Archive for April 2023

Billy Bob Betta

April 30, 2023

I always wanted a fish. In my growing up years, my family had one short-lived canine named Butch, a moody Siamese cat named Caesar, and a schizophrenic parakeet named Pete, but never a fish.

About two weeks ago I got one…for my school classroom. I had challenged my students to write a persuasive argument that sought to convince me on a situation they wanted to see happen. I gave them 8 or 9 options on such things as additional time outside, since we assumed warmer weather would come sometime, no assignments for the last week for those with A’s and B’s, being able to choose their own seat, candy treats at the end of class each day, and…getting a class pet!

One boy suggested a class llama.

Other suggestions included getting a class snake (Uck!), a lizard, a frog, an alligator, and a shark. A class pet fish seemed to be a manageable compromise. Snakes creep me out and I’m not sure which restroom the llama would be using (Probably whichever one he wanted to or wherever he wanted to!).

Welcome Billy Bob Betta, a betta fish with personality, and easily managed. He even has a taco in his tank. You could call that a “fish taco.” A sign in his tank beside the taco says “No fishing!”

Billy Bob has brought delight and smiles to the faces of the eighth-graders who occupy my classroom. BBB swims over to the front of the tank to greet them, gives them his full weird-looking eyes’ attention, and waves his smaller fins as if he is saying hello.

One of my students, confusion laced into the comment, asked, “Mr. Wolfe, why did you get a fish with 6 weeks left in the school year?”

“Good question! I guess I didn’t really think about that.”

“So if Billy Bob is still alive at the end of the school year, can I have him?”

“If your parents say it’s okay. In fact, if he’s not still alive, you can still have him.”

With a teacher-sounding correcting tone: “Mr. Wolfe!”

At the beginning of each class period, various 13 and 14-year-olds, who are mostly trying to impress their classmates or bring enougb attitude to make a casserole, lose their put-on exterior and rediscover the glee of childhood. Billy Bob Betta staring right back at them.

The complexity and complications of middle school are swept to the side for a moment with a simple encounter with a small fish. I’ve received more advice from my students on how I should care for BBB, more concern for his well-being, more attention to the details of aquarium decor than I have about anything else this school year.

I should have them write a five-paragraph essay about it. I would instruct them with a pun: “Make sure you “fin”-ish it by the end of class. You “betta” stay focused.”

From the bottom of his aquarium, even Billy Bob Betta groans about my attempt at humor.

Suspicious Middle School Gatherings

April 22, 2023

Part of spending time with middle schoolers is always being on the alert for the unusual and unexpected. Bottom line: Sometimes middle school students do things that are either ill-conceived ventures into the land of stupidity, or they mastermind schemes to create unpleasantness for others in the immediate and themselves in the aftermath of the investigation.

It’s no different for a lot of adults. Recently, a Michigan friend of ours had his mobile pizza oven trailer stolen. The thief then tried to sell it on Facebook Marketplace, providing his contact info along with the picture of the stolen property. In case you didn’t add two and two together with that info, let me just tell you: He was caught! He must have missed taking that course in his growing up years called Common Sense.

Back to just-arriving teens! There have been situations this year in which one or more students have committed acts of mischief. I won’t go into specifics, but a number of the head-shaking acts have occurred in the school restrooms. After all, it is one of the only areas in the school building that does not have security cameras. However, it doesn’t take a Columbo to narrow down the suspects after an episode of toilet paper destruction, because there are security cameras in the hallways that display who goes in and out of the facilities. Narrowing down the time of the infractions slims down the list of possible offenders.

So as a teacher in this interesting incubator of growing-up pains and possibilities, I’ve developed eyes for seeing the unusual and an intuition for anticipating the unexpected.

However, sometimes my senses and eyes deceive me and my hope in the younger generation gets raised from six-feet-under to several hundred feet in the sky.

It happened last week. In the time following a state assessment testing day, the whole eighth-grade class was rewarded with being able to spend the last hour of the school day, complete with fantastic weather, outside. The herd headed to the westside pasture of the school grounds to release their pent up energy from the restricted movements of the testing day. My senses were raised to red alert status, watching for the drastic transitions that could take place between a testing day of showing their intelligence to an open air display of ignorance.

