A Journey of Self-Reflection
Pursuing National Board Teacher Certification
When I tell people about the fact I started pursuing National Board Teacher Certification in Early and Middle Childhood Music, all they seem to comment on is the Big Blue Box. Most educators I have talked to know little about the process except for it requires a whole lot of writing that culminates with the submission of the infamous “blue box.” What I discovered about myself as a teacher through the National Board process was so much more than could be contained on a ream of paper in a cardboard box.
Why National Board?
If you speak to my fellow music colleague or my mentor and you will see why I decided to take on this process. Seeing me in the classroom, they will tell you what a perfectionist I am. Even before receiving my first job, in my student teaching, I was obsessed with working to be the best music teacher I could be. I would constantly reflect (sometimes a bit too harshly) on what would go on daily in my classroom and the improvements I could make to my instruction.
This process of growth continued as I pursued a Master’s degree at Arizona State University. I graduated in May, 2011, and wanted to continue my growth as an educator after leaving the university. For that reason, I decided to enroll in the National Board Certification process. My district was encouraging teacher’s to pursue the process, selling to us, not only the financial benefits (the district was both sponsoring the some of the cost of the process and offering a significant pay increase upon “achievement” of the certification). What appealed to me most was their explanation that National Board was a perfect fit for passionate teachers looking to take their teaching to a higher level. That description fit me perfectly; I was sold.
The Process Begins: Videotaping, Writing, and Reflection, Reflection, Reflection
I began the first part of the National Board process in January 2012. I began to assemble my portfolio, the first of the two major components in the certification process. The portfolio, or the “blue box” as everyone referenced it, had multiple elements including four differing entries, video documentation of my teaching, and what seemed like a mountain of forms. The four entries required me to reflect on and document my teaching in the areas of planning, delivering instruction, developing my students’ musicianship, and professional accomplishments. For each short video segment, I ended up filming multiple classes to get what I viewed as a “quality” video. These initial lessons were “good,” but they were missing many of the elements I was expected to demonstrate in my portfolio entries. These lessons did not embody all the pre-planning, engagement, differentiation, assessment, and reflection that a “master” teacher would have present in the classroom. By recording, watching, and reflecting on my teaching, I was able to see what occurred in my classroom in more detail. Although many of my lessons were strong and I could see the musical successes my students were achieving, the intense and detailed reflection required by the National Board Portfolio required me to analyze my teaching on a new, extremely detailed, and rigorous level.
Currently, I am beginning the second component of the certification process, assessments. In early summer, I will begin the required six assessments for “achievement.” The tests are timed (thirty minutes each) covering a wide variety of topics such as world music, composition, and error detection. Although, I am excited to test my knowledge in this way, the time and freedom to rewrite and analyze my end product like I had in the first phase, is not a luxury of the timed assessments.
National Board is an amazing process that I know has made me a better music educator. With that in mind, it still has many downfalls. The entire experience is costly. Although it is a quality organization, NBPTS is in the business of producing high quality teachers. Even with scholarships, the process will end up costing me about $1,500 out of pocket. I feel the pressure to achieve the certification on the first attempt, as retaking elements of the process would add to my expenses.
Secondly, the actual certification in and of itself is a natural flaw. I am registered as a candidate with the label, “Early and Middle Childhood Music, Vocal Focus.” My undergraduate degree is Music Education (with an instrumental focus), Master’s degree in Music Education (with a general music focus), and I have been teaching general music and choir for the past four years. When applying for the program, I had to label myself as band, orchestra, or vocal. The creators of this program failed to recognize that many music educators are not in teaching situations in areas in which they have been formally trained. Also, as a general music educator, the absence of the option of general music bothered me. Now, I consider the fact that the examiners are looking at my classroom situation through the eyes of me as a vocalist (I am not, I am a flutist), as just another challenge to surmount in this process.
Why You Should Consider National Board
Despite the cost, long nights of writing self-reflections after a full day of teaching, and the general pressure “to achieve,” I highly recommend the National Board Certification process. I set out on this journey to become the best teacher I possibly can be and National Board is helping me achieve that goal. My portfolio reflections caused me to, at times harshly, dissect my teaching to an extremely detailed level. Being labeled as “vocal” and not a general music practitioner gave me the initiative to finally put myself back in private voice lessons and start attending community choir concerts. The assessments are encouraging me to sit down and study subjects that I might not have explored in depth since my undergraduate courses.
Abigail Van Klompenberg is a K-8 General Music and Choral teacher in the Littleton Elementary School District No. 65 (Avondale, Arizona). She earned her Bachelor’s in Music Education from Western Michigan University and her Master’s in Music Education from Arizona State University. Upon graduation from ASU, she was named Outstanding Graduate Student from the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts for her accomplishment in the field of music education.
You can follow Abigail on Twitter @namelesstweet.
Want more great music education content?
Keep in touch with Leading Notes by following us on social media or subscribing to our newsletter!