Dr. Baros is a dedicated researcher, educator, and LGBTQ advocate. Her areas of expertise are proficiency-based language teaching and creating inclusive environments for LGBTQ students and people.
Now that you've got a good overview of the NBCT process and your personal timeline and game plan, it's time to tart digging in to the individual components. Hopefully, you also know what your specific Standards are and have a glossary of terms you will be able to use when you start writing. We have one more "Kiddie Pool" activity that will help you connect these standards to each component.
What you'll need:
This activity is fairly straightforward. Beginning with C2 (we'll come back to C1 at the end because it's a bit different), place both your Standards Table of Contents and the C2 Overview side by side. Compare your list of standards in the Table of Contents to the standards listed under the heading "...Standards Measured by Component 2" somewhere to the bottom of page 1. For each standard listed, write down "C2" on the dotted lines in your table of contents (I chose to use a specific color for each component so I could quickly find all of the "C2" annotations on this page. Repeat this process with component 3 and 4. When you are done, you should have an idea of which standards are measured in which components at a quick glance.
C1 is a bit different. Instead of having all of the standards listed in one place, you'll have to check a few places. First, in the Overview, you should see a table with the "Standards Measured by Selected Response Items". Locate each of the standards listed in that table and write "C1" next to those standards on your Table of Contents. However, the selected response items are only the first part of the test - you also need to check your constructed responses (essay question). Locate your sample questions - there should be three. Under the heading "Sample Exercise 1", there should be a standard listed. Annotate it on your table of contents if you haven't already.
If you'd like, take out your Standards Statements and copy these annotations to each of the standards listed here along with their descriptions. This may be helpful to get a more concrete idea of what they're looking for in your subject area as you write your Written Commentary and need a quick reminder.
Now, you have a quick-reference list for how the Standards connect to all four components. The last thing you need is a perspective for how heavily each of these items are weighted. At the top of each overview, add these percentages (accurate as of the 2020-2021 certification cycle; can be found in the "Scoring Guide" under "A Note about Scores and Weights"):
These percentages will not only be helpful in strategizing about which components to take/retake (I'm not planning on writing about this), but also keeping things in perspective when you're in the thick of things. From what you just annotated in your Standards Table of Contents and percentages, you should see that:
Remember, you killed a small forest and printed single-sided for a reason! Make sure you write down anything from this blog, other resources, and your own thoughts as you go!
Are you ready or your first "Deep Dive"? Keep in mind that these dives are NOT intended to help you understand the entire component at once - you will come back multiple times to read and re-read. However, this activity will help you start to organize what specifically is expected of you so you can begin to develop your C2, C3, and C4 portfolio pieces. I also recommend that you do this activity with ONE component at a time and take time to really sit with what you learn and process it. Write down ideas and questions, ideally on the blank page opposite the information you're referring to (if you printed everything one-sided).
This is one of the single best activities I learned during my certification process, courtesy of the Jump Start training WEA provided before the school year was underway.
What you'll need: For one component, make pull out the following pages so you can look at them simultaneously (you'll put them back when you're done):
Overview and Submission
On the Overview, find the subheading that has the title of the Component (e.g. "Component 2: Differentiation in Instruction". There should be a one-paragraph summary of the component. Read this and highlight/annotate anything that jumps out to you.
Now, find your Submission at a Glance. This table is a quick summary that you'll come back to over and over again. Each Component has multiple items to submit, and each serves a specific purpose:
The Written Commentary and Rubric
Hopefully you now have an idea of the intent of this component AND the process by which the readers will be scoring you. Let's talk about what they're actually scoring now.
Get out your Composing Written Commentary instructions. Lay it side-by-side with your Level 4 Rubric. Label each rubric item alphabetically so you can quickly identify which item you're talking about. Mark key words so you can quickly descipher the "essence" of each rubric item.
Then, begin reading the questions in the written commentary. Which rubric item(s) match with that question? Label the Written Commentary question with the corresponding letters for the rubric items. Try to be as discriminatory as possible when making these connections so you can speak specifically to what the readers are trying to find out from your written commentary. Repeat this process with all of the Written Commentary questions until you have at least one rubric item connected to each question.
Once you've completed this process, it's time to make sure you've hit EVERY rubric item. Go back to the beginning of your written commentary. Review your labels next to each question and, whenever a particular rubric item is connected, make a tally next to that item on the rubric. Again, repeat for the entire written commentary.
