There IS A Free Lunch! Just Kidding!

Posted September 26, 2020 by wordsfromww
Categories: children, Christianity, Community, Grace, Grandchildren, Humor, Nation, Parenting, Story, Teamwork, Uncategorized, Youth

Tags: , ,

This past week my mailbox was filled with the usual assortment of political pleas and warnings to increase the fear factor of what will happen if either major political party gets elected.

BUT I also received an envelope that looked like it had a check inside. I tore into the of it to see what I might have won or been gifted with.

Sure enough! Inside there was a check that said in bold letters “Pay to the order of William Wolfe“, and underneath my name was the amount of “Eighty-Four Thousand and 00/100”. It was even written out like us old folks used to do back in the day when we used paper checks with actual ink.

“Must be my lucky day,” I whispered to myself. But then I noticed the other side of the check where it informed me that I was pre-approved for that amount from some bank or company in California.

And then this declaration in even larger and bolder letters than the amount of the fake check.

William, pay nothing until 2050!

Wait a minute! I’ll be 96 years old in 2050…if I’m still alive. So…I guess there is a free $84,000 lunch to be enjoyed. You know that’s not true! Further reading of the fine print revealed that it was a letter from a reverse mortgage company, but the bold print said things like this: Lock in $0 monthly payments, permanently! and Relax with maximum flexibility.

I’m sure the plan works well for some people, but, in essence, it meant that my kids and grandkids would be affected. Instead of the equity from the sale of our home benefitting them after we pass on, the letter was saying to use the equity now in paying for present expenses and excursions.

I read it as another way to pass the buck or, in this case, diminish the benefits for the next generations of Wolfes. Perhaps I’m erroring in my judgment, but it seems that the circumstances of our lives and the consequences of our decisions seem to be sealed in an envelope and mailed down the road for the next few decades. I realize that there are situations where “stuff” happens…sicknesses, lost employment, failed businesses, natural disasters that destroy homes…but there seems to be a growing number of people whose lives are void of pain and agony who are happy to kick the costly can down to some distant “D Day”.

We live in a time where there are those who need to be cared for but also those who don’t care about anyone else. The ripple effect of self-centered citizens shows up in the unwillingness to take responsibility for their near-sighted stupidity. It’s the procrastination of maturity for the thrill of a moment of self-absorption. Kind of like someone who keeps eating high-sugared drinks and candy, but never brushes his teeth. At some point his teeth will begin to show the lack of concern and the cost of his negligence will result in a lot of drilling as the cavities get filled.

So…I’m tearing up the fake $84,000 check and wishing for a good life for my family. AND I can only hope that our culture, likewise, will stop putting the responsibility for being responsible on those we are presently taking on a walk in their strollers.

Trying to Remember My Virtual Students

Posted September 19, 2020 by wordsfromww
Categories: children, coaching, Grace, Grandchildren, Humor, Parenting, Story, Teamwork, Uncategorized, Youth

Tags: , , , , , ,

For the past four and a half weeks I’ve been teaching 7th Grade Language Arts virtually and now in-person. Half of my students stare at me from a computer screen and the other half stare at me from their seats in the classroom.

I am very much an in-person teacher, comfortable talking to the live bodies in front of me. Obviously that comes from 36 years as a church pastor preaching to the live people in front of me…and a few who could be evaluated as dead!

There is multi-tasking, which I’m not that good at (except walking and chewing gum at the same time), and now there’s multi-audiencing, which I’m really, really not good at.

This week I paused my last class of the day to take 3-4 minute “mask break” outside. By the last class of the day they are squirrelly and doing unintentional impersonifications of the Tasmanian Devil cartoon character. They whined enough that our 4 minute break grew into 7, before we went back inside. As I came around to my desk I saw 12 faces staring at me- the 12 virtual students!

Let kids at Disney World who had gotten separated from their parents, they had the deer in headlights looks.

“My bad!” I apologized. “I totally forgot about you all!”

They looked slightly hurt by it, but extended grace to me. Some of them were probably feeling guilty about missing assignments that I keep asking about, or the video game controllers they have hidden in their laps. Others may have taken the opportunity to get a “power nap.”

