My NBCT journey…for now


Four years ago I sensed myself reaching a professional climax. I finished my master’s degree a few years earlier and I started to level out. I had done a lot of little things as a teacher; I attended and facilitated lots of professional development, served as a model teacher for my school, led grade teams and the math department, interviewed teachers, mentored first-year teachers, ran after-school clubs. I’d been in the game for 10 years and I knew that I never wanted to leave. I find teaching students math to be a complex, unsolvable puzzle that is crazily addictive. So with this in mind, I began thinking about my next big challenge, my next big thing as a teacher. What would it be?

Whatever it was, I figured that it’d be something that could dramatically elevate my career. That meant it would probably be something that would require me to jump through some pretty big hoops to complete. I was still was very hungry to be a better teacher and I needed more than the in-school or out-of-school usual professional development to do the trick. I recognized the fact that I had a lot to learn, about the profession, my practice, and myself. I also wanted to reach the last for my salary step here at the NYCDOE and, because I see myself leaving NYC at some point down the road, achieve something that would be recognized by other states. After some deep reflection, I boiled my options down to two: an Ed.d or National Board Certification. I chose the latter in large part because the Albert Shanker grant paid for it all. Otherwise, it would have run me around $2000. Plus, I don’t know why but it just seemed natural for me to seek NBCT before an Ed.d.

I kicked things off two years ago with the content exam, which is component 1. It is essentially a college-level math exam, similar to the Praxis. Other than having to brush up on my calculus, I do remember having to learn the fundamentals of graph theory. As a math major, how was I never exposed to it in college?? Absurd. I’m pretty sure I got all those questions wrong on the exam. Plus, I left five answers blank because of my horrible time management. Despite my shortcomings, somehow I managed to earn a respectable score.

Thinking linearly, last year I submitted component 2. Its focus was differentiated instruction and the first where I actually had to write about my teaching. I had to showcase how well I could plan a unit, differentiate based on the needs of my students, and analyze student work in relation to the learning objectives I set and lessons/activities I planned. Out of the four components, this one was probably my favorite. Probably because it was the most cohesive. Sadly, I’m not sure I differentiated anything, but once again I earned a respectable score.

With some confidence, this year I pushed myself to submit the remaining two components. It was so much work that I still can’t believe that I finished them. Seriously. Component three required me to shoot video of two different lessons and analyze it. Four, by far the most confusing and stressful component, was clumsily duct-taped together by National Board to capture how I gather knowledge of my students, generate and use assessment, and how I develop professionally. In the end, I feel that I did ok, but just ok. Analyzing video from my class, while cumbersome, was far easier and engaging than anything that I was asked to do in component 4.

So it won’t be until December if I know I need to redo any of the components. But having completed all the requirements, I have been breathing much easier these last two weeks. And I remembered that I have a family! I’ve also been thinking about the extent to which the National Board application process has helped me grow.

I’m mixed. I think my expectations were too high. In many ways, completing the four components felt like merely formalizing the work I would do normally, so I found the NBCT application not as transformative as I hoped it would be. As of now, I don’t feel like I’m a vastly different teacher that I was when I started my journey to become NBCT. Assuming that I do get certified down the road, maybe that will change. I don’t know. But having now gone through the process, I know that many of my colleagues (both those in person and online) work much harder and smarter than I do and surely meet and/or exceed the NBCT standards. I just chose to complete all those damned forms and write 40+ pages of formalized commentary about my teaching — and spend a good chunk of three years doing so.

With all that being said, going through the NBCT process was undoubtedly worth it. The most valuable aspect of the NBCT application for me was how it served as a platform for structured reflection. It helped me be critical of my teaching in several big areas and hit me with prompts that forced me to rethink some of what I do every day and why I do it. I kind of do this now, but not nearly with the depth or rigor that NBCT requires. I like writing so I’m partial here, but maybe there was something to formalizing my reflections through those 40 pages. It did help tease out my ideas and compelled me to be more planned and meticulous with how I reach my kids. I don’t know, I think I need more time to more thoroughly put this beast in perspective.

But I can say that as I got closer to the NBCT standards, learned them, and began aligning my practice to them, I began to deliberately think about my teaching in ways that I never had. I was able to discover some weaknesses…like how little I leverage the unique perspectives and abilities of my students to further their learning or my abysmal efforts to work with the families of my students in any sort of meaningful way. As a result, I like to think that I developed some new strengths.



Summer 2015: An Immersive Research Experience…The After Party

Earlier this summer I wrote about a research experience that I was taking part in: SMARTER, an RET instituted by NYU Polytechnic School of Engineering. The experience was profound. Here’s a recap of my takeaways.

Composite material

  • Firstly, a learned a good deal about composite materials. Going into the program, I had the slightest idea what a composite material even was. During orientation my curiosity was stoked by Nikhil Gupta, my research mentor, about his area of expertise (primarily because he mentioned that his research impacts the U.S. military). But other than that spark, I had no real foundation for where to start the research. Naturally, this equates to an information overload and, in the end, a substantial amount of learning on my end. Part of me wished my research tied in closer to what I teach everyday, but the other part of me understands that being forced into foreign territory was exactly what I needed.

Research Results Chart

  • My partner and I decided to make repurposing waste materials the centerpiece of the research. Specifically, we were interested in the impact that fly ash, human hair, and glass microspheres have when integrated with cement. What did we learn? The results were somewhat inconclusive, but we did discover an ideal proportion of fly ash to glass microspheres that would optimize the peak stress (i.e. the point at which the material begins to break down) of the composition. We expected that the human hair would have a greater impact on the overall strength of all the composites, but the results were fairly mixed.
  • A facet of the experience that surprised me was the collaboration that it involved. When you work with a perfect stranger for an extended period of time, things can get rocky. I didn’t learn to appreciate my partner’s perspective until later in the research; she taught me a ton about seeing things with a starkly different outlook and how this is necessary for the team to succeed. It also pushed me to open my mind and connect with ideas that I initially found hard to accept. I was reminded that everyone has strengths that are both unique and amazing…and that productivity sometimes hinges on the ability to focus on those strengths.
  •  The most significant impact of the experience was the uplifting inspiration it provided me. Before SMARTER, I had a deep-rooted desire to grow as a professional, but I had no ambition to further my education or seek a higher level of certification. But after a brief conversation with a Ph.D candidate who was aiding in our analysis, I left with an unexpected desire to push myself further than I ever thought I would. It was his laudable attitude coupled with the overall atmosphere at the university that left me wanting much more than just to complete my research and get back to teaching.
  • What does this mean? It means that one day I will 1) earn National Board Certification and 2) obtain a doctorate in mathematics education. Yup. I am now eagerly awaiting these immense challenges in the years to come. Thanks Eduardo.

This is my evolution thanks to SMARTER. My students, school community and myself are all much better because of it.