Hogwash and Poppycock… The Propaganda Surrounding The National Board Teacher Certification And What We Can Learn From Joe, The Plumber!

When we are sick, we take comfort in knowing our doctor is a board certified physician. When we need justice, we hire a lawyer who has passed the bar exam, licensed to practice law. When we have clogged pipes, we call a certified plumber.

Now plumbing may not rank up there in status with being a doctor or a lawyer, or even a teacher, but plumbing is an important job; life would be pretty medieval without plumbing! Most people think teachers undergo extensive training in the teaching field, more training than you would expect a plumber to undergo on how to plumb;yet, it might be surprising to learn that plumbers have more rigorous training and supervision than teachers.

Why is it that plumber trainees must pass a series of certification tests each time they want to move up the ranks for a different level of plumbing; teachers have no such requirements to prove they are competent at different stages in their career, or in different areas of education. For example, teachers are not trained and do not have to prove they know how to design a test to ensure critical thinking, or how to meet the needs of diverse learners.Teachers do not have to pass a test to prove they know about the emotional, social and personal factors that influence how a student learns. Teachers do not even have to pass a test to prove they know how to provide feedback, or what effect the physical appearance of their classroom has on student learning and achievement. Teachers do not have to prove they know how to choose appropriate and effective resources to teach so students will be challenged. Unfortunately, teachers do not have to prove they are highly qualified individuals, although state licensure tests lead us to believe otherwise.

Plumbers, on the other hand, have 5 different stages for which they must prove proficiency before they can achieve the title of journeyman, the highest degree of plumbing competency. Teachers have no such requirement for each year of teaching. Novice teachers are thrown into the classroom to fend for themselves. Plumbers must pass each stage of their trade by demonstrating competency on tests, logging in over 8,000 hours and being supervised 100% of the time by a certified plumber while they pursue their journeyman license.

How is it possible, that when we seek to educate our children, we place them in the hands of individuals who have not been required to meet a minimum degree of competency, or even supervision at different stages of experience?

States require all teachers to earn licensure in their subject area, but these licensing requirements are not as stringent as the National Board Certification for Professional Teaching Standards, nor do these state tests require that teachers videotape themselves teaching to reflect on their teaching strengths and weaknesses.  State licensure tests do not assess an individual’s true ability to teach. Anyone can pass those tests if they know enough about a subject.Many people have become teachers who used to work for the private sector. They pass the licensure tests, but fail to understand the human factors that are the most essential aspects of being a teacher. Having a Bachelor’s degree does not guarantee you have the ability to teach.

I believe every teacher should be required to be National Board Certified. The process would weed out the incompetent teachers, and the standards of the certification would ensure every teacher was adequately knowledgeable in their field and in understanding the social, emotional, physical, psychological, and even political complexities of teaching and learning.

Now, earning National Board Certification does not guarantee excellence because striving for excellence is a highly personal choice, but it does guarantee that the teacher will know his/her subject matter, and he/she will know how to teach that subject to students, how to grow as a teacher, how to reflect on the practice, how to design lessons and tests, how to choose resources, how to ensure equity, fairness and diversity in the classroom, how to provide feedback, how to collaborate with peers and stakeholders, how to communicate with parents, but most importantly the teacher will know how to help his/her students to grow academically.  The NB certified teacher can choose to short change his/her students by not teaching to these standards (that’s another topic for another post); however, the certification proves the ability to teach is there; no certification in any field can guarantee an individual will make moral choices.

There may be many non-certified teachers who have not passed the National Board or who have not pursued it because of all the negative propaganda surrounding it.If you pursued NB certification, and did not pass, it boils down to three reasons: one, whether or not you followed the directions; two, how clear, concise and convincing were your descriptions, analyses and reflections of your lessons; or three, you truly may not be effectively teaching, and need to try again.

For those teachers, who have not pursued NB certification, you may already teach at the NB standard because the NB standards are the model for quality teaching. If you consider yourself an effective teacher, then the NB standards are the natural by-product of good teaching. However, do not let all the hogwash and poppycock surrounding the NBPTS prevent you from pursuing your NBPTS certification.

I do not understand Arne Duncan and others who continue to propagate this perception that pursuing NB certification is practically impossible, that almost half of the teachers who attempt it fail, and that teachers will doubt their ability to pass as they go through the process. I can’t understand if the mission of the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards was: “to establish high and rigorous standards for what accomplished teachers should know and be able to do”; “ to develop and operate a national voluntary system to assess and certify teachers who meet these standards” and “to advance related education reforms for the purpose of improving student learning”, what message does the Department of Education and even the National Board send about those teachers who have not passed, or those teachers who have not pursued the certification?Does it mean that the NB standards are meant to attract an exclusive group of elite teachers? Does it mean that it is acceptable for the rest of the teachers in America to not be required to meet these standards? Are they suggesting that the rest of the non-certified teachers can teach at sub par levels?

Recently, Bill Gates stated, “Unfortunately, it seems the field doesn’t have a clear view of what characterizes good teaching,” “I’m personally very curious.” If the NB has been able to pinpoint what constitutes quality teaching, then why not hold every single teacher accountable to meet these standards before they enter the classroom, and while they gain experience in the classroom? If plumbers have to prove what they are able to do, and what they know about plumbing at different stages of their trade, how is it that teachers are not being held accountable to prove they know how to teach. Other industrialized countries require that their teachers meet standards like the ones set out by the NB. Why can’t we hold every teacher in America to these high standards?

Arne Duncan’s attitude negatively reinforces the low self-esteem many teachers have about their abilities. His thoughts about teachers pursuing the National Board speak volumes about the lack of confidence our leaders and our society has for the ability and caliber of teachers. Arne Duncan expresses the hypocrisy that exists in the government’s mission to raise standards. As Secretary of Education, you would think he would know the psychology of the self-fulfilling prophecy.If you tell people something is challenging and half won’t pass the challenge, it is human nature most people will not even make an attempt. If I told my students before they embarked on preparing for a challenging test or project, that most of them would not pass, that most would doubt their ability to do the task, and that most would fail the first time, not only would I have some parents up in arms about my lack of confidence in my students, but most of the kids would probably not even attempt the task.

Arne Duncan, thanks for your words of encouragement! One of the National Board standards is knowledge of students. As the Secretary of Education, you do not know students. You do not know teachers, your clientele! Thanks for believing that only some teachers in this country are competent enough to prove they can meet the NB standards. I passed the National Board the first time around even though I had many naysayers who believed I would fail because they believed in the propaganda. They even added my being a minority to their fatalistic equation. Our society has such low standards for what our teachers should be able to do with students and then we expect to raise the standards for students.The National Board is no walk in the park, but it seems to me that this fatalistic attitude, the “Oh it’s so hard!” ”Oh, you can’t pass the first time!” “Oh only 50% of the teachers pass!” is typical of the low standards we set for ourselves in this country regarding education.

If you have read Maxwell Gladwell’s best selling book The Tipping Point, exploring how behaviors, attitudes and products gain popularity, we can apply the book’s examples to help us understand why teachers themselves have adopted the stance that it is perfectly acceptable to be mediocre. Teachers are guilty of propagating the notion that “it’s good enough; there’s no need to go above and beyond”. Pursuing the National Board Certification in the eyes of many teachers, forces teachers to go above and beyond. In reality, the NB certification should be the national standard, not one that appears unattainable in the minds of teachers.Teachers, administrators, school boards and our number one cheerleader, Arne Duncan, have been instrumental in perpetuating this belief. Teachers can help to change this inimical mindset, which ultimately sabotages our progress and democracy.Pursue your National Board Certification today!


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