Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Teacher Brain

Over the weekend I was reading through one of the state's new teacher evaluation systems.  It is made up of a checklist that contains many statements that are indicators of a teacher's proficiency.

One indicator of a successful teacher is the following:

Thinks systematically and critically about learning in their classroom: Why learning happens and what can be done to improve student achievement.

I read this and smiled a little to myself.  This is ALL I do.  In fact I have found that I can't stop doing this even if I try.  From the moment I wake up to when I fall asleep at night there is usually something about school floating around my head.  I am always thinking about what I'm going to teach or how I can make something better or how to reach a particular kid.  And the thing is that it isn't a conscious effort.  In moments of downtime my mind just always drifts to school.  Why is this??

Today I decided to make an effort to take note of all of these thoughts.  There's a good chance this post won't be interesting to anyone aside from myself, but that's ok.  So from the moment that school ended here are the manyyyy things that have been on my mind...

Last bell of the day.

  • Use remind 101 to text the HW to parents and students.  Also send a "good job" text letting them know that since there was no cursing all day I removed 4 marbles.
  • Earlier I had a good idea for ISN pages for my 1st period tomorrow, I made a note so that I wouldn't forget.  Take a few minutes to sit and really think through this idea.  Decide I like it so start to type up a foldable.  Print it out and start to work on it in my own notebook.
  • Decide that I'll get ahead of things and actually make the copies now instead of tomorrow morning.
  • Feel like I'm on a roll so sit down at a kid desk and put together exactly how i want the pages to be.  Take notes on a piece of scrap paper because I don't think I like the definition wording that I usually use.  Realize that I really don't like it- make a mental note that i need to come up with something better.
  • Decide to just bring everything home and finish working on it there.

Get in the car to go home.

  • I think about the activity I did during one of my periods.  One kid in particular did awesome, but another kid was struggling and ended up really frustrated even though he was truly trying.  Said he just sucks at math.  Try to think about how I can make him feel more successful tomorrow, but still manage to make sure other kids don't get bored.  This kid has enough problems going on at home...the last thing he needs is to come into my classroom and feel dumb.  I suck for letting this happen.
  • Get a free drink from Starbucks and think for awhile about how good it is and how exciting it was that it was free.
  • I think about how there was no cursing today so as promised I removed four marbles...decide that for each consecutive curse free day I'll remove an extra marble (so if tomorrow is also good I'll take out 5, and then 6 and so on).  Think about how I hope this works because I REALLY don't want to give out detention.
  • Think about a girl that came in today with her baby.  I can't even believe that this girl is worrying about raising a baby and worrying about graduating high school.  I think about the fact that when she is my age she will have a child in middle school.  I can't even wrap my head around this.

Get home.
  • Check school e-mail as soon I walk in the door...kids have an online assignment due tomorrow and of course almost all of them waited until the last night to do it so I'm sure there's going to be questions.  No e-mail.  Check to see how many kids actually started it.  7/16 are complete.
  • Watch a little TV but start thinking about the ISN pages I'm going to do tomorrow and how I really want a good way to word the definition.  Search google and Pinterest for ideas.  Find nothing.  Come up with something myself and decide I'm happy with it.
  • I think again about how I can do a better job of working with 7th period tomorrow so that kid isn't frustrated again..that really bothered me and I can't get it out of my mind. 
  • I think about a new program that I'm starting in a few weeks and how I should probably talk to the other teacher doing it to see what she's planning on doing (if you're reading this...I'll be e-mailing you tomorrow!)

Take a shower and change into comfy clothes.
  • Check my e-mail again.  Someone has a problem.  Fix problem and e-mail back.  Get a reply that there's still a problem. Ugh.  Go back and forth a few times until all is resolved.
  • Start writing this blog post.
  • Check to see who else has completed the assignment.  Check their scores.  The computer is marking something wrong when it is actually right, so go in and manually correct #8 on each kid's assignment.

Eat dinner.  
  • Check e-mail again.  No e-mails.  Good.
  • Continue writing blog post.
  • Check assignment again.  10  completed.   2 in progress.  3 not started.  1 hasn't even signed up for the textbook.  Make a note to print out the assignment because she's clearly not going to have it done tomorrow.
  • Look over algebra ISN pages for tomorrow and decide I'm happy with it so put it away.
  • Keep thinking about what to do about that one class.  Decide to make a new seating arrangement for tomorrow because that'll be a good start.  Decide that I'll give them a graded differentiated assignment on percents and let them work on it during class tomorrow.  I'll also give an ISN page on it first.  Yes some of the kids will be a little bored with it, but the other kids will really be able to use it for help and I think that's my top priority right now.  After that I can spend the rest of the period focusing my efforts on helping out the kids that need my help.
  • Check results of the online assignment and decide that instead of reviewing for the test with Jeopardy that I will split them into groups based on the results of the assignment and create study groups.
  • Finish blog post.
  • Get two more e-mails about problems.  Reply back.
Close computer.