What you should have now is a fairly thorough understanding of what the readers expect from you as an accomplished teacher. However, you may end up with a few rubric items that only got mentioned once or not at all. For each of these, carefully read through the written commentary again to identify a question or two which addresses that rubric item and add the appropriate annotations and tallies..
This process seems straightforward, and it is, but you're bound to have a full brain once you're done. Make sure to utilize the blank space on the opposite page, margins, and anything else to write down your thoughts, ideas, and questions. Don't sell yourself short on this last part - you need to sit with this information and think for a while. Hopefully, you're starting to form ideas of what you might do for this component, the concerns or confusions you may have, and be able to identify your individual next steps to showcase your skills in this area. I would love to hear your impressions and thoughts after you've done this for a component!
Woohoo! We're almost done with Part 1 of this NBCT Series of posts: Getting Familiar with the NBCT process. You have a general idea of what each component entails, a rough timeline for how to complete the components, and all of the information provided by the NBCT website. But... What exactly make someone an accomplished teacher?
Fear not! Your new handy-dandy binder(s) contains all of the questions... Sort of.
What I finally came to realize through this process is that while a traditional evaluation and certification process requires specific tasks to be met, those items are intended to ensure that you're qualified to teach and identify specific areas for improvement. That is not the goal of NBCT, however. Rather, NBCT encourages and reaffirms your accomplished professionalism.
Have you ever paused to think about what defines a "professional"? Is it the fact that they're paid for what they do, such as the difference between being a professional vs. amateur photographer? Is it their behavior, such as in the case of professional vs. un-professional attire and language? Personally, I feel the idea of a true "professional" aspires to more than that.
In my mind, a professional is a person who is not only highly skilled in the concrete requirements outlined in their job requirements, but also has a feel for subtle, nuanced, and usually complex needs and takes necessary and effective steps to address them.
THIS is what NBCT is looking for. And the context is provided by the Architecture of Accomplished Teaching.
I recommend putting this somewhere - ideally multiple somewhere - that you'll see it often. Stick it wherever you tend to plan, think about, and reflect on your teaching. Because I'm a glutton for punishment, I set it as my computer background on both my home and work computers.
Next, get in the habit of using the following sentence frames (or something similar) to talk about your teaching - you'll be laying the groundwork for your written commentary in Components 2-4 and perhaps even your essay questions in Component 1:
What does writing like this do? It exposes your thinking! And that's what NBCT is all about - you are a professional and there is so much going on below the surface. They want to see the rest of the iceberg!
To dive in deeper, here is a great resource about the Architecture from NBCT.
While the Architecture is consistent throughout all teaching, the Standards bring it home to your specific subject. Hopefully, what you read in your own standards isn't all that unfamiliar, though it might be expressed in a new light. Always remember, though, that they are founded upon the Architecture, so read the standards with it in mind.
To get the most out of reading your standards, I recommend having at least two highlighters available. Choose a lighter one (yellow, orange, pink) to highlight big ideas. The second highlighter, though, is the one you're really going to mileage out of: use it to highlight specific words or phrases that you can use in your own written commentary. You'll want to find these words quickly to help you express how you have met these standards in a clear, concise, and convincing (see your "4" Scoring rubrics!) way. They're handing you the language, so use it! You may even wish to take this one step further and create your own glossary/menu with these terms for to keep handy while you're writing, whether it's using the reflection paragraph above or when you're working on your actual written commentary.
On to Part 2: Diving In!
So, now you know what NBCT entails AND what they expect of you. Now comes the real fun: Developing your components and creating your portfolio entries. We'll start with some "Kiddie Pool" activities specific to each component and then talk about strategies for doing "Deep Dives" to really fine-tune your work and submissions. For now, though, I'm going to eat lunch and ride a pony! Why is that relevant?
Because the #1 rule of NBCT is SELF-CARE. And trust me, from this point on, you're going to need it.
Let's talk about how to process all the information given to you to help you become an NBCT. Here's the secret:
It's simply too much. On top of everything you're already doing for to be an amazing teacher worthy of NBCT certification, this is just too much to wrap your head around. Plus, it's intentionally vague at almost every turn (except formatting!). However, that's ok. You just have to approach this with reasonable and practical expectations for yourself, which I categorize as "Kiddie Pools" and "Deep Dives" - in either case, remember, DON'T DROWN IN PANIC!!
