Ideas for managing your time, paper, and sanity while going through the National Board of Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS) candidacy process. See my important notes and disclaimers on the Main NBPTS page.
Ideas for time management
- START EARLY! The deadlines creep up on you fast. NB provides a time management planner in the portfolio directions with suggestions on what to do when, but I didn’t use it because my brain just didn’t work like that: I needed my own system. I started gathering ideas and resources for my portfolio in the fall, but didn’t begin videotaping until January. My entire life from January-March revolved around NB. I would go to work and teach an NB lesson, videotape it, then come home and watch/analyze the tape and write about it for hours. I moved my favorite chair from the living room to the bedroom and curled up there with my laptop for hours every night and alllll weekend long. This wasn’t as bad as it sounds because there was an end in sight–everything was due March 15th, so I could count down the days until I had my life back!
- Videotape early. If I were to do it again, I would have started taping my entries as soon as I felt like my classroom routines and procedures were in place (Sept/Oct), because taping was the most time-consuming and stressful part. November and December can be difficult times to tape if your kids are a little crazy from the holidays and vacations, and if you put it off until January, you’ll be cutting it really close. There are many candidates who end up submitting a tape they are less than thrilled with, simply because they run out of time to re-do it.
- Consider your standardized testing schedule when designing your lessons. If you are expected to use mostly test-prep materials for the entire month of February, that’s going to affect your ability to implement NB-quality lessons. Also, if testing is a stressful time for you, then you’ll want to have most of your NB stuff completed before then.
- Start working with mentors as soon as possible! Most candidates wait until Jan/Feb to start taping and then they submit piles of entries to their mentors in March. I began with my mentors in December and was the only candidate they saw for several weeks. I had their undivided attention during the entire two hour weekly sessions and received quality feedback and input that I would never have received in March when they were frazzled from having so many demands on them.
- Consider beginning entry 4 first, because it requires you to gather so many forms, recommendations, and documentation sources. I actually began compiling resources and writing the entry over the summer before school started so I only had 3 entries to focus on during the school year. Some candidates put the least amount of effort into entry 4 because it’s worth fewer points than the other three, but you can’t afford to slack off on any part of the NB process.
- If you are doing EC-Gen, I recommend saving student work for entry 1 right from the beginning of the school year. Pick 3 or 4 kids (not just 2, in case one of them moves away or turns out not to be the right child for the write-up) and save tons of writing samples. That will give you more options later on when you’re ready to write your analysis.
- Take a break between the portfolio and assessment center. After my portfolio was due in March, I relaxed for about 6 weeks and then started studying for the AC. Some people take the AC earlier, but the deadline is typically at the end of June. Why not focus on the portfolio first, breathe a little, and then study for the AC? Plus, I knew a lot more about NB standards and expectations after going through the portfolio process and that helped me tremendously on the test.
Tips for organizing the (massive amounts of) paper you will consume
I easily used 4 reams of paper on my portfolio and 2 reams for the AC: that’s 3,000 sheets, and I am extremely conservative with paper. I bought an accordion file system which was the best $8 I ever spent. You can download the section labels I designed here. I kept everything in the files so I could carry everything back and forth from home to school and to my mentors. Some people have a binder for each entry, but because I worked on multiple entries at a time, the binder system didn’t work for me–I was constantly hauling around multiple binders or leaving the wrong one at home.
Other people use one big binder for the whole portfolio, but I didn’t like that either, because punching holes was too much work. I did keep a binder with all of the portfolio directions in it, just for my reference at home, and then kept the specific directions I needed for each entry in the accordion folder. You’ll have to experiment and see what works for you–but you WILL need a system for managing all that paper.
On a related note, you will also need a system for organizing everything on your hard drive. On my desktop, I had an NB folder with separate folders inside for each entry, the AC, and general tips and resources. In the folders for each entry, I saved different versions of what I had written, tips from the EC-Gen ring, and the PDF version of the directions for the entry (very important for when I didn’t have the printed copy handy and couldn’t access the internet—plus getting the directions online is slower). I
emailed myself updated portfolio entries at least once a week in case my computer crashed—that happens to more candidates than you can imagine, many of whom do not back up their work! You can save to a zip drive as well, and these days there are cool tools like Dropbox. Whatever you decide to do… make sure you have a system for backing up your work!
Tips for non-video-based entries
Here’s an organizer for ECGen entry 1 that I designed-download a blank copy here. This organizer is to help you compare two students and ensure you are including everything necessary for the entry. It also helps you make sure the children are sufficiently different from one another since you will most likely need to choose two students with similar needs/backgrounds.
Tips for video-based entries
I created several note-taking and scoring guides to help me analyze what I saw on my videotapes. You can download blank copies below.
This is an Entry 2 note-taking guide (to help you choose the most effective 15 minute segment of your video). Click here for a blank copy. There is a separate guide for entry 3: version one andversion two (choose depending on how much space you want for writing in).
Tips for entry 4: Documented accomplishments
Here’s how I organized all of my papers for Entry 4. I kept them in the green folder on the right, which was inside of my accordion folder. I also created an entry 4 summary sheet to ensure I had met all the criteria and was within the allotted number of pages.
I assessed entry 4 for NBPTS one summer and I know the expectations well. I wrote these “Entry 4 Tips” to help candidates understand how to stay focused on student impact and make their evidence clear, consistent, and convincing (sick of that phrase yet?).
2 questions that will cross your mind repeatedly
- Is it just me or is this process REALLY overwhelming?
It’s definitely not just you. There were days when I felt on top of the world, like my entries were going to score a 4.25, and other days when I was like, I am a total idiot for ever thinking that I could possibly become a NBCT. The highs and lows can make you feel like you are going crazy. I haven’t heard of ANYONE who went through this process and didn’t feel overwhelmed at times. If you ever feel like you are alone, go to your mentoring group (in person or online) and just vent. There were so many posts on
the EC-Gen ring from people (including me) complaining, When will this be OVER? If I see the word ‘evidence’ one more time I’m going to scream! Can’t we just hurry up and get our scores? Don’t be afraid to speak up–other candidates will be relieved to know they are not alone, and those who completed the process can be available as proof that it IS possible to make it through the waiting game!
- Why are the portfolio instructions so cryptic?
This is another area in which people begin to question their sanity—are the directions really that complicated or are you just missing something? The instructions ARE vague in many areas, in large part because NB wants you to interpret them broadly. The prompts are purposely open-ended so that you can interpret them in ways that meet your teaching style and your students’ learning styles. When I assessed for NB, I saw many, many different candidates earn 3’s and 4’s and NONE of the entries were anything alike. Every teacher is unique, from writing style to teaching context, and NB tries hard to honor that.
However, there are some ambiguities that are really frustrating and people ask the same questions over and over every year (Does ‘learning sequence’ mean just the lesson or the whole unit? How many kids constitute a ‘small group’?). NB has done a pretty good job answering these types of questions on their FAQs page. You can always email them for clarification–they get back to you within just a few days. And of course, that’s what you have online and in-person mentors for. The important thing to remember is…it’s NOT just you, the instructions are definitely hard to understand in places, and even after you re-read them several times, you may still be scratching your head trying to figure out exactly what ‘they ‘want! That’s perfectly normal.