Archive for the ‘coaching’ category

The Hang Arounders

October 10, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                   October 10, 2018

                                     

At the middle school where I coach and substitute teach there are a few students who are like fertilizer. When you have them in class you can feel the gray hair growing in abundance!

They are the students who don’t function well in a structured classroom situation, or relate well to teachers and authority figures. They are the ones that consume 90% of a teacher’s attention during a class period, but refuse to do more than 50% of the assigned work. 

It’s not that they’re bad kids and prepping to be juvenile delinquents. They just don’t have a problem with being the problems!

When I substitute teach in a class where there is a student who falls into this category I don’t go easy on him or her. I’ve sent a few to the office or had them join me for lunch that day away from their peer group. BUT…I always seek to greet them in the hallway in a welcoming manner. In other words, no matter what their transgression has been they’re still kids to be valued. The educational journey with some students just has a few more bends and curves in it than the rest! Some students don’t slide easily from A all the way to Z!

In the last few weeks I’ve noticed some of these students who scowl each morning as they arrive at school…hanging around after school! When the 80% of the student body who aren’t involved in after-school activities has exited the building and headed quickly away as soon as that dismissal bell sounds, these few students DON’T leave! An hour after school, if they can avoid notice, they’re still roaming the hallways or hanging out somewhere on the building perimeter. For kids who dread entering the building at 7:30 in the morning they seem to have a hard time exiting by 3:00.

They hang around. 

I’ve gotten to know some of them, their histories and stories. The story is never the same. It would make for a good read if all of the personal episodes were combined together. There are students from single-parent families and students who would be going home to an empty house. There are students who live in two different households, one week with dad and one week with mom; and there are students whose parents would prefer that they stay at school for as long as they are allowed so that the parent doesn’t have to deal with them at home. 

School has become their safe place and their place of consistency. In a good way it doesn’t change. It can be counted on when the rest of their lives are in chaos. 

The teachers that they seem to enjoy terrorizing during class periods after 3:00 become the trusted adults that they gravitate to. A teacher that one of the “hang arounders” wouldn’t add two plus two for in class suddenly becomes the teacher the student is willing to run errands for, wipe down classroom tables, and share a snack with.

I don’t have any substantiated research data for this statement, just a feeling…an inkling…that school is where they feel valued and safe, that school is the place they can count on in their worlds where they’ve been disappointed and discarded too many times. 

And so they hang around for an hour, an hour and a half, not wanting to leave and, oddly enough, in a few hours not wanting to come back. 

Well…come back for class, that is! There’s work to do, new gray hairs to create!

Dear Mr. Substitute Teacher, I’m Sorry!

September 29, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                    September 29, 2018

                        

Dear Mr. Substitute Teacher,

I am sorry for how I acted in the class you were our substitute for yesterday. I did not act right. It may have been because I had two Hershey’s bars for breakfast. That chocolate sometimes makes me do things I don’t usually do. Like putting Vaseline on the top of your desk that caused your hand to slip, resulting in your chin hitting the edge of the desk. I don’t usually do things like that. That second chocolate bar put me over the edge!

After you got the bleeding stopped you somehow figured out that it was me who had done it. I probably would have ‘fessed’ up even if you haven’t figured it out. I shouldn’t have used my right hand in spreading it. I couldn’t hold a pencil for the first two class periods!

I apologize for that! 

And the constant chatter! You probably should have sent me to the office after the Vaseline thing, but you gave me a second chance, and I wouldn’t shut up. I don’t understand what came over me! Is there caffeine in a Hershey bar? 

It could also be the class subject matter. I’m a history buff, you know. I play Fortnite everyday! Coming to Social Studies class just seems to bring all of that knowledge to the surface that I need to share. I just get all excited and out of control. I apologize for my inappropriate loud bursts.

You are a great teacher that I hope will sub for my class again. I promise I will be perfect next time. If you let me know you’re coming to my class I will make sure NOT to have chocolate bars for breakfast, maybe just do some fruit and yogurt that day!

AND I’ll help you with the other students who may be problems for you! I know who they are, and am willing to give you some intel on each one of them. That’s the least I could do for you!

Oh, and you’re probably wondering about the picture of George Washington on the wall. Yes, I was the one who dotted his face with spit wads…one on each cheek and a direct shot right on the tip of his nose. They were great shots!…but probably not appropriate. You’ll be glad to know that I cleaned up his complexion after school yesterday, although I thought the spit wad on his right cheek improved his appearance a little bit. I can’t help it if I’m a crack shot with a plastic straw. You should see me spitting watermelon seeds into a bucket twenty feet away!