You're going to read each part of your components countless times. Expect it. Come to this activity with a specific intention. Most of the time, it'll be a kiddie pool - you're getting a general idea, looking for some insight you might not have had before, and seeking guidance on how to continuously correct course. These activities include:
You'll only do one or two "Deep Dives" in to the Standards and each Component, and that will take place AFTER you've done the first three Kiddie Pool activities listed above. This is where you're getting down to the nitty-gritty of what exactly they are expecting of NBCT candidates to successfully certify. You will only take small, specific chunks at a strategic times (if you're referencing my 4 in 1 timeline, these are the times where I say "drill down") with the goal of identifying fine details and coming up with your specific game plan for completing that component. DO NOT try to do this all at once - you will be reading, processing, and reflecting on your practice simultaneously while parsing the text for specific information that will, inevitably, but unsatisfying vague. That's a lot of work.
Now that you have a reasonable idea of how to use and digest the information NBCT gives you, you're ready to BUILD YOUR BINDER(s)! I recommnd getting a LARGE (3" at the very least) binder to put everything in, especially as it's helpful at times to be able to quickly reference and cross-reference different components and resources. Alternatively, you could put each Component in its own 1" binder and then have a fifth binder for your General Portfolio Guidelines and your specific Standards.
Printing instructions - I HIGHLY recommend that you print these either at work (check with your district to see if they give an NBCT printing allowance as they sometimes use a separate code) or bite the bullet and print it at a print shop. If you print at home like I did, be prepared to go through 2 ink cartridges, at least:
Now, add your tabs to each section:
Standards: Add a tab at the beginning of each standard so you can flip to it quickly
Components: Each component has the same structure. Add tabs to locate what you're looking for quickly:
So now you have a rough idea of what National Boards entails. But where should you get started? There are a few options, and the most sane one would be to attempt two per year. But, I'm not sane and I don't keep sane company, evidently, so we went for/are going for all four in one year. This post is specifically dedicated to that timeline - Remember, this isn't necessarily THE way to do this, but it's the way that I would do it if I had to do it over again. The only mandatory first step is: Find someone who knows you and knows this process so they can help you figure out YOUR specific needs! If you don't have someone like that, reach out on any of the NBCT Facebook pages (there are general ones and discipline-specific ones) and build that relationship with an NBCT teacher, fellow candidate, or ideally both.
Well, it's midnight and I'm starving because I didn't eat dinner and I've been sitting in front of the computer for hours now. Why do I torture myself like this?
Because a good friend of mine let me know she was jumping into the NBCT waters and looking to get certified over the next year!
So, I listened to her thoughts and questions, got excited about them, and sat down to write a "short" email... I ended up copying and pasting the result from my "sent" mail to this blog to share with all of you.
As my friend is certifying in Library Media, the particular details are specific to this certification area based on a quick read of her component descriptions. Please, PLEASE, start off by visiting the Candidate Resources Page and download the standards and component instructions for your specific certification area. Double- and triple-checking the information there is mandatory, even if you're also a Library Specialist, but especially if you're not. There is a lot of overlap (after all, good teaching is good teaching), but particularly for components 2 and 3 there are details specific to each subject area (from my own cohort experience, elementary generalists and counselors have a particular doozy of requirements).
Don't worry about the forms just yet. You’ll come back to those when you're ready to begin writing about each component. Whether you're casually curious in what getting NBCT certified entails or are already committed, the goal of this first post is to give you a snapshot the whole process.
NOTE: I completed all four components and certified in the same year and my friend wants to give that a shot, so this is written with that timeline in mind. Be warned, though, I'm also in regular therapy now and addicted to Monster Energy Drinks. You have plenty of time to complete your certification - it's not worth killing yourself over.... This is a marathon, not a race. Do what I say, not what I do, because I'm not a marathon runner - I sprint... between bases... one at a time... after I bunt.. and then I chill in the outfield hoping nothing else comes my way (true story - my favorite softball position was as a pinch runner and I was glad that our whole team was bad because I didn't have any pressure to be good).
