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.
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!
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