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Virginia Journal of Education


A New Gig for a Veteran Teacher

My first year as a National Board Certified Support Provider.

By Winona Siegmund

Nervous? Absolutely! Full of self-doubt? Oh, yes. I’m a National Board Certified Teacher and a veteran high school English teacher, but two years ago I was a novice embracing a brand new responsibility: National Board Certified Support Provider (CSP) for Stafford teachers seeking national certification.

At our county’s year-end celebration of new National Board Certified Teachers and Teachers of the Year, a suitably grand and joyous occasion, Stafford recognized eight new NBCTs, including six who’d been in our support class. As they walked across the stage, I felt as proud as a new mother.

 The journey had begun months before when the county offered me the chance to receive CSP training. I accepted, and walked away from the experience awed, thrilled and scared. We were coached to be tactful and helpful, never judgmental, to craft useful feedback for candidates, and to set boundaries for ourselves as CSPs. We learned about cognitive coaching, and looking for the good in all our work with candidates.

Part of a team
In Stafford’s support class, I was paired with Willard Sipple, a veteran CSP who’s guided candidates through the certification process for more than 10 years. He helped me prepare, and we began the course during the summer with a roomful of hopeful and excited teachers. But by fall, many of them had decided not to continue, deterred by costs, family responsibilities and emergencies. That disappointed me. I wondered what I could have done to keep them in the process, but realized all I could do was talk with them and encourage them to begin again the following year.

The class met throughout the school year, after school or on Saturdays, and as I read candidates’ entries and watched videos, I marveled at their creativity and insight. I also wondered if I was asking the right questions and providing clear feedback. So much time, money and mental energy are involved in the NB process: Was I being as helpful as I could be?

Despite those insecurities, I loved the job. As I supported my colleagues, I was deeply affected by their openness, generosity, warmth and enthusiasm. They never grew impatient with me. I looked forward to our classes and their visits and e-mails. I reveled in their funny anecdotes and felt renewed by their diligence and inventiveness.

I also enjoyed the diversity I encountered: teachers in the beginning, middle and late in their careers, men and women, and teachers outside my own discipline. For example, I’d had never considered the logistics of making a video in a physical education class of more than 35 students in near-constant motion, filming without cuts or edits, and being able to understand what the students were saying.

Reading entries and watching videos: it was a continuous cycle as I worked to provide timely feedback. The months flew by and the candidates submitted their portfolios in May. With that done, I had some time to reflect.

First, CSPs need to be tactfully candid with their colleagues. If the video doesn’t really showcase their skills or sufficiently focus on the students, it’s time to make another video. If a draft is well-written but focuses primarily on description rather than analysis, it has to be refocused. It was hard to ask colleagues to reconsider a piece of their work, knowing how much time they had already invested and how much more time would be required to finish all of the portfolio components by the deadline. I struggled with finding the right tone and the best way to say, “You should consider trying this again.”

Second, I realized that sometimes the candidates just needed encouragement. Yes, you’ll finish all of the components on time. Indeed, you’ve made the right decision to pursue certification. I further encouraged them by reminding them that they were already accomplished teachers. They would conquer their self-doubt and finish the journey. Of course the candidates all felt stressed at some point because of the nature of a teacher’s busy, full life and the added layer of the National Board process. Beyond class time, I welcomed them when they dropped by or called needing a sounding board. I believe the encouragement and reassurance I offered mattered as much as the written questions I wrote in the margins of their drafts.

I also discovered I had to reorder my own routine, building in time to read their entries and re-read edited entries as often as they asked me to do so. I needed to set aside some Saturday mornings for our class meetings and, equally as important, to pore over the resources on the National Board website, read books about coaching, and meet with my CSP partner. My family needed some attention, too, so there was finding that balance between my professional roles and my home life.

New Relationships
Serving as a CSP opened a new chapter in collegial relationships. I’ve taught a few short workshops to colleagues, but never before had I helped co-lead a year-long course for teachers. While it’s familiar and comfortable for me to interact with high school students, adult learners are not at all the same. One can’t chide a colleague for missing a deadline or a class. I know their lives are as busy and demanding as my own. I sought to establish rapport with colleagues. Through casual conversations and a relaxed atmosphere, we built trust and mutual respect. An important part of my CSP role was to listen attentively and respond with clarity and sensitivity, but sometimes I was stymied about how to best respond to a colleague’s concerns. That’s when I was especially thankful to be paired with an experienced CSP who had answers when I faltered.

During our CSP training, we were told helping candidates understand the nuances between description and analysis would be challenging. It was. I invested much time and thought trying to find the right words to suggest how to tweak an entry and shift the emphasis from generalizations to specifics, or from too much description to more analysis, without offending or discouraging my colleagues. It was a balancing act between suggestions and encouragement. I became more adept at finding that balance as the year progressed. As with teaching, part of becoming skillful is just having opportunities to try.

Living in Suspense
After the candidates submitted their portfolios and completed their assessment center exam, we all settled down for the several months wait for the release of scores. That wait had been painful when I was seeking national certification, but as a CSP it felt endless.

What would the pass rate be? That question echoed in my head during the wait. More importantly, though, how would my colleagues cope with whatever the news was? Based on available statistics, I knew that some candidates would achieve certification on the first attempt and others would become advanced candidates and work for it again for another year. I mentally rehearsed gentle conversations about persevering and staying committed to the goal so I could comfort anyone who needed to work for another year. I wanted to help them overcome their disappointment and continue. My colleagues really mattered to me: we were linked by friendship.
 
The night before the release of scores, I was like Dickens’ Miss Havisham drifting around our home sighing with impatience. When the scores were released, I was both elated and sad. Some in our class had achieved certification; some, however, became advanced candidates. As for me, I felt humbled and renewed by the experience.

So as I watched my six colleagues on the stage at their recognition event, I again reflected on the past year. I thought about the determination of the advanced candidates, who will, I hope, stride across that stage next year, and I thought about my first year as a CSP, reviewing the shared joy, pain, professional growth and friendships I’d found. Being a CSP is a role I enthusiastically recommend to any NBCT who wants to mentor others. After spending so much time with these talented teachers, I know that the future of our profession is in good hands.

Now, back to that next portfolio entry.

Siegmund, a member of the Stafford Education Association, is an English teacher at Stafford Senior High School.

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National Certification Facts and Figures

The National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS) has created a document entitled “What Teachers Should Know and Be Able to Do,” which lays out its Five Core Propositions for Teaching. It’s a vision of the teaching profession and the basis for all National Board Certificates. Here’s a look at those five framework-creating propositions:

• Proposition 1: Teachers are committed to students and their learning.

• Proposition 2:  Teachers know the subjects they teach and how to teach those subjects to students.

• Proposition 3:  Teachers are responsible for managing and monitoring student learning.

• Proposition 4:  Teachers think systematically about their practice and learn from experience.

• Proposition 5:  Teachers are members of learning communities.

Today, there are well over 100,000 National Board Certified Teachers (NBCTs), working in all 50 states and, while they make up only a small percentage of America’s teachers, they’re having a significant impact on our schools and our young people.

Nearly half of them work in high-poverty schools and, since 2008, almost a third of all winners of the Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching have been NBCTs.

The National Education Association has been a longtime NBPTS supporter and the Association’s president has been given a permanent seat on the NBPTS Board of Directors.

To learn more about national certification and how you can become a candidate for it, visit www.nbpts.org

 


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