Getting started: Read each of the standards. Choose ONE SPECIAL COLOR for highlighting key words that you want to use when writing your commentary in order to clearly link what you’re doing to the standards. Annotate however else you please, but you won’t regret marking the key words. You’ll come back to this for EVERY component. The more you can plug in these words to describe what you’re doing, the better off you’ll be.
Release forms: GET THESE ASAP FROM EVERYONE IN EVERY CLASS – that way you know who you can and can’t include, especially for your videos. I ended having to scrap a video because I got release forms after I recorded it and I couldn’t get one from 2 students. It SUCKED. I also ended up switching students for component 2 to two I didn’t even expect, but then the Written commentary simply wrote itself for those students. I’m really glad I already had their forms on hand so I didn’t have to try to get them later. The release forms in various languages are here: https://www.nbpts.org/national-board-certification/candidate-center/first-time-and-returning-candidate-resources/
Key items in each component (in my preferred reading order – you will read most items many times over throughout this process):
Component Summaries (What to worry about from February 28 during the previous year through May 1st/Submission of your current year):
Component 1: (40%) Don’t worry about it until after you submit the rest of the stuff. Doing the rest of the stuff will also help you prep for the details in this one. Just put it out of your mind for now, though you should absolutely do it during your first year of working on NBCT.
Component 2: Differentiation (15%)
Component 3: (30%) Teaching Practice and Learning Environment (the videos; this is what’s MOST like a typical evaluation - they want to see how you teach)
Component 4: (15%) Effective and reflective practitioner
OK, that’s it for your “intro to your national boards” lesson 😉 Let me know in the comments or via email (email@example.com) if you have any questions or thoughts. I'd love to hear from you! Until next time!
PS - stay home, stay healthy, and let the creative juices flow
Here I am, about to submit my National Boards portfolio for World Languages. It's been a wild ride. One piece of advice: Don't do all four components of NBCT AND complete your Ph.D. in the same year.
All right, let's assume that none of y'all are gluttons for punishment like I am. Yet, you still want to get your NBCT certification (DO IT!). What advice can I give now that I'm ending this journey for the first (and hopefully last, not including renewal!) time? One of my biggest frustrations with this process is that there are SO FEW World Language candidates - and I'm in the state with the 3rd highest number of NBCT annual certifications in the nation. Not only do we have a state-sponsored bonus of considerable proportions ($5,000 or $10,000 depending on whether your school is high-poverty) and certification benefits (I get a LARGE number of clock hours and will be excepted from certain license renewal requirements), but they also have a 5-day introductory training, annual district-based cohorts, and state-wide Home Stretch days where you meet with like-area candidates and review work. I've taken advantage of all of these, so I've had a TON of support through this process. I know I'm really, really lucky to have access to these. But I also want to help support all of my World Language NBCT candidates wherever they're located.
To do this, I'm going to start a mini-series of blog posts about becoming NBCT certified. I hope to share all the things I learned along the way, but especially the things I wish someone had told me up front. These come from my experiences provided by WEA (Washington Education Association), including my wonderful cohort leaders and members, as well as things I simply picked up from trial and error.
Let's start by asking yourself... Am I ready? Where do I start?
Am I ready? Where do I start?
First things first - you need to get your ACTFL scores for writing and speaking ASAP. This often ends up being one of the hardest parts for World Language candidates, and I don't recommend starting your Boards if you haven't gotten an Advanced-Low score (the minimum). You cannot receive your NBCT scores unless you have this certification cleared - and that means you might do a lot of work and pay a lot of money for nothing. Even if you aren't going to pursue your NBCT certification for a few years, you should work on your ACTFL proficiency (how to do that is an entirely different post). Keep in mind, your scores must have been within the 2 years prior to the closure of the NBCT registration window. That means if you DO have current ACTFL scores, you should make sure they'll still be current or be planning to re-test prior to the year you plan to begin the NBCT process. This is the reason I started my NBCT while still doing my PHD - my ACTFL scores were about to expire!!
So, let's say you're all set for ACTFL. If you're still not going to start your NBCT for a year or two, I recommend at least reviewing Component 1 and brushing up on your content knowledge in the areas listed (look at the NBCT World Language standards for more information on these, but don't expect much). Glance back through your college textbooks on Spanish/French and teaching. Review linguistics, including regional variations. Explore cultures in a variety of context and themes. Stay up-to-date on theory. Attend professional conferences and see what's out there. Experiment with these things and start articulating how you apply what you know to what you do as a teacher and why. You can also find plenty of groups online to ask about what they recommend doing. This test is broad - so should be your preparation for it.