Once again, I wanted to apologize for my behavior. I need to do better. My goal for the year is to only get suspended from school once and I know if I don’t improve my ways I could meet and surpass that total by the time Parent-Teacher Conferences happen in mid-October. You’ll be happy to know that my mom says I won’t be allowed to play Fortnite during my suspension! 

Thank you for being nice!

Your Friend,

Johnathan Lee Davis, III

Why Would You Put Gum In Your Armpit?

September 22, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                    September 22, 2018

                             

Middle school is a time of discovery as eleven, twelve, and thirteen year olds enter a new land of educational challenges, physical awkwardness, and unwise decisions. Like the frightened character in the horror movie who decides to open the door to the room where the strange sounds are coming from (and the theatre audience is yelling “Don’t do it!”), middle school kids do things and say things that make us shake our heads in dismay.

Like the boy last year who told his teacher, “I’m getting tired of looking at your face!” It did not go well for him!

Or the eighth grader who thought it would be cool to body surf down the concrete wall in the stairwell! He got about five feet into his journey and then fell over the side, landing on the steps in the lower half of the stairway! 

Ands then there was yesterday when a boy decided to put his chewing gum into his armpit…underneath his shirt! Just as gum gets stuck on the underside of desks for eternity this boy’s armpit was stuck with some Dubble Bubble!

As with the actions of many middle school students the first question that comes to an adult’s mind is “Why?” Why would a student who can understand algebra put bubble gum in his armpit? Was he trying to keep it moist? Did he not know where else to store it and his armpit wasn’t doing anything anyway? Was it a class where the teacher doesn’t allow gum and he thought he could sneak a few chews in from time to time?

And what did this boy, who by the way did have some armpit hair to help create a situation that gives new meaning to the term “bubblicious”, tell his parents? Where did he get the idea that putting gum in his armpit was a good idea? Did he see his dad do it once in the midst of an elk hunting trip?

Is an armpit gum crisis a disciplinary problem that requires the security guard to be called; or a medical situation for the school nurse to handle; or a custodial situation with some stain remover; or a wood shop problem solved with a little bit of sawing…kind of like cutting some small trees down!

It happened on Friday afternoon. For some middle schoolers Friday afternoon is when they get a distorted understanding of American freedom and think anything is okay. For teachers and school administrators Friday afternoon is like the end of a marathon race. Energy is low, muscles are cramping, their cardio system in at its max, but the finish line is in sight! They are stretching for the tape just about to break it and throw their arms up in triumph…and someone comes into the room or office and says “Jimmy wanted to see if he could fit in his locker and now he’s stuck inside it!”

There is the urge to respond with “Well…he will still be there on Monday when we come back!”, but…then the teacher or administrator remembers that their job description includes something like “rescues students from themselves!”

Substitute Teacher Day Off

September 18, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                     September 18, 2018

                                    

I did not get a too-early call this morning from Timberview Middle School. No phone ringing at 5:30 with urgency! I get did four phone calls from another school, but I ignored them. It’s gotten to the point where I rarely substitute at any other school besides Timberview. I’m like Andy Griffith in the midst of middle school Mayberry. Everybody knows me there! I coach three sports there, with this being my 18th year of coaching boy’s basketball.

So today is a day off! Yesterday I corralled 7th Grade language arts students the whole day, keeping them focused on verbs, mis-spellings, and the green grass of literature. I’ll giddy up the same herd two days from now. 

Today, however, I’m relaxing…kinda’! When I leave Starbucks this morning I’m going up to the school to take care of a couple of details and surprise a coaching teammate with a cup of Americano with a little bit of cream. She deserves it for having to teach 8th Grade math all day.

Since retiring from being a church pastor close to three years ago (Doesn’t seem possible!) my understanding of “a day off” has been altered. It used to be that Monday was the designated day off after the hyper-speed pace of Sunday. Now it’s whatever day I’m not substitute teaching. 

Could be Monday, could be Thursday, but it’s almost never Friday! 

And what do I do on whatever day it is that I’m off? I think about what’s going on at the school, wondering which students will make unwise decisions and which teachers will be ready to pull their hair out. I’ll wonder what new color of hair will appear in a classroom that day