Most of the in-person students thought it was hilarious. After all, they had lured me into the squirrel trap of extra down-time and discovered one of my weaknesses. Mr. Wolfe loses track of the virtual students. It brought back memories of a high school teacher who could have played the leading role of an absentminded professor. When he wasn’t looking, students would escape from his class out one of the classroom windows. Others would even enter through the windows when he was distracted. I don’t remember learning much in that class, although his name is burned into my memory.

And now it hits me! Maybe I’m the new absentminded virtual teacher! Maybe 30 years from now the students I have now will talk about the pranks they pulled on me and how clueless I was.

And then, horror of horrors, I consider the possibility that they will remember nothing that I have taught them…just my name!

Deceptive 7th Grade Virtual Students and Clued-In Teachers

Posted September 13, 2020 by wordsfromww
Categories: children, Grace, Humor, Parenting, Story, Teamwork, Uncategorized, Youth

Tags: , , , , ,

Teaching a virtual learning class of 7th graders has been rewarding, challenging, and…revealing! I have found that a teacher doesn’t necessarily have to have students in an actual classroom to discover their personalities, strengths, and tendencies.

Back in my eastern Kentucky neck of the woods, we used to say “I didn’t just fall off a turnip truck yesterday” to make the point that a person wasn’t as naive as someone else was thinking. In my classroom, I need that a bushel basket of turnips displayed.

Most of my students are awesome and on task. Some have been prone to even doing more than what is asked of them. A few have been very helpful in explaining a technology glitch to one of their virtual classmates or…me!

But there are those who think I’m fooled by the fact that there is a screen between us. They believe that I can’t see very much, that I can’t see their eyes drifting to the right or left, or their tendency to, evidently, look down at their pants every few seconds.

I’m sure I’ve helped the Fortnite score for a few of them. Although they are clueless about what a dangling participle is, they know where the nearest zombie is coming from on their game screen. Next week when students return to their real in-person classrooms two days a week, some of them may have video game withdrawal. Maybe if i throw a few zombies into the discussion they will stay attentive.

There’s also a few of the eLearning Einsteins who seem to always have internet issues. “Mr. Wolfe, that page isn’t coming up for me.” “Mr. Wolfe, I can’t see that assignment on my screen.”

“Wait a minute! You mean the assignment that we’ve been doing for the last 45 minutes, and you’re just now saying something to me?”

And then there are the “muters”! When they accidentally unmute themselves you hear the loud chaotic music in the background of some artist who recorded immediately after having half-a-dozen Red Bulls. Or there’s the sound of the video game crash and the bash action. Or the conversations of a few other people who are in the same room with my lonesome student.

I’m okay with the security blankets that several of them cuddle up with. I’ve even seen a few stuffed animals auditing the class.

The big one, or most blatant example of someone’s belief that I took a spill from that railroad turnip train car is when the student consistently clicks his/her camera off. One student’s camera clicks on and off so many times I wonder if he’s checking with his attorney to see what view might incriminate him.

And then we have the late-arrivers, always the same ones, with always the same excuses- poor connection or their laptop was having issues that day. On the other hand, it always seems to be the same faces who arrive first for class.

One of my classes has almost everyone waiting in the virtual “lobby” for me to admit them when I finally arrive. I’m sure it’s just a coincidence that every student in that class still has an A+. I asked them the other day if their grade performance was because they’re all awesome students or I’m being too easy on them? They told me it was because of their awesomeness. I felt my right foot slipping on a few turnips.

Tomorrow begins the new frontier- half of the students in-person in-class and half virtual. This week there will be no more hiding of the truth. I’ll find out who are truly amazing and who are more resembling of the zombies.

The Blotches I Suddenly Could See

Posted September 12, 2020 by wordsfromww
Categories: Bible, Christianity, Community, Faith, Grace, Nation, Parenting, Story, Teamwork, The Church, Uncategorized, Youth

It was late in the evening, which is anytime after 7:00 for me, and I was sitting in a quiet moment of reflection. I thought about the day that had been, the conversations and challenges. The end of another teaching week was just another day away. Day 17 had proceeded without too many glitches and I was anticipating the Friday plan of tired eyes and distracted twelve-year-olds.

As I gazed at my hands I saw them, a couple of age spots, blotches, AARP markers on the backside of my hands that had not been there when I was twenty, or even thirty, but now, at 66, I suddenly could se them.

It’s not that they had suddenly appeared like the Colorado September 8 snowstorm the day after it was 97 degrees in Colorado Springs. No, I realized that the journey of time had slowly developed the indications of my advancing elderliness.