Finally, hone your teaching skills, especially in these areas (you can use these as daily/weekly teaching reflections!):
If you feel confident answering these questions, then you're (probably) ready to jump into National Boards. Note that your answers are going to change through this process and so will you as a person and professional.
I recommend deciding on your first two components as early as possible - that would be NOW if you're thinking at all about pursuing them at any time in the next year or two. So, now, which components should you do, and when?
Doing all 4 in one year
The components really do fit together nicely, but this is a TON of work and a lot to keep straight. I would liken the total amount of work to a Master's program. Also, are you a good test taker? Because C1 is worth 40% of your evaluation (the most of any of the components) and you're not going to have as much time to study as you would like if you do all four in the same time. Pros - an inspiration in one component can lead to improvement in another component, especially in applying writing style and incorporating the Architecture, rubrics, and standards. You also get any associated bonuses sooner assuming you certify. Cons - You'll only really figure out what you're doing in April, right before you have to start finalizing stuff and submitting it. Also, you won't have a life for a year. If the time crunch results in less quality work, you may have to re-do components which has a financial cost to it as well.
Get a grip on Component 3 the year BEFORE the end of the school year prior to the cycle you plan to do your boards and start recording - anything you record after the closure of the registration window (February 28) can be used for the next year's cycle. Get those release forms signed ASAP - you need one for every individual (including adults) who is seen or heard on your video. Figure out exactly what it is you need in your videos, what you should improve on, and start recording. With any luck, you can get at least two great videos before the end of the year and start your writing on Component 3. I highly recommend connecting with someone who is NBCT certified (doesn't have to be in your teaching area or even physical area) to review your writing and give you feedback. Chances are, you'll end up revising and possibly picking a different video, but just getting your feet wet this way will give you a great head start and make the next year much more manageable.
Make a plan for Component 4. This one is a beast and you'll want to have a solid plan in place before you start the school year, especially for how you'll gather information about students.
Once you have C3 and C4 planned, start working on C2 (I recommend no later than October). Your "instructional sequence" has to be between 3 and 12 weeks long, so give yourself time to implement the sequence and possibly have a re-do if needed.
Hopefully, if you do this, you should have all your evidence for C2-C4 by February or March and all you'll have left to do is write and study for C1. Don't wait until then to start writing though! I found that during the writing, my plans changed and it was back to the drawing board to improve on what I'd done and/or gather more evidence for the plan I was implementing.
April/May will feel like a 6-week-long "dead week" before your college finals. Keep these months as open as possible for writing, reading, editing, and revising not only your own work but also others' drafts (again, don't wait until then to start. You'll have enough on your hands just working with anything you've already written up to that point). With that in mind, try to get a June assessment date so you can put C2-4 behind you and clear your head for studying for C1.
2 per year
Take C1 first - It's worth the most of your components and there's very little to go off of. The materials are very vague. Should you need to re-take it, you can do the whole thing or just a particular section. Don't gamble by putting this one off and finding out you just needed .1 more points on a multiple-guess test to certify (did happen to someone my NBCT coach knows).
So, which other component should you do with C1?
Doing C1 and C3 first: This is my recommendation because they're worth the most and you'll want to know if you need to re-take any of them. They are also the most straightforward of the components - C1 is a test and C3 feels most like the evaluations we're usually familiar with.
Doing C1 and C2 first: Not confident in your writing skills? Try out C2 first. It's not as confusing as C4, but it's also only worth half of C3. If you don't pass, you can more easily revise this one and implement it the following year without too much work. If you do pass but don't get a high score, you can decide whether it's worth it to re-take. If you pass and get a great score, awesome! In any of these three cases, you'll get valuable feedback which will impact how you approach C3 and C4, where you really have to be on your game due to the worth of C3 and the complicatedness of C4.
