents. And yes, the repayment of the assessment fee to the state of NC has been waived for some folks who were able to document and plead their cases over the years. But so many others just failed to complete the process, choosing not to "read the fine print" of the promissory note. Wake up, folks! A promissory note is when you promise to do something in return for a favor. The state gave you $2,500 (the current cost of pursuing National Board Certification) and the state asked only two things from you. (You didn't even have to achieve certification, just complete the tasks!)

All candidates have the opportunity to withdraw from the process for whatever reason, too. To me, those educators without legitimate reasons for failing to comply with the promissory note (or failing to withdraw from the process) lack the professionalism and high standards that ARE National Board Certification. NBC is about accomplished teaching and accomplished teachers.

Some of my colleagues will argue that the state paid assessment fee gives every teacher an opportunity to pursue this advanced certification. Since I do agree that the process was incredible, personal professional development, shouldn't every educator have the opportunity to experience that same growth through the NBC process? But is every educator capable of being an accomplished teacher and of achieving National Board Certification?

I think that each educator should have to put her own money where her mouth is and prove herself by achieving National Board Certification before the state of North Carolina recognizes that advanced certification with a 12% differential.

Yes, National Board Certification in NC is worth saving, but not the expense of the assessment fee.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Good Help is Hard to Find

My assistant recently quit. She was on a terminating contract which would have ended June 30th, but she chose to give her two weeks notice and left us last Friday. We wish her well in her endeavors, as she pursues her incredible art career more fully.

Her leaving got me to thinking about "good help" and how hard it is to find, even in this supposed recession and high unemployment rates. So with that, I give you the top ten things I will miss about my assistant (and hope to find in her replacement):
  1. Great rapport with the kids. They liked her! They really liked her!
  2. Good interaction with most of the teachers and staff.
  3. Ability to complete a task. Sounds basic, but you'd be surprised the things that have been left incomplete in my past experience.
  4. Those great book displays. She came up with some neat topics, content, holidays, events to highlight with book displays.
  5. Her helpfulness to staff and students. She was the first to jump up and offer assistance in finding a book, using the scanner, making a poster.
  6. Laminator extraordinaire. Let's just say that I was banned from the laminator about ten years ago by a former assistant. Heat, sticky paper, and I don't mix.
  7. Avid reader. She knew her young adult literature and was able to share with the kids.
  8. Covering the circulation desk. While this is the main job responsibility of most media assistants, I appreciated her being there so I could actually get lunch!
  9. Computer savvy. She didn't just know how to use the basic applications, but was helpful at explaining web 2.0 tools and sharing with students, teachers, and me.
  10. Incredible artist. Okay, so I can't expect everyone to be the next Eric Carle or Brian Pinkney, but we sure did appreciate her sharing her art with us all.

Accepting applications and soon as they lift the hiring freeze...

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Finding My Element

I finally started reading Ken Robinson's book The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything, and I totally get it. Robinson describes the element as the point where "natural talent meets personal passion".

So I started thinking about what I'm really, really good at AND that which I get really, really excited. And every time I come back to the same thing: teaching teachers.

When I spent two and a half years at our state's education department, I worked with teachers all across the state. I wasn't always excited about three hour drives and late nights, but I did get pretty enthusiastic about engaging with other teachers, seeing their passion about teaching and offering them new ideas on instructional strategies and thinking about their professional growth.

Before my stint as a teacher-on-loan, I had conducted school-based as well as district staff development workshops for colleagues. The most enjoyable for me were the sessions on reading. When the state required reading credits for teacher licensure renewal, there was a need for workshops and professional development opportunities to satisfy those renewal credits. I had the chance to satisfy my own passion for teaching teachers by creating and delivering some of those workshops.

Another media coordinator and I taught workshops for middle school content area folks. It was amazing to see those teachers have "aha moments" and realize that reading across the curriculum was not quite as daunting as it seemed. I also taught reading workshops for arts educators. It gave me a chance to explore the great picture books available to introduce all sorts of arts-specific content and middle school novel tie-ins.

So now that I'm feeling stronger about being in my element, what's the next step?

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Word of the Week: Singleton

I spent last weekend on a beach retreat with a group from my middle school library media PLC. We were a group of six women who love to read young adult literature, to talk about the latest and greatest instructional technology, and to bounce ideas off one another in regards to improving our library media programs.

Most recently we've been discussing how our colleagues, other library media coordinators, are often alone in a school. We're one person, sometimes two, managing the library media program, doing collection development, managing the facility, designing and implementing reading incentive programs, planning and collaborating and instructing. We are often a singleton in a school of many core content teachers.

And we've decided that we don't like the term singleton!

For some reason the term has a negative connotation: an outsider. In this collaborative environment, I don't want to be an outsider. I want to be an insider, one who is in the know and who is sharing my expertise with my colleagues, one who is working with others to impact student achievement.

A slip of the tongue and singleton becomes simpleton. Maybe not for most, but it's too close for comfort. And as one colleague reminded me, our principal is only one person in her position. Do we call her a singleton? Of course, not! She's our administrator!

So now we have to come up with a better term for singleton. I'm kinda partial to expert, but then I suppose there are many experts in the building. How can I define a single/one individual in a program area who most likely works collaboratively with all? (The singletons in my school also include academically gifted teacher, guidance counselor, music teacher, Spanish teacher)

Fellow experts, specialists, individuals, educational beings, what do you think of the word singleton?