A number of students were playing a game of football, another group were bumping a volleyball around their circle, and others were involved in a game of Wall Ball. But then there was a group of 12-15 students who were sitting by the fence on the far side of the field, huddled together. It looked suspicious with several red flags raised in my mind: keeping their distance from everyone else, huddled closely together, and not making any noise.


I walked toward them, quietly approaching, like I see the actors on Chicago PD do. No one noticed me as the group’s attention remained fixed on whatever illegal activity they were in the midst of. I crept all the way up and peered over the enclosed students to see how much trouble they were going to be in. Just as I got to the viewpoint where I could see the innermost part of the circle and who the ringleaders were, I heard the words.


And then I saw it: a chessboard sitting in the midst of the group, like a miniature battlefield of competition featuring knights, bishops, and royalty.

“Mr. Wolfe,” yelled the game winner and one of my students, “you ready to play me?”

I smiled. “Not yet, but soon!” and I walked away from the group, my pessimism pounced on and my optimism taken to new heights.

In a world and time when we hear an an abundance of the negative, there is another side. It may be all the way to the other side of the field or in the last minute of the nightly newscast, but there is another thing happening. And that “thing” is the hopeful message of the youthful generation to the cynicism of our times.

110 Minutes

April 15, 2023

The number ‘110’ now has new meaning for me. Never again will I be able to say to one of my athletes, “I want you to give me 110%!” Road mileage signs indicating the destination is 110 miles, or even 110 meters, ahead will cause me to detour.

110 now means the number of minutes allocated for the morning testing period in language arts of the state assessment test…three days in a row! It’s like going in for a root canal and being told you’ll need to come back the next day…and then the next day to endure two more!

Someone in some testing universe far, far away from reality came up with 110 minutes as the prime number, the optimum torturing duration.

On Day 2, one of my students suddenly rushed out of the room as he groaned, “I’m going to throw up!”

Me too! But I needed to proctor the test setting and the other students.

What do students who finish a test with a 110 minute time limit, and are told they can’t do anything except read a book and sit quietly, do when they close their laptop 20 minutes into the time period?

They get creative. One student made it his mission to discover how any part of his chair or desk squeaked.And not only that, he also sought to figure out the tone of each squeak, as if he was creating a new musical instrument for an appearance on America’s Got Talent. I’m familiar with jaw harps and washboards. Now I can add a three-legged desk and chair to the list.

Two boys on opposite sides of the classroom played about a hundred-and-ten silent matches of “Rock-Paper-Scissors.”

Four students entered Zombie-land and stared, with blank expressions at…nothing.

Four students adhered to my pleas given each day during the test instructions to read a book. One read a book turned upside down.

One boy picked his nose.

On Day 2, four students had taken my idea of bringing a pillow and lugged them to school. Before the test began, they compared their fluffy head rests, as if it was the Westminster Dog Show…best of class…most puffy…most unique…most likely to produce long periods of comfortable desktop slumber.

On Day 3, the last 30 minutes began to resemble an airport terminal in the midst of flight delays and cancellations, students slumbering in uncomfortable looking positions as they waited for me to say, “The testing session has now ended.”

Each day the words were met with glee and movement that resembled butterflies coming out of their cocoons. I brought out a bag filled with snacks that had been hidden from them until they had crossed the 110 minute finish line. The room was transformed into a party atmosphere. I dropped my stern-looking proctor look and mingled with the masses.

For 13 and 14-year-olds, they did surprisingly well. Other than the desk musician, I didn’t have to give stern looks to anyone.

And at the end of the day, after speaking with my friend, I was thankful I wasn’t proctoring a class of sixth-graders. ‘110 minutes’ with them would seem like an eternity, and they would probably discover a whole new species of squeaks.

The Change

April 9, 2023

We talk a lot these days about change, changing of the guard, changing sides, changing styles, changing someone’s mind. Change is a constant element of our lives. Working with middle schoolers, I see some students change friends more often than the outfits they wear.