With any luck, I won't need this information. However, it's good to know and it's VERY common to retake the components - aside from the emotional and financial impact of having to redo a component, this is really not something to be ashamed of. There is no such thing as failing a component. You are already a great teacher, and your willingness to engage in this work is evidence of that. This is a learning experience - take it and try again. You have 3 years to re-take any component that you do not pass - and you can work on other components at that time as you see fit. You'll get general feedback about what needs improvement (although this is mostly just a rehash of the rubric you already have). But most importantly, you'll have your reflection and learning from the prior attempt to improve upon in future attempts. Talk it over with other candidates, identify a plan for moving forward, and execute it!
One of the most common questions I've been asked by other educators during my PHD studies is whether or not it's worth it or reasonable for them to get a PHD. My answer? It depends. Let's break that down - and feel free to ask me anything about my PHD experience!
Is the additional education worth it?
PHD or EDD?
First, it's important to note as educators there are multiple options and routes available to you. Without jumping into other program options (such as EDS, which I also have as part of my PHD program), there are a few things to consider. As an educator, you can select from two general types of programs, the traditional Doctor of Philosophy (PHD) or Doctor of Education (EDD). As a professional, both are equally valuable. The EDD prepares you for practical application of your expertise, including reviewing prior literature on a topic and facilitating your own research. The work you'll do is generally site-based, evaluating the needs of your own setting and implementing programs and initiatives. The PHD, on the other hand, is geared more toward higher education and especially research and publishing. Your research is intended for a wider audience through publishing peer-reviewed articles.
Keep in mind, though, you're not restricted to just those realms. In fact, the the PHD and EDD students in my program all took the same classes together, but the PHD took two additonal classes: one on theoretical frameworks (critical for effective publishing) and one on the publishing process, resulting in a manuscript submitted for publication to an academic journal. So, thus far, my experience hasn't been that different from the EDD students. Of course, this varies by program, so that's an important piece to check if you're researching where you might want to attend. As far as K-12 education is concerned, including conferences and workshops, they're both about equal in applicability. As far as higher education is concerned, it depends on the school - if a program is expecting you to conduct and publish your own research, they will likely expect the skills acquired in the PHD program and may not look favorably on an EDD. However, universities with more of an emphasis on teaching than publishing should consider the EDD equal with the PHD. Again, the big question is: Do you want to publish academic research in peer-reviewed journals?
Another important question is what you will get your degree in. My PHD is in Educational Leadership. There are a variety of other education-related areas that a Google Search will easily bring up. Again, this will be related to whether you decide to go the PHD or EDD route and what you want to do with it afterward - be sure to consider your goals and settings as well as how your particular area of expertise will contribute to them. Do you want to focus on your content area and become a subject matter or program expert? Do you want to develop a specific skill, such as educational technology? Do you want more generally rounded expertise such as educational leadership as a whole, which you can narrow down to your own areas of research?
I actually applied to two programs, one in Educational Technology and one in Educational Leadership. When was accepted to the Ed. Leadership program at NNU, I withdrew my Ed. Tech. application from the other school because I knew this was a best fit for me. I don't like being limited to one area and can easily get bored. I also want to be in student- and teacher-facing settings, whether as a professional or a researcher. I could customize the Ed. Leadership to my own interests and setting (I originally wanted to research the impact of proficiency-based teaching vs. legacy/eclectic approaches but then transitioned to LGBTQ advocacy) while also hearing about the amazing topics my cohort members were researching (black women who are administrators in higher ed, PLC's in international schools, the social-emotional learning of children in a preschool combined with a retirement home, etc.). The downside was that it was on me to become the expert in this area and seek out my own mentors who had expertise since my program was not specialized in my topic. At the same time, though, that was exciting and forced me to dig deep as well as reach out to others in my field, creating a network that I can now rely on as a professional and a researcher.
Most importantly, what are you passionate about? Because you're going to be thinking about it for a long, long time. Would a narrow field such as linguistics feel restricting or enlightening? Would a broad field such as leadership feel superficial or freeing?
How will I fit it all in?
This is largely dependent on the program you choose. Traditional full-time programs are just that: you will probably need to stop working, attend classes, possibly do a fellowship where you teach or conduct research with the university, and resume working after you're done. I have friends who I highly respect doing this and I can't wait to hear about their experiences.
