NBPTS: Portfolio Thoughts
by Suzi Hesser
The portfolio box has arrived. You stare at it. It stares back. You think to yourself, what now? If this scenario sounds familiar, you must be a National Board Candidate! This is the time of the year when current National Board Candidates are receiving their boxes with instructions for the required portfolio. With six separate sections, the teaching portfolio is a major part of the National Board requirements. Compared to the summer assessment center exercises where exact questions are unknown, the portfolio is also the area where candidates have the most control. Candidates choose, plan, and then teach units and lessons that will then justify, through analysis and reflection, their achievement of the national teaching standards. With so many important instructional decisions to make, the receipt of the portfolio may feel overwhelming at best. What is the best math unit I teach? Which science unit will not just meet, but exceed, the portfolio requirements? As a recent National Board Certified Teacher, these thoughts are fresh in my mind. One year ago, I too was facing "the box". My head was swimming with a whole spectrum of feelings, from excitement to utter dread. Where do I begin? Can I do this? The National Board Certification process can feel overwhelming, but with a clear purpose, careful planning and organization, and a positive attitude the process can be one of the most beneficial in your teaching career.
It is incredibly important that you have a clear reason or purpose for wanting to obtain national certification. The process can be extremely challenging and as with any formidable task you will need a purpose as strength to stay on course. It is not enough to simply want the distinction associated with national certification. You must truly be interested in improving your teaching methods and students learning by critically analyzing everything you do as an educator. It's never easy to look for fault in yourself, but that is exactly what is necessary. The object is to measure yourself up to the national standards in your area through your teaching portfolio, and your portfolio will support your efforts to meet those standards. No teacher is perfect, so part of the exercise is the recognition of areas in which you do not meet national standards and the formulation of a plan to meet those standards. If your purpose is to make a positive impact on student learning and improve your teaching methods, then it is much easier to reflect in the objective way necessary to complete this task.
With six different sections to the portfolio, planning and organization is a must. Many of the portfolio sections require teaching units of special length, such as an 8-week science unit. Every unit has very specific requirements spelled out in the portfolio directions. It is important to address and meet all the requirements for each portfolio entry. You might also find it necessary to consult professional organizations for extra information. When I planned the required math unit, I focused on NCTM standards in the area I chose. To help with the planning, I suggest that you create a weekly planner for the time between your starting point and the actual mailing of the portfolio. I created one on the computer so that I could see all the time at once. Once you have the allotted time in front of you, it is easy to start setting specific weeks for the planning, the actual teaching of the units, and finally the analysis and reflection. Also, it would be beneficial to buy large portfolio folders for each required section so that you can store information and student artifacts according to the separate sections. You will be asked to form your analysis and reflections around the work of a selection of students so it's a good idea to keep all work from all students in the designated folder so that you will have plenty of options when it becomes time to write.
Finally, a positive attitude makes the entire process easier to handle. While the amount of time you will invest in the construction of your portfolio may seem overwhelming, keep in mind that the ultimate product will be better teaching and increased student learning. Whether you receive certification the first time through or not, you will know that you have made a difference in your teaching and therefore in the lives of your students.