Seven Reasons Good Teachers Don’t Achieve Their NBCT
Friday, December 31, 2021 by Joetta M. Schneider NBCT

     How many great teachers do you know who did not achieve their National Board certification the first time they tried? Since the score release, we’ve had a number of emails and calls for insight, which is actually a perennial request. What follows here are broad descriptions and probably much more dramatic than anything a single teacher might have done—but hopefully even a small part of these vignettes might give a clue about where to begin.

First of all, remember that the process is developmental and a lot to get your mind wrapped around. Just as we don’t all walk, read, speak, or understand algebra at the same time, we don’t all get our a-ha moment at the same time. Give yourself time to learn and believe you can learn what you need to know. Likely you made some understandable error that you can fix.

Rather than viewing low scores as a personal failing, it’s better to view this feedback as an area for growth. Perhaps you can consider these combined character sketches of a few great teachers who did not achieve their National Board certification on the first try:

They don’t know what they don’t know.

    This happens more to great teachers who work as “Lone Rangers” and don’t have a cohort. They try to figure everything out themselves. There’s a lot to figure out. Be prepared to do a lot of research as you work on your National Board certification.

     “Jules” has been teaching high school ELA for about 18 years and recently shared her C2 writing with her cohort. Component 2 for National Board certification is where candidates demonstrate their abilities to differentiate the content, process, or product so all students can attain the learning of the standards. However, Jules went to college in the nineties, when differentiation originally was presented as differentiating teaching strategies and was not about individualizing for students or groups of students. When Jules wrote about differentiation as “using a computer-based interactive one day and puppetry the next few days” this is different from differentiation (a.k.a. differentiated instruction) since the new National Board Component 2 was rolled out in 2013. Jules (and many of us) need to update our understanding of current trends in education. One way to make sure we are aware of new ideas and trends is to become part of a cohort.  It’s also important to understand the National Board language.

Due to a lack of time or lack of opportunity to collaborate, they don’t read or understand the very dense instructions.

     “Carolyn” was an inspiring teacher who came to our cohort only a few months after winning the State Teacher of the Year award. The rest of us read her paper, listened to her discuss her work with the students, and even saw some of her practice videos. In her room, students learned counting with polliwogs and graphed the number of days till the amphibians’ legs appeared, and five-year-olds debated the wisdom of pets wearing seatbelts when in the car.

     In March before time to submit, Carolyn said, “You know, I have so much going on right now, that I’m not really going to go through everything they’re asking us to do. I already have a packet made that I submitted and won for Teacher of the Year, so I’m just going to submit that. She did not certify that year.

    Far from being arrogant, this teacher was simply not thinking about the purpose of following the instructions when she knew she had reached the art of Master-level teaching. However, for the purpose of validity, all candidates are being measured against the same rubric criteria. This is a dramatic and true example of how teachers can’t use their own sets of rules for proving their accomplished status, but even more common is when teachers just miss something important in the instructions… for example, that their paper must be double spaced and not single-spaced even though the contextual information form is single-spaced.

They did a great job of writing about several aspects of the prompts but didn’t connect the evidence to the learning or the standards.

     “Sandy” wrote eloquently about her rationale for integrating poetry in her math class— we were all very convinced that her methods were based on sound pedagogy and that her lessons were thoroughly scaffolded for different learners. She referenced all the mathematical habits of mind as she described the work the students were doing in her room. When I saw the work the students had done— great poetry and beautiful drawings— I wondered, “What are the standards she’s trying to teach them? And what features of this work she’s submitting show that her students are learning the material? Why did Sandy choose these two students’ work to submit as evidence? How can Sandy tell, by looking at this, that her students have met the standards? She submitted evidence that the students did the work, but she missed a crucial piece of the BIG PICTURE, that she needed to show how she analyzed student work and helped bring the students along to master the standards. She needed to analyze data and demonstrate how this led to her next steps with these students and in her future teaching. 

Their planning and program were impressive but didn’t seem to connect with the students they were teaching.

    “Shelly” used scenes from a popular movie to teach history. Unfortunately, the movie was from ten years ago and most of her students didn’t find it engaging. Before she recorded, she insisted that this was one of her best lessons every year! In the video she used for her C3 entry, her current students never seemed to connect to the content. Some of her feedback included the statement, “You may wish to demonstrate more understanding of students in this particular age group.” Whereas this feedback often refers to teachers’ unique understanding of the grades they teach, in this case, Shelly was not aware that her choices no longer engaged students, and her video reflected that.

     I would say Shelly could have used the same clips if she’d helped students connect with the movie beforehand. Or maybe she could have found more current materials to use with the same format as her favorite lessons. Try to be objective about whether your tried and true lessons might need updating. One of the questions an assessor needs to answer is if the candidate is aware of the quality of her teaching. 