Perhaps it was a God-sign for our times that the thought came upon me. Like so many things in life, the differences and injustices in our culture and in our world that have been there for so long suddenly catch out attention. We see them where we didn’t really notice them. And I realize that events such as pandemics, and 9/11 terrorist attacks, race relations and tensions, financial heartbreak, closed churches, and the hyping of political fears cause the blotches of our world and aged issues of the past decades to stand out.

Like the imperfections on the backs of my hands, the imperfections and imbalances of our world have been there for a long, long time, but in a short focused look we suddenly see them with disturbed eyes.

The thing is they won’t be corrected or erased quickly. Noticeability is simply the first step in redirection. Unlike my skin blotches, however, the bruises of our times can be healed, perhaps slowly and painfully, but they can be “unwounded”.

Return to the Stool

Posted September 7, 2020 by wordsfromww
Categories: Community, Freedom, Grace, Humor, love, Parenting, Story, Uncategorized, Youth

It was open! No sign was in front of it saying it was still temporarily closed.

My Starbucks stool– to be specific, the last stool on the right looking out toward Pike’s Peak– went back on the coffee cafe’ market. So, I planted myself into it and started typing…this!

Writers like writing spots, like children like a certain teddy bear or blanket. We become attached to it. It becomes our place of inspiration and creation. My Starbucks stool has been the home for the writing go many of my blog posts. It’s also where I met Kathy Buchanan, who used to sit on the last stool on the left. Kathy has been a writer/producer of the “Adventures in Odyssey” series for several years. She encouraged me to go to the Colorado Christian Writer’s Conference in Estes Park, where I learned a mega-amount about the craft of writing, literary agents, publishers, and editors.

The absence of the stool has been an ongoing reminder of the pandemic’s dark cloud hanging over us, like the rain cloud that always seemed to follow Charlie Brown.

The baristas at my Starbucks know of my stool devotion. The last few weeks I’ve been sitting outside on the patio, arriving at about 7 AM and going to “the last table on the right”. (Notice a trend here?) It was all right, except when it started resembling a dog park more than cafe patio. This morning when I noticed the vacancy sign flashing over my stool I asked barista Destiny if it was true.

“Is IT really available?”

She nodded and probably smiled underneath her mask. She was already preparing my cup of Pike Place before I even arrived at the counter. I was like a hog wallowing in penetratingly cool mud on a hot summer afternoon.

Of course, since I’m teaching 7th-grade munchkins five days a week, my visits to the stool will be few and far between for the next few weeks. It will make the writer’s heart grow fonder and perhaps I can discover a few new adjectives to bring redolence to this space.

The Patience of a Virtual Teacher

Posted September 6, 2020 by wordsfromww
Categories: Bible, children, Christianity, coaching, Community, Faith, Freedom, Grace, Humor, Parenting, Pastor, Story, Teamwork, Uncategorized, Youth

I’ve heard that saying, “He’s got the patience of Job!”, for years. Sometimes it’s been used to describe me and at other times it’s been said in connection with someone who is having to deal with me.

We use the saying in referring to the character in the Old Testament who abstains from exploding on people who keep offering him lame advice in response to all of his adversities. I’ve thought about Job a lot these past couple of weeks as I’ve been teaching 7th Grade Language Arts virtually, shepherding about eighty students toward greener writing and literature pastures.

Each day has been an adventure, punctuated with misadventures.

Did you find that next activity we’re going to be doing?”

“Mr. Wolfe, my screen is blank.”

Okay, try refreshing your Schoology page and see if that fixes it.”

There’s a pause as the lost lamb seeks to be found.

Okay, I think I’ve got it.”

Multiply that conversation a hundred fold and you discover what my day usually is. Add to that my side of the difficulties…technological illiteracy, forgetting to do Step 23# in the twenty-five step assignment process, trying to figure out is little Johnny is still with me virtually or is playing Fortnite on his game system set up right beside him.

Patience is the word- patience with my students, patience with my own inadequacies, patience with slow internet service, and patience with students who are a bit more like a turtle in their learning pace than the other thoroughbreds who sprint to the end of an assignment.

And then God, in his patient wisdom and compassion, puts this verse in the midst of the scripture passage I’m preaching on this Sunday. “Be patient with everyone.” (1 Thessalonians 5:14)

I might add “everything” to that. Patient with CenturyLink, patient with myself, patient with things that don’t make sense, patient with my eLearning dyslexia.

