Tell Your NBCT Story

imageEvery National Board Certified Teacher has a story. This is mine.

As an elementary teacher I’m responsible for teaching every subject, which includes social studies. And in fourth grade social studies focuses on Washington State. One of the concepts that my students have always struggled with is the Rainshadow Effect. Over the years I’ve tried everything: different videos, different texts, relief maps, you name it. The results have been discouraging. When I assess my students, they generally don’t understand the Rainshadow Effect.

There was a time in my career when I would have simply let it go. After all, the Rainshadow Effect will never show up on anyone’s standardized test. It’s only social studies, for crying out loud; give it a shot and move on. If they get it, great; if they don’t, they don’t.

But I couldn’t let it go. The Rainshadow Effect isn’t just a random meteorological phenomenon covered in chapter three of our textbook. It explains the major differences in the regions of our state, which is what chapter four is all about. It also explains the main differences between the Plateau Indian tribes and the Coastal tribes, which is the essence of chapter five. Not only that, but the Rainshadow Effect is one of the main reasons for all the dams along the Columbia River, not to mention the fact that Central Washington is a major producer of fruit, which largely explains its large Hispanic population. Chapters eight, nine and twelve.

The Rainshadow Effect is a big deal and I’ve been determined to get it right.

This year I tried something different. I put a fan on one end of a table in the front of the room. I asked five volunteers to place their backpacks in a large pile on the middle of the table. Then I took a wet sponge. “The prevailing wind, represented by this fan, blows wet air toward the Cascade Mountains, represented by these backpacks. When the air hits the mountains, it has to go up. When air rises, it gets cold, and cold air can’t hold water very well. That’s why I’m squeezing this sponge and that’s why these backpacks are getting wet. As the air passes over the mountains, it goes back down and warms up. Warm air hold water better. That’s why I’m not squeezing the sponge anymore, and that’s why there’s less rain in Eastern Washington. That’s the Rainshadow Effect.”

I discovered the same thing Annie Sullivan discovered 119 years ago: pouring cold water on something increasing student achievement. For some reason, my students loved watching the backpacks get wet. And they now understand the Rainshadow Effect. All of them.

Washington State spends $50 million on stipends for NBCTs. That number could nearly double in a few years, and with education funding moving to the front burner this Legislative Season, some people in Olympia (where it rains a lot) are going to be asking whether we’re getting our money’s worth.

There are different ways to answer that question. Some people prefer data, and the data certainly looks good. My problem with the data is that it’s too limiting: it focuses too much on test scores. Teaching kids the Rainshadow Effect will never show up in that data.

I prefer to justify our National Board stipend by telling stories. Because every National Board Certified Teacher has a story illustrating how the process made them a better teacher. When I went through the process I became a better teacher, a teacher committed to student learning. A teacher who knows the subject matter and how to teach it to kids. A teacher who is responsible for managing and monitoring student learning. A teacher who learns from experience and a teacher who is a member of a learning community.

What’s your story?

2 thoughts on “Tell Your NBCT Story

  1. Mark Gardner

    My story is about the teacher I was versus the teacher I became. The watershed moment was caught on video for my Entry 3 way back on Valentine’s Day in 2006. I was working with small groups of students on decoding a scene of Romeo and Juliet. As I watched back the video, I saw student engagement, all kinds of great teaching, blah blah blah… And then I saw myself interact with this one group of boys for a minute or two, then pose a question about the text that the boys emphatically agreed with. I walked away, but the camera stayed… one boy said to the other “do you know what he was talking about?” Another replied “Not a clue.” I replayed that clip over and over and it was obvious what had happened: I had posed a series of leading questions, the kids read me and knew what to say in response, and they gave me what they thought I was fishing for…not what they were really thinking. This was fully in my control and all stemmed from the way I asked questions and the assumptions I made about their answers.

    That could have been an indicator of bad teaching. What it was, for me, was an indicator of a glaring blind spot in my own practice: the way I asked questions and monitored responses. Outside all that, all my student assessment data was strong, my kids appeared engaged, I consistently received good feedback from current and former students… but watching that video reinforced to me that I still had places I could grow and improve, even if it was as simple as how I phrased questions to provoke and assess student understanding.

    It has been over a decade now, and to this day I am mindful of the way I frame questions when I work with all learners, be they teenagers or a roomful of teachers and administrators. I’ve learned to be a better reader of learner responses, and I’ve learned to never let my assumptions function as assessments.

    Further, that same pattern of analysis of deliberate practice has extended to all facets of my work as an educator. That experience created a professional disposition that has forever changed the course of who I was as a teacher…and a thousand or more students who have passed through my classroom since have benefited from a better me than I otherwise might have been.

  2. Janet Kragen

    The best part of the process for me was watching myself on video and discovering how much I telegraphed with my face and body language and how well my students could read that. I worked really hard to be an expressive teacher. Now I have to work really hard–at times–to keep a poker face.

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