     In my own teaching one year, I had a group of students in Conceptual Chemistry who were on the prom-planning committee. I had an epiphany that I could use dimensional analysis to help them understand how to calculate the amount of food and decorations they should order. It was a wonderful way to capture their interest and help them learn the math. When I tried the same lesson with a different class that day, it bombed. This is why the Five Core Propositions state that accomplished teachers know their students and the prompts include a question about why this lesson was the right lesson for “these students at this particular time.”

They think there is a pattern and spend time trying to check off the boxes.

    “Shaun” was an acclaimed fourth-year special education teacher with great organizational skills.  Unfortunately, he approached his candidacy in the same way he approached writing an IEP. He put answers in all the right places but didn’t really demonstrate that he had his own personal experiences and rationales for the choices he made. He didn’t seem to own that he was a competent professional who deeply understood education and his students and who made professional decisions each day in order to better the understanding of the students he served.

    There are many times teachers are expected to adhere to a template in their work, but National Board Certification isn’t one of them. Some teachers are so adept at organization that they try to be efficient in their approach to the National Board certification process. Yes, process. I often tell candidates that the NBPTS was way ahead of the game in the area of growth mindset. They aren’t wanting you to prove how perfect and organized you are; they are looking for your growth and reflection. (For more information about what this looks like, I suggest Marzano’s book, Becoming a Reflective Teacher.) Again, teachers who know they are good, for whatever reason, often take an approach that looks more like checking off the boxes than engaging in a growth process. In fact, my number one piece of advice is that candidates look at the National Board certification process as a great PBL for teachers! We’re given the criteria for the products we need to submit, a set of standards, instructions, and a rubric— then asked how this looks in the context of our teaching. It’s personal to each candidate, each school, and each group of students. There is no cookie-cutter approach that will demonstrate how you jump in with the students and engage in the art and science of learning in such a way that it results in their attainment of the standards.

Some amazing teachers are too busy and spread too thin to do their best work.

    “Melissa” decided to embark on her National Board journey without giving up anything in her already hectic schedule. She just tried to add it to everything else she does— Student Council advisor, English department chair, church choir director, organizer of pep rallies, senior nights, and the Angel Tree. Her daughter was graduating high school and moving off to college, and she needed to plan church camp for June. Her classes were well-taught and her components were well-written, but she really didn’t have time to engage in the National Board process, and it showed. If you are a good teacher and you want your NBCT, be honest with yourself. Maybe just take the first year to read through the materials and attend informational sessions about the process. Gathering information is a valid part of achieving any goal.

    Another problem related to this is when a teacher has difficulty getting the right lessons taught before time to submit. Coordinating the curriculum with the students we have and dealing with interruptions to the school year might leave us trying to write about the wrong videos or the wrong student work. Sometimes teachers need help figuring out how to salvage a difficult year.

There are teachers who are ambivalent about education or angry and not really ready to begin this process.

    Honestly examine your writing for biases. (Hint—the assessors are trained to look for their own biases, too.)

“Anthony” was a great teacher who made history interesting and engaging for his students, however, he wasn’t really happy about the courses he’d been assigned to teach.  As a candidate for National Board certification, he grudgingly participated in the cohort and had a real problem with every task in the section labeled, “What Do I Need to Do?” His writing was defensive and the bottom line was that it seemed as if he blamed others for his choice in becoming a teacher.  

    To paraphrase one of the answers to his prompts:  

[Civics is not a subject that should be taught in high school, so I am teaching standards each day that aren’t really a part of the curriculum— they are standards I have decided will serve my students better. In my class, I teach them the art of debate and disagreement because that’s what our true civic duty entails… making sure that no one gets taken advantage of. I’ve argued with the administration time after time about this course and no one is listening…]

    He could have written this a different way and it would have made the case for his best teaching; here’s an example:

[I choose to teach Civics using strategies like debates and the art of engaging in disagreement productively and with civility because I believe these skills will serve my students not only in school but in life. For example, I have students research different aspects of voting rights and prepare for a panel discussion. To scaffold this, I …]

    It is not to your advantage to spend time venting your frustrations about policies and politics when you are attempting your National Board certification components. Remember that NBPTS assessors are trying to compare your teaching accomplishments to the rubric that you’ve been given. There are many good places for you to make your views known (blogs and magazine articles, for two suggestions) but your bid for your NBCT is not the right forum. 

We at My National Board for Teachers have resources available for NBCT candidates.

    Since candidates received their scores, we’ve heard from many teachers who are wondering if National Board certification is for them. I always remind them that this is a growth process and generally not a “one and done.” We offer online cohorts, print and downloadable materials, and online coaching. We prepare specific online opportunities for districts and groups of teachers as well as in-person training for teachers or group facilitators. You can check out our resources on our website and on Facebook. Our goal is to help you as you embark on what we feel is the best professional development opportunity available to teachers.

You can also email us at [email protected]


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