Getting through these COVID-19 days requires a heavy patience medication. Impatience looms in the next meltdown.

And then, right about the time, I’m ready for a hair pulling episode, one of my students guides me to the solution of a technology problem and all is well again. It causes me to rediscover another gift from God that often is attached to patience.

Grace.

My First Virtual Teaching Week

Posted August 29, 2020 by wordsfromww
Categories: children, coaching, Grace, Humor, Parenting, Story, Teamwork, Uncategorized, Youth

Like a lightweight boxer going back to his corner, I survived the first round of my virtual teaching week. My trainer mopped up the perspiration on my virtual face and checked for technology cuts and scrapes as I stood in front of her counter. She patted me on the head and gave me some quick instructions.

“Watch out for the clueless expressions you see. They’re just trying to catch you off-guard. And be aware of the faders, the ones who suddenly only are showing the top part of their head and hiding their eyes from being seen on the screen. That’s the student who’s probably eating a Chipotle burrito. Since his sound its muted, you can’t hear the munching! Or, even worse, he’s holding a video game controller in his hands and playing Fortnite!”

She sent me back out to face Schoology and Google Drive. I thought they had me in the opening moments, but as the first-round week of classes progressed I gained more confidence, a little swagger in my virtual dancing and dodging.

“What about the kid who figured out how to mute me? What do I do about him?”

“Don’t worry about him! We’ll take care of his disrespectful attitude and just when he thinks he’s causing you to pull your hair out and he puts his guard down, he’s going to take a fall!”

“You’re doing great! You don’t act like an eLearning rookie teacher. You’re impressing some of these kids, but don’t get cocky! You lose your focus and all of a sudden you’re in some no man’s land screen and there’s no going back. Stay with the game plan, stay with the assignment! Remember, this is going multiple rounds. The first round is just to get you breathing hard, but not to the point that you hyperventilate.”

The bell was about to ring to indicate another round of going at it.

“What if there’s a multi-punch attack? Should I cover up, protect myself, stay on the defensive for a moment?”

“No! That’s when you dance around and tell one of the thousands of stories that calms the swell. Be smart! Revert back to that story about the kid who could never remember to bring a pencil to class with him. These kids still remember the pencil days. Use that to your advantage! Dance around with that episode for a few moments, that will settle down their aggressive natures and put you back in control.”

“Gotcha’!”

“Schoology is going to try to throw an uppercut at you. Stay focused and stay sharp. You get through this next round and you can get another cup of coffee!”

“I could use that caffeine right now.”

“Suck it up, buttercup! You’ve got to earn it!”

There was fire in her eyes. I clapped my gloves together and faced my next screen filled with 12-year-old faces. “I’ve got this…kinda’!”

The Balance of Fear and Courage

Posted August 22, 2020 by wordsfromww
Categories: Bible, children, Christianity, coaching, Community, Death, Faith, Freedom, Jesus, Nation, Parenting, Pastor, Prayer, Story, Teamwork, Uncategorized, Youth

Fear and courage are two over-used words in these days of hoped-for vaccines, election tensions, and employment uncertainty. They are hyped and griped in the media, echoed in the quivering tones of our voices, and thought about in the aloneness of our homes.

The middle school where I’ve coached for twenty years and substitute taught for the last four called me up on Tuesday to ask me to come and teach a language arts class for the next several weeks…or months. So I said…sure!

It manifested some fear in a couple of family members. Not body-trembling, nail-biting fear, but fear and anxiety about a 66-year-old entering a school building. My fear, on the other hand, was focused on the new Blob monster called “the virtual classroom”. On a laptop screen in front of me all these faces will be staring at me, causing me to wonder if I’m unzipped or have a piece of chive attached to one of my front teeth.

Fear can be a benefit. Cockiness usually leads to some bad conclusion, like the Soviet sub commander in The Hunt For Red October whose excessive opinion of his mastery leads his First Officer to say to him, right before the sub blew up, “You have killed us!” Fear can be a guide that tells us to proceed with caution or reconsider our direction.

Courage is the awareness of fear and the determination to stay the course. Courage demands the possibility of a bad ending of some kind, but also the potential for a beneficial conclusion. Courage is not self-seeking, but rather mindful of the good that can be done for someone else.

