Monday, October 8, 2012

Letter to OK House Education Committee Responding to Interim Study of National Board

I just sent this note to all the House members of the Education Committee. They are studying the feasibility of the National Board support program and stipend program in Oklahoma. Of course the meeting is during the school day, so I can't attend. 

I have found this year highly frustrating, since more students means less time to write and to communicate to my Legislators. I'm sure they're not heart-broken, but in my effort to grade and keep up with my students, the writing has had to stop. Unintended consequence of education reform, I guess....

Good evening. Thank you for letting me talk to you about National Board. I will not be able to attend the meeting's our last day of classes before Fall Break, and I really need to be with my students.

I have not been able to share my concerns with you this year, since I have more students -- 155 per day, and more students means more grading, more contacts, more emails. II know timely feedback to students is one of the most important ways to impact student learning, and that means I work hard to get papers back the day after they're turned in.  That means no time for writing, for communicating with you, even for's been a tough beginning of the year. I'm hoping to get the balance back soon. I don't want you to think my silence is disinterest or apathy. It's bone-numbing fatigue of 3+ hours of grading a night.

I know you're studying the feasibility of our ELO-NBPTS program in Oklahoma, and you're wanting evidence of the effectiveness of NBCTs in the classroom. Boy, do I have opinions. I was in the third class of NBC candidates, and have recently renewed my certification, even though I am retiring this year. There was no way I intended to retire as a former NBCT! This certification is the most important professional learning of my long career. Not only because of what I've learned, but also because of the many ways I can affect student learning, document that learning, and expect even more from my students.

My NBC has allowed me to work with education professionals from SNU, from OU, where I've taught undergraduate and graduate classes as an adjunct. I've participated in a national committee through National Writing Project and have been asked to present at National Council of Teachers of English. I am visible as an NBCT, in the classroom. My NBC is my ticket to state and national leadership. This all comes back to student impact, because my leadership helps me learn new ways to reach out to my students.

Since my NBC, I have crafted an English elective, Reading for Pleasure, with student impact in mind. I invented the class to prove students can change their attitude about reading and their practices. Students leave my class more confident in their reading, and much more likely to enjoy it. They face college or the workplace much more able to communicate. 

Students see the direct connection between my class and their performance on standardized tests -- their EOIs, their AP tests, and the ACT. I have evidence of improved scores, more confidence when taking the tests if you'd like to read my research.

This year, in four weeks, my students have read 390 books. They have reflected on their attitudes about reading, they have set personal goals for their class. They have recorded their reflections about books. They have had conversations with other students, and they have produced multi-media presentations.

Students have, for the past two semesters, read nearly half-a-million pages each semester. They report they read faster and comprehend better. They see the cross-over to other high school classes, and improvement in their writing skills in all classes.

None of this would have happened without my NBC. I would never have seen my students as co-researchers in my class, I wouldn't have understood the incredible power of self assessment and self reflection, a backbone of NBC.

I would love to have you come and visit my class and see my students in action. My empowerment through my NBC has helped empower my students. They are amazing. In case you think every student in my class came to me loving reading, let me set the record straight. This class is for everyone...9-12. I have advanced, AP students sitting next to IEP students, sitting next to remedial readers, next to ELL students. Some students DO love to read, but many haven't finished reading a book for years. Students have often remarked that our class is one of the most democratic classes, and everyone here treats each other with respect and support.

This program reinvigorated my career. I have always scanned my faculty at Norman North and targeted the bright new teachers I want to go through the NBC process...I only lack two departments before I'll have an NBCT in every department at Norman North (can you tell I take this program personally!). Think of that. An NBCT in every department in a school of  2400 students. Look at our test scores. Look at our report card. We are highly effective. Part of that success is the high number of NBCT on staff, make no mistake.

I understand the concern about sustainability of the program. But, it seems to me for every new NBCT, even at the height of the program, at least one NBCT retired, as I will, or left the profession, or left the state. I would imagine the program was close to reaching that balance of one-in-one-out. When that happens, there won't be any additional expense for stipends.

Other suggestions: fund stipends for the 10 years of the original certification...then fund 10 years for a new NBCT. This would also sustain the program.

Continue the amazing ELO program with support and training. But expect new NBCTs to pay back the scholarship with their first stipend check. That will zero-out the scholarship costs.

Tie stipends to some kind of candidate support and/or district leadership. Documentation should not be difficult. Expect more from our NBCTs outside the classroom.

But, DO NOT expect NBCTs to 'create' higher test scores. Most of us do not teach in a tested area, and that was NEVER the intent of NBC -- or teaching, for that matter. Student impact, not student test scores, is our focus. 

WHEN student test scores do increase, it's a great side effect of effective teaching and reflective learning. It's not the direct result. We see 'student impact' in a much wider, systemic way. We're educating the whole child, and often the whole family. We're educating for much more than a narrow test score, one day in April. That should be the reason you want to invest in this program.

Most of us can go on forever about how our teaching has changed. We see the classroom differently. We can quickly diagnose confusion in learning and distracting behavior. We are able to effect changes and are willing to keep trying until we've changed behavior or gotten through to a student. We understand and use feedback to reteach and redirect. We step up and mentor other teachers, we share our expertise. We lead from the classroom. We change lives every day. You want us in the classroom, and for this work, the stipends are a deserving way to acknowledge our contributions.

Thank you for YOUR contributions to our state, and to our state's children. We truly are partners, working together. I hope I can be helpful. I would love to visit further...thank you for your time, I'm going back to my grading! :)

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