I remember trying to explain to my ninth-grade special-education inclusion students what this whole “National Boards thing” was about–and to be honest, I wasn’t so sure myself, as I was the first in my building to pursue it. One day after our first attempt at video (a whole-class discussion about George Orwell’s Animal Farm), the kids were very curious.
“Do we get to watch the video?”
“Did we do good?”
I explained that the video was not about them…even though there were plenty of kids who mugged for the camera, and a few who I could tell “turned it on” for the video. I told them about how I took the tape home, loaded it up in my VCR (that’s how long it’s been) and watched myself in horror. “Jaelyn,” I said, “I didn’t even realize that I never answered your question yesterday.” She nodded, but looked a little confused. “And Hector–what you pointed out about foreshadowing… I totally missed it, but it was brilliant.” He smiled with pride.
I went on to explain that my goal as a teacher was (and still is) to be the best I can be for them. I talked about how carefully I plan out lessons, transitions, and assessments and how I work to carefully craft questions during our conversations. “You actually think about all that stuff?” they asked.
“Even more so now,” was my reply.
By winter break, I probably ended up recording another dozen class periods with those students, getting them used to the camera so they’d be their authentic selves, while also battling audio snafus and various interruptions (fire drills do not make for good classroom video).
All the while, every minute of my own instruction that I reviewed on video made me think and learn and grow. I actually had my whole certification portfolio written by February, but driving to work one morning, I decided to video record the class on a whim. It was a structured small group discussion of Romeo and Juliet — on Valentine’s Day. The video captured real authenticity: some students struggled, some misbehaved and needed redirection. An occasional question from me fell flat as I tried to push their thinking. I had tons to reflect about and learn from. I hammered out a revised commentary and analysis that evening, and in the end it was my highest scoring portfolio entry. I think the reason was that it represented real teaching — the struggle, the eventual learning, and the reflections.
Those five months when I was playing around with video for my National Boards represented a turning point in my career as a teacher. At the risk of sounding arrogant, I can say that I am good at my job, and was even before I started the process; I’d earned awards and recognition, achieved leadership roles, and developed a strong reputation. But those months of intense reflection and examination of my own practice transformed me from an effective teacher to one with a deeper understanding of what I do and how it works — or sometimes doesn’t. To this day, the habits of reflection-in-action and reflection-on-action are deeply ingrained in my identity as a teacher.
National Board Certification is often cited as an indicator of effective teaching. For me, it wasn’t just a certification, it was the most impactful professional development I have ever taken on, and my students still benefit to this day.
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