Fear is often trumpeted in such a way that it causes us to think that the end is near. Unfortunately, courage is sometimes communicated as if the person portrayed is like the new messiah and has no fear.

At my school this week I witnessed a teaching staff that all had fears and, from what I could see and hear, all had courage. It’s a courage to keep guiding the educational canoes filled with kids. I use that picture of a canoe, having known the unstableness of such a vessel as it moves down a stream…especially with hyper adolescents occupying its paddles.

There are some anxious educators, wanting the best for kids and trying to navigate around all the rocks and low-hanging tree branches as the classroom canoes face the rapids.

As some wise advisor once told me, “Time to put your big boy pants on!” And I would add “And pray!” Psalm 23 seems to be even more relevant each morning about 7:30!

“Though I walk through my virtual classroom of death, I will fear no evil for You are with me!”

Teaching an Old Dog New Millennial Tricks

Posted August 20, 2020 by wordsfromww
Categories: Uncategorized

They called me. A sudden staff vacancy with only 5 days until students return…kinda’…they needed someone with a heartbeat who they already know.

So they called me to see if I would be a long-term guest staff person teaching 7th Grade Language Arts virtually for at least the first three weeks. And I started today, sitting in our teaching team meeting lapping up the strange-sounding info like a thirsty German Shepherd.

I knew a few things before I sat down with the millennials today, like how to turn my laptop on and get online…and how to wear a face mask. But this Rin-Tin-Tin is still more comfortable with hard copy and Bic pens. I’m having to adjust. It reminds me, in a different sort of way, of when we moved to Colorado from Michigan and I played basketball for the first time at 6,000 feet. I was sucking air and the basketball felt like a shot put being thrown from my tired arms. It took me a while to adjust to the reaching of “new heights”, so to speak!

I’ve been doing Facebook Live readings on Sunday nights all through the summer, so I’m comfortable being seen by people I can’t see. This is a few more steps toward the edge of the cliff, however. Now I’m going to be kinda’ seeing students, about 20-22 at a time, and asking them to click onto the assignment page and begin working on the questions there. Wait a minute! That means I need to develop an assignment page that they can link into! That means I have to figure out how to get that page idea onto a page and then get it somehow onto their page!

It’s a brave new world that is scarier than all get out. Thankfully, I have teammates who have the patience of Job and they know I’m up for learning new tricks.

Like today, when I was trying to figure out how to drink coffee with a face mask on. Do you think it’s okay to wear a face mask with coffee stains on the outside?

Responsibility In The Crosshairs of Freedom

Posted August 12, 2020 by wordsfromww
Categories: children, Christianity, Community, Freedom, Grace, Humor, Nation, Parenting, Story, Teamwork, The Church, Uncategorized, Youth

There are certain situations in our everyday lives that demand that freedom be put on the back burner. For example, the speed limit on streets and highways is meant to keep every driver and vehicle safe. A crash caused someone driving recklessly not only threatens their life, but the lives of those in other vehicles. And, oh my, most of us have experienced the frustration of backed-up traffic because of one speed demon crashing miles ahead of us!

America is a free country. We say those words and stretch the elastic in the waist band to the breaking point. Pardon the expression, but we try to fit a size XXX of freedom into a 28 waist with no apologies for the cultural bulginess is creates.

Responsibility seems to be a word that we use to overkill with our kids and place in storage for our own lives. It’s more than an issue about wearing masks and washing your hands. It’s a personal and corporate value that is being viewed by more and more people as a relic of The Andy Griffith Show era.

When freedom and responsibility co-exist and work in rhythm with one another like an Olympic figuring skating duo, it’s a beautiful thing. Most of the time, common sense and community benefit join hands with them, and the local newspaper must rely on news stories like whose house did Billy Bob and Joann Rice have dinner at after church on Sunday, or which 4-H’er was awarded the grand prize for her winning pig at the county fair. The teamwork of freedom and responsibility seldom makes good headlines, but, seriously, wouldn’t we like a few days that would be ho-hum and un-sensational?

It seems in these times, however, that responsibility is often in the crosshairs of freedom. Freedom drives a car smack dab into responsibility’s front window and takes off with items that don’t belong to it.

Freedom gone crazy is like a bear in a honey store. Look out! there’s going to be a lot of licking, broken glass, and beastly entitlement. I can understand bears. It’s the crazies who have mistaken free reign for freedom that I cringe about.