Why My Brain Hurts

Photo Credit: Ralph Unden (Creative Commons)

I am one of those incredibly blessed people who pretty much never struggled in school.  Sure, AP U. S. History was hard, but even then it was mostly difficult because I left my reading to the last minute.  And Calculus wasn’t exactly a walk in the park with a piece of cake, but I was also a senior who had decided a B would be just fine and did the bare minimum necessary to get that.  But really, how many people can do less than their best and make a B in Calculus?

I never felt like I could really take credit for my good grades because I never really felt like I had earned them.  I graduated high school, and then college, without really having to put forth much mental energy to understand something.  Sure, maybe I had to work to remember things, but there are few times in my life I remember struggling to understand.

Over the past three years, I have discovered something.  Some people have teacher hearts, and some people have teacher brains.  In order to be a good teacher, you need to have at least one.  If someone has a teacher heart, they love learning and their students enough to work really hard to compensate for their lack of teacher brain.  These are the people who you generally see working crazy hours and attending extra curricular activities and talking to students when they run into them outside of school.

If someone has a teacher brain, they can plan and present the material so well, and usually enforce a behavior management system so well, that the kids don’t dare misbehave, so it may not really matter if that person particularly loves the students.  These are the teachers that are somehow able to have everything done by ten minutes after the bell every day.  These are the teachers who have a full, vibrant social life because they don’t spend every waking minute thinking and talking about their students.

Now obviously, these are spectrums, not an all-or-nothing deal.  And some people are incredibly fortunate and have lots of teacher heart and lots of teacher brain.  My friend Samantha is one of these people.  She loves her students and what she does, but she’s also really great at understanding the science of teaching and what it takes to be good at it.

I have a teacher heart, but my teacher brain was apparently oxygen-deprived in the womb because it is not performing very well right now.  This is incredibly frustrating because, as I said above, I’m not used to struggling to understand things.  Well, I’m learning all about that struggle now.

During in-service, one of the big things we are required to create and turn in is called a skills needed worksheet.  The purpose of the skills needed worksheet is to help you as a teacher identify all the skills a student needs to master in order to successfully complete your class and move on to the next grade, and eventually college.

When creating this, the first thing you do is add in all your standards.  I have approximately 72 standards.  Per class.  And they are kind of ridiculously massive.  For example, one of the standards for 8th grade English is that students should be able to “determine a theme or central idea of a text and analyze its development over the course of the text, including its relationship to the characters, setting, and plot; provide an objective summary of the text.”  Yeah, that’s kind of a lot.

Once we have all our standards in, we have to determine what cognitive level (see Bloom’s Taxonomy) the standard is, find an assessment question that addresses that standard, and make sure the question is assessing at the same level the standard requires.  And then we get to the fun part where my brain explodes.

The last column of the skills needed worksheet is where we break down what the students will have to know and be able to do in order to answer that question.  This is the foundation of unit planning and lesson planning for the rest of the year.  If done well, those knowledge and skills become daily objectives that build to daily lessons and units and ultimately success on the final exam.

I did not do this well last year, and for all my effort over the past two days, I’m worried I’m not doing it well this year either.  Not having a useful skills needed worksheet was one of the things that made last year so difficult for me.  I want this year to better, but I just cannot seem to get my brain to do this process of breaking things down into smaller chunks.  I want to just say, “Well, they need to know what theme is and how to find it,” but I know if I put that only that I will be essentially starting from scratch when I go to write my lesson plan on theme.

So I’m trying.  It’s not due until the 12th and I’ve already started working on it, which is an important first step for me.  I just hope I can get it done and get it done well before my brain explodes.

P.S. – There was a survey in yesterday’s update.  If you didn’t take it, would you be so kind as to click here take it now?  Thanks!

*Photo Credit: Ralph Unden (Creative Commons)

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3 Comments

  1. Joel Altsman

     /  August 3, 2012

    Don’t be a loner and forget to ask for help. I’ll bet Sam (or someone else) would be happy to lend a hand. The foundation determines a lot of the integrity of the building, so you’ve rightly identified this as important.

    Reply
    • There’s been lots of collaboration, and Sam has been helping a lot, but she has her own stuff to do and ultimately I need to be able to do it myself. I may not always be teaching with her or at a place like Collegiate where everyone plans this way. It’s getting better, but I still have a long way to go.

      Reply
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