There’s change that is essential and change that is personal preference. Some people change simply for the sake of change. However, there are very few events that we encounter in our lives that lead us to make life-altering changes. That is, a decision that redefines who I am and what’s the basis of my life, my purpose for living.

That’s what resonates with me about the resurrection event of Jesus. The people who experienced the empty tomb that had once held the dead body of Jesus were changed, transformed, by the risen Christ. They went from grieving the execution of their leader to rejoicing in His presence. It redefined the direction of their lives.

There are a lot of life-changing events today that are more numbing and negative: school shootings, a doctor telling someone he has an advanced stage of cancer, an accident that results in the death of a loved one, a hurricane or tornado wiping out a community. Those are all life episodes that lead us into the understanding that nothing will be the same as it was.

The resurrection, on the other hand, changed the lives of those who experienced it in such profound ways that they could not see life through the same lens as they had before. In the darkness of our days, the cynicism of our culture has blanketed the hope of life being different, being joyful, being peace-filled, and being eternal. Doubt and disbelief has become dominant, squeezing optimism into a tiny corner, like the outcast kid at school.

The things that were happening in Jesus’s times were like that as well. There was darkness, oppression, hopelessness…and then a dead man conquered death. It was the change that changed everything.

In these days where change happens so quickly that people become passive about its significance, I keep thinking about what side of the tomb I’m now on. Jesus changed my view from dead to being alive, from a cold existence to the loving warmth of a forgiving God.

The Educating of Life Education

April 7, 2023

None of the textbooks in my classroom provide the resources to address the subject matter. It falls between the cracks between language arts, social studies, math, and even science and is caught by the ears of the observant teacher. It is the learning about life that comes in the moments of a day and the events in a week.

The educating of life has become the necessary non-curriculum-based course for young students. It’s the learning about how the world functions, the challenges of our times, and the opportunities that the future holds. The wisdom of teachers is elevated above math calculations, dangling participles, and essay formulas, during the educating of life.

In recent times, our school and two others, experienced the discovery of an individual, several years removed from his days as a student, who was planning an attack. It hit the news, so there has been no need to keep it under wraps. Law enforcement arrested him before his plan had been fully developed and put into action, but it was still a life education experience for our students about the evil that lurks within some people’s hearts and minds. It was not a situation that could be answered with a “Why would a person want to do such a thing?” It goes off the page in terms of common sense. Simply put, there will always be some “crazies” in the world. Do we live in fear of them or let the crazies teach us things like being aware of our surroundings, trusting that feelings of uncomfortableness are warning signs to not discount, and the vitalness of keeping each other safe?

Or there’s vaping. It’s filtered down from high schools to middle schools. Telling kids to not vape is only one point in the conversation. Helping them to have the willpower to turn away from behaviors that will end up in bad ways is another point. Helping them to see that wisdom is a great quality that will lead to be life that has value is still another point. That kind of education comes in the conversations that occur at lunchtime or during moments spent in the outdoors while getting some fresh air. Helping kids realize that there are people in the world who want to ACT (Emphasis added!) as their friends, while sucking them into behavioral habits that will lead them toward destruction and despair, that’s life education.

And then there’s loss. I’ve had a few students lose family members this school year. Losing a grandparent who has always been present in their life is an emotionally debilitating event. For a couple of my students, it was the first time they had experienced the death of a family member. I didn’t have answers for them, but rather offered guiding questions that led them toward a healthy grappling with grief. Nothing we learned about the American Revolution in those days of class were even comprehended by the grieving adolescent, but perhaps they picked up some tools that helped them deal with the brokenness in mourning.

And finally, another life education scenario has been the lack of motivation that some students wrestle with. They have felt a pervading apathy, but also guilt because of the apathy. A lesson on “grit” for those young people was more vital than the poetry elements of alliteration, hyperbole, and metaphor that we were learning. “Grit” oozed onto the pages of a few of the poems they created, but it’s something that can never be plunged into them like a flu shot.

School shootings, addictive behaviors, social media bullying, death and loss, a culture that is more about speaking than listening, and minimizing rather than respecting. There has been a year’s worth of educating about life education. For most students, it is what they will remember long after the harshness of the 1765 Stamp Act imposed by the British on the American colonists has been forgotten.