This was not an option for me, however. I'm the primary earner in my home and quitting work or even going part time was not an option. I also couldn't move. Luckily, I wasn't required to do any of that because I knew the program at Northwest Nazarene University would be a perfect fit considering I'd attended NNU since 2011 (I began my EDS/PHD studies in 2015). Their model is completely online, but you're with a cohort so you still get many of the benefits of being physically present in class with your peers. In fact, I enjoyed this more as we were diverse students in diverse settings (we had cohort members in all US time zones plus Brazil and South Korea and at times South Africa and Singapore!), I could message them whenever I wanted to, and by the end of the program I knew every one of my cohort members' names and faces thanks to the quality and frequency of interaction.
The NNU cohorts complete classes in 8-week blocks. Most of the time, you'll only be in two classes at once (unless you do the PHD program, which means there are two blocks where you'll have an extra class for one of the blocks). Generally speaking, you'll have a discussion post due on Wednesday, two responses due by Friday/Saturday, and some sort of additional assignment due on Sunday evenings. Occasionally, there will be a video conference, including virtual office hours, where everyone is able to attend at the same time and you talk to each other, your professor(s), and any guests. If you can't attend at that specific time, they're always recorded for you to watch later. The only mandatory on-campus times are for a weekend during the first October of your PHD program and two weeks during the second summer, during which you formally propose your study and receive approval to move forward. I defended my dissertation virtually and chose to attend graduation on-campus, which I highly recommend at NNU because it's SO worth it.
Finally, there's the matter of the dissertation. Traditionally, you complete all coursework and then are "set free" to do your dissertation within a given amount of time, usually a few years. You don't get the title of Dr. or PHD/EDD until you defend said dissertation, nor do you get the actual degree (the title and degree are actually separate from one another - I didn't know that until the week we all started defending!). This is where a lot of PHD students fall of the boat - life gets in the way and interest in your dissertation wanes, and eventually it's just not worth finishing to you. NNU doesn't allow that to happen - your dissertation is embedded in your coursework, so by the time you end up with the year "off" for your study, you already have a completely designed, approved, and defended study proposal - all you have to do is carry out the actual work. On top of that, the cohort model requires that you finish your study within one year and meet specific deadlines. At first, this was frustrating to me as it limited my options for the study I wanted to do. Now that I'm done, however, I realize the value in this: By doing a smaller, simpler study, I was able to GRADUATE. The best dissertation is a done dissertation! Keep in mind you'll never write another 150+ page dissertation again. Your dissertation proves you've done due diligence to earn your doctorate. After that, the letters after your name show you've done due diligence so you don't have to re-prove that. While you have to write somewhere in the neighborhood of 40,000-80,000 words in your dissertation citing every possible source to show you've actually researched all the topics and authors you should have, space is a premium in publishable articles which restrict you to 10,000 words and you really only want to cite the main authors relevant to your research rather than every.single.study. Plus, you're only going to get better at researching and writing (if that's what you want to do), so your dissertation study is only the beginning and after that you can do whatever you like the way you (ethically) want to do it. So, with all that said, I'm glad we were on a crunched timeline which restricted my study as it enabled me to graduate. And, by embedding the dissertation in the coursework, all that was left was the exciting part of actually researching and getting results from this passion project you've already done so much with. Finally, the cohort model and camaraderie we developed definitely gave me that extra push to keep up with my peers and be able to attend graduation with them!
If you are able to dedicate an hour or two each day to coursework/dissertation writing (or, alternatively, dedicate 6-8 hours each weekend), then the NNU program is practical.
What programs should I look into?
The faculty make every effort to set you up for success as well as redirect you when needed. I've heard horror stories about people going all the way through their defense just to be told they were not approved (evidently, it's not all that uncommon). That would be devastating and humiliating. That will not happen at NNU. If there are any concerns about your progress or ability to either propose or defend your dissertation study, you will know beforehand. In fact, they will postpone your proposal/defense until they are confident you are ready, communicating with you before and during this process. They give clear feedback on what needs to happen and by when. Of course, once you're into the dissertation each candidate's experience with their own study and chair is unique, but the common thread is that NNU cares and does not want to see you fail. If you put in your best effort, they will meet you halfway and help you get the rest of the way there.
