Category Archives: NBPTS

The Mitchell 20 Didn’t Wait for Superman

I've read a ton of reviews lately of The Mitchell 20 — a remarkable education documentary film driven by my good friend Kathy Wiebke that details the efforts of a group of 20 teachers in a high-poverty Phoenix elementary school to change the lives of their students by changing their own practice.

I guess I'm struggling to find the right words to explain how powerful the film is.

That's why I was so jazzed to find a comment from a teacher named Jill Saia on Nancy Flanagan's review of The Mitchell 20. 

Jill wrote:

My faculty and I can't wait to see The Mitchell 20; for some reason we feel that we are living the same story right now.

Like Mitchell, we are NOT waiting for superman; we are digging in, collborating, and working very long hours to improve our students and ourselves.

In the end, that's the BEST summary for The Mitchell 20:  It is the story of a group of teachers who collectively recognize that waiting for superman is a strategy that is failing our poorest students.

 It is the story of a group of teachers who recognize that super powers really do rest somewhere deep within every teacher who takes up the challenge of working in our highest needs communities.

It is the story of what one group of colleagues can do when they decide to fight back by studying their practice collectively with one another—even when their backs are against the wall and they're working in forgotten communities.

I won't lie: The Mitchell 20 made me wet in the eyes more than once simply because it is the story of passion and service and professionalism and need and hope all wrapped into one.

And I needed that. 

Surrounded by failed policies, destructive policymakers, and constant attacks, I've started to doubt that our public schools — and more importantly, children in our poorest communities — REALLY have a chance.

What The Mitchell 20 reminded me is that as long as there are teachers with a heart for children and a determination to study their craft together — and as long as we are politically willing to get out of their way — there is ALWAYS a chance for EVERY child in EVERY community.

That's a message we ALL need to hear.

Here's the trailer:




When are YOU going to see the whole film?

More importantly, when are YOU going to forward the trailer to YOUR local school board members, state representives, or federal legislators?

This isn't a film that they can afford to miss if we really care about EVERY child.


Related Radical Reads:

Are YOUR Kids Living a Silent War?

Are High-Poverty Schools Just Another Debate?

Does ANYONE Love Public Schools?

Lessons Learned from the LeBronathon





Read This: ‘Highly Qualified’ Is Highly Misleading

Last week, an "anomaly amendment" was inserted into Congress's Continuing Resolution (a stop-gap that allows the government to continue functioning in the absence of an official budget.) The amendment in question allows teachers who are in an alternative certification program, regardless of the amount of time they've been teaching or whether or not they've obtained licensure in their respective states, to be considered "highly qualified" under No Child Left Behind (NCLB) regulations.

It comes as no surprise that the amendment received a major push from Teach for America, a program whose mission is to place inexperienced teachers, most of whom are fresh out of college, in high needs schools across the country.


I stumbled across this great bit by Ilana Garon—a Bronx High School teacher and graduate of a New York State alternative certification program—on The Huffington Post the other day. It's an incredibly honest reflection on just how qualified Garon was to teach after graduating from one of the all-too-common summer crush programs that Teach-for-America-types put their uber-candidates through.

Long story short: Garon wasn't qualified at all. And she knew it.

What really frightened me, though, was the paragraph that I spotlighted above. If Garon's got this right—I haven't done the policy poking to figure out for sure if she does, but I'm inclined to believe her—I'm about to get downright pissy with Congress again.

Here's why: I've got FIVE YEARS of college education—a BS and MS in Elementary Education—AND National Board Certification as a Middle Childhood Generalist, and I'm not even highly qualified!

Now to be perfectly honest, half of the reason for my lack of qualification is because I'm being difficult. Here in North Carolina, the only way a teacher with a degree in elementary education can earn highly qualified status is by taking the Praxis test and I've just plain refused to do it.

My stand is a simple one: 6th grade teachers with a degree in middle grades education who earn National Board Certification in North Carolina are automatically highly qualified. 6th grade teachers with a degree in elementary education who earn National Board Certification aren't.

That's ridiculous to me.

To think that two teachers working in the same grade level are held to two completely different sets of standards when determining who is qualified and who isn't drives me politically nuts. It's just more evidence of how ineffective educational policy really is.

And even though I'm legal now—I was recertified based on my National Board Certification as a middle grades teacher—I take this highly qualified stuff pretty darn personally. You would too if you couldn't teach elementary school even though you had 5 years of college education to do the job.

But to think that Congress is now readily offering highly qualified status—something I can't get no matter how many college classes I aced—-to teachers who have little more than a few weeks of summer courses might be more than I can bear.

It's lunacy, y'all.


But who am I, right? I'm not even highly qualified.

Teacher Leadership and the NBCT. . .

I’ve got an interesting speech to give this week.  I’m talking about what exactly teacher leadership means to a group of teachers in my district who just earned certification from the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards

In it, I begin a list of things that I would consider to be examples of “teacher leadership.”  My goal is to provide concrete definitions of teacher leadership for teachers and principals to refer to. Read through my speech and see if you can add some more specific roles that teacher leaders fill in the comment section:

First, whenever I speak to a group of teachers like this, I like to be completely sure that I’m actually speaking to National Board Certified teachers.  Call it my own little “letter of verification.”  So I’m going to share a collection of statements with you, and I want you to raise your hands each time you hear one that resonates with you.

Let’s start simply:  Raise your hand if you thought the little blue box that landed on your doorstep last fall looked pretty harmless when it first arrived.  Now raise your hand if your mind changed round about December when your spouse and children were distant memories and your computer had replaced your best friends.

Yup.  National Board Certified Teachers.

Now raise your hand if the term ‘assessment center’ still gives you nightmares.  Me too!  Raise your hand if you ever cursed the margin and font size rules of the Board, just knowing that if you had a little more space you would be SURE to certify.  Raise your hand if you ever panicked after sealing one of your entries in those seemingly indestructible plastic baggies because you weren’t sure that you put the right entry in the bag.

Those guys are National Board Certified!

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