For this part of my series on National Board standards, I’ve asked Kristin Hamilton, NBCT who now is Director of Standards for NBPTS to talk about her experience as a co-chair the committee that revised the English Language Arts standards.
I remember sitting at a large U-shaped conference table looking at the other teachers and professors and wondering how I got so lucky. The fourteen of us, plus staff from the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, were gathered as practitioners and researchers (the majority of whom were National Board Certified Teachers) to revise the English Language Arts Standards that a teacher must meet in order to become an NBCT.
I questioned my right to be at that table, and I even questioned my right to question the standards by which I had measured my professional life. I never questioned that writing these standards ought to be the purview of teachers, but I wasn’t sure I should be one of them.
Over time the fourteen of us realized that we all felt the same way. Since that first committee it has been my honor to continue to work with the National Board and to facilitate other committees, and I see the same phenomenon at the start of every committee.
Psychologists sometimes call it “impostor syndrome” when individuals have difficulty accepting that they have earned the honors they receive. For some reason, the culture of teaching causes us to believe that teachers’ participation in policy is an imposition, that their contributions are an extraneous addition to predetermined courses of action.
The National Board standards committees, however, are convened to do the thinking, writing, and decision making—not to advise, not to make recommendations. To participate is the most startling paradigm shift I’ve ever experienced as a teacher.
Standards revision committee members sign on for an intense five-seven months of group writing, editing, debating, consensus-building, stakeholder outreach, and research. Their charge is to describe what accomplished teachers know and do in such a way that teachers in any context or region could see themselves and their students; write standards that look ahead five-ten years; and uphold the Five Core Propositions that are the foundation for what accomplished teachers know and do in every content area. The committees are held to exacting expectations by professional organizations, stakeholders, researchers, policymakers, legislators, the National Board itself, and, of course, teachers.
Interestingly, the origin of the word standard is Gothic, a combination of “to stand” and “hard.” To be sure, the standards committee wrote rigorous and exacting standards, hard measures of teaching. Beyond that outcome, however, the National Board created a space in which we could take a firm stand and define our own profession rather than be the recipient of others’ decisions.
One hallmark of a profession is that its members determine its standards, and they decide when practitioners meet those standards. I truly believe that the National Board has found a way for teachers to be professionals in the full sense of the word. Teachers write the National Board standards, and they score the assessments that teachers submit. To engage with the certification process is to converse with colleagues and be assessed by peers.
I urge educators (primary, secondary, and higher education) to participate in writing the standards of accomplished teaching that guide our profession, and I urge policymakers and officials to encourage them as well. Apply to sit on a NBPTS standards committee. Participate in public comment on the released drafts. Encourage your colleagues to do the same. Read the standards and engage with them as you would a colleague across the hall.
As a final note to K-12 teachers specifically: Never apologize for your presence in a room where decisions are made about teaching and learning. Your expertise guides classrooms and hallways, and so it should also steer board rooms. Imposters take possession of that which does not—and should not—belong to them; they impose themselves on others. We are not imposters. Professionals make a public vow—in word and deed—to uphold and advance their profession; they profess their commitment to serve others.