BONUS: If you haven't done post-Master's work, then you'll actually start with one of the EDS programs first, complete it, and then apply to the doctoral program to do the more research-oriented work. While many of the doctors in my cohort transferred from other programs, I went this route with NNU and was able to reap the benefits of their EDS program. Mine was in Educational Leadership - Building Administration, which resulted in earning my admin license (it transferred to WA without any issue). I don't know if I'll necessarily use it, but it definitely made me a better teacher, enabled me to work more effectively within my district, and provided new perspectives which directly informed my dissertation. They now offer EDS programs in other areas as well, so I highly recommend talking to them about what would fit you best and possibly roll over into the doctoral program.
**As a side note, I'm not Nazarene and I don't think most of our cohort was either. This has been my experience throughout my graduate studies at NNU. While there is a devotional and often a prayer associated with each class/module, you are not expected to engage with the religious material if you choose not to. At the same time, the faculty do their best to embody Christlike behaviors and be servant leaders. Whether or not you are Christian/Nazarene, I feel the messages were universally applicable to my practice as a teacher who serves their students with love.
Do you have questions about pursuing a graduate degree in education, NNU, or anything else?
Plans for now:
Teaching – First, I’m nowhere near ready to leave the classroom. I’m just not done there yet, especially because I think I’ve finally found the perfect fit for me with my position, school, community, and personal life. I want to enjoy this moment for a while – say at least 5 years or so? That’s not a hard deadline, but it feels right. I also don’t feel like I’ve really seen teaching through to my full potential. I’ve been enrolled full time in school throughout my teaching career as well as working extracurricular and part time positions, so I’ve been stretched a bit thin (my friends and family would say that’s an understatement). I’m excited to be able to focus on my practice and really see what I can do with my students when they have my full attention*. Plus, we just adopted SOMOS by Martina Bex, which I’ve been using in my classroom this trimester and really feel it provides a solid backbone to what we’re doing and gives me the freedom to brainstorm, adapt, and play with lesson plans and our program overall since I don’t have to sit and figure out what to teach each lesson sequence (a post is coming on that soon). Finally, I also want to present to my colleagues and share my discoveries as well as create space to learn from them to continually reflect on and improve my practice.
*We all know I’m still going to take on projects, but balance is quickly becoming a nice luxury now.
Research – I’m so excited to finally have the freedom to review literature, brainstorm questions, design studies, and publish results as I collaborate with others along the way! I hope to submit something for publication on a regular basis, maybe once a year or every other year? I’ll have to set some reasonable goals considering I’m full time K-12 faculty, not higher ed, so any research I do is likely to be on my own time (looking at you, summer!). Collaboration and co-publishing should help with that, though. I also applied to be a volunteer with GLSEN as a researcher and in other roles, so I’m hopeful about opportunities there as well! I also plan to begin presenting at conferences – here I come ACTFL! Who else??
Advocacy – Another reason I don’t want to leave the classroom is because our GSA is SO AMAZING! This is our first year, and we’ve already done so much. I want to continue advising this club as it’s one of the most rewarding things I do. Seeing these students support one another and make their community a better place for everyone is a great privilege. I also hope to get more involved with GLSEN and getting with larger advocacy and LGBTQ communities.
Personal Life – It’s nice to finally have the chance to think about what I want to do just for fun! In short, I want to enjoy my hobbies (sewing, reading, etc.), creating stuff, and time with family including my husband, dog, and horse as well as extended family and going on trips.
I think that about sums it up. Really, I'm ready to do my best at what I'm doing now and see where it takes me. It's been a wild ride so far, and I don't anticipate the rest being any less boring! But perhaps a little more relaxing - It'd be nice to cut down on the caffeine eventually ;)
This year has been pretty busy - and that's an understatement. Like the over-eager educator I am, I decided to both finish my PHD dissertation AND do all four components of National Boards! (I do not recommend doing that, by the way). But last week, I successfully defended my dissertation and this weekend I'm completing solid drafts of my NBCT components.
I can see the light at the end of the tunnel, and it's more than just a pinprick! I'm excited for things to calm down a bit and begin sharing more regularly about my teaching experiences, LGBTQ advocacy, research, and other projects.
Right now, I'm doing a review of this website, cleaning things up, updating other things, and adding things that are missing (I get to add a "research" page!) Thank you for bearing with me as I do so and feel free to send me any comments or questions you have. I will be sharing information about my research study on the experiences of transgender including nonbinary students in Spanish language courses and the link to my defense as soon as possible.
Happy teaching, researching, learning, and living!
Dr. Beniko Mason
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