So that has been my post-work day.  Who was it that says teachers have it good because they get out of work early?  Or have summers off?  So yeah I may not be physically working from 9-5 but most days I feel like I never stop working.

I have to admit that there are some days I wish I could shut it off.  When I see kids having a really rough time I just can't get it out of my head.  Or when I hear terrible stories about their lives it just sticks with me.  But often what it means is that lessons are in constant development.  Even when I'm not writing lesson plans I am working on my lessons.  Frequently I'll get an idea that pops into my head out of nowhere and I'l scratch everything I had in mind.

So tell me...does anyone else have a serious case of teacher brain or am I just crazy?


  1. It's not just you. Sounds like my day - doing data gathering for my bio kids who just took their test. Trying to figure out WHY 40 out of 43 answered a questions wrong, then working my way through the other questions where more than 50% answered wrong. Then fretting about one of my AP Environmental sections where the grades are significantly lower than in my other classes. I'm just hoping my brain shuts off long enough so i can fall asleep tonight.

  2. Your day and my day sound pretty much the same, except for the free Starbucks coffee which I'm jealous about! Many days I wish my brain would just shut off so I could sleep at night, but I have had many nights of restless sleep already this school year. Some times I just have to tell myself that I'm going home and doing NOTHING so that I can keep my sanity.

    1. Yeah I LOVE my Starbucks reward card..it's even gold and has my name printed on it. That free drink was quite possibly one of the highlights of my month :)

  3. You might be crazy, but it's not because you have teacher brain. haha. If that's the case then any teacher worth her salt is completely NUTS! I think any good teacher does exactly what you posted. It really is hard to "shut it off" because we care so much for our students and are dedicated to our profession. The difference between me and you is that you are able to put your thoughts into action. I tend to worry about how I can make/change my lessons and end up completely stressed because nothing seems quite good enough. I subscribe to countless blogs in hopes of finding great ideas. This is my first year to do ISN's. I am not a creative soul by nature, so it has been quite a struggle for me. I love the concept. It is just very difficult for me to come up with ideas on my own. All of that said, thank you so much for your blog! It has saved me more than once, and I will continue to "borrow" your wonderful ideas until I get the hang of it.

    1. That's awesome, I definitely get inspiration from tons of places...it's certainly not all my own creativity. You're out there searching for ways to engage your kids and keep things interesting and that's all that matters!! I'm glad to be able to help out :)

  4. Sarah,

    I love this post! I am going to try to take off on it, if you don't mind. I get it all, and often want to share this kind of stuff with someone who gets it and who won't be bored to death (like my husband or kids) by all the self-talk. Now throw in that I can't put the book down that I am reading, but I fall asleep when I get into bed and try to read half a page, and the fact that I am listen to an interview with Louise Erdich and thinking about how much I loved "The Master Butcher's Singing Club" and all this in the middle of grading papers and it all started because I stopped because I remembered I wanted to write to you and let you know that I thought this was a great post! Now back to the papers and trying to find the resource page for rotating a trapezoid to make it into a parallelogram to show why the Area formula works. Sheesh.


  5. Sarah:
    I could generate a similar list. What most fascinates me about your post is how challenging it is to teach other teachers to approach their work in this year. I am teaching part time and coaching part time this year. Reading your post makes me want to focus my coaching on exactly this for a while...I have found that many teachers naturally think like this and for others, even when presented with the standard you mention above, it's incredibly hard to support them to think systematically (and continually) about how their practice and daily feedback (formal, informal, whatever) about student learning need to constantly be intertwined

    1. I can actually imagine that it could be hard for someone to be able to "turn on" because for me at least it's something that I can't "turn off." I don't try to think about school and my kids all the time, it just seems to happen. Good luck, I'd be very interested to hear how that goes!

  6. I love everyone's comments and I'm glad to hear that I'm not the only one that is incapable of shutting it off!!

  7. Hi! I realize this post is a year old but it's one of my favorites. It makes me realize I'm not crazy - or if I am, at least there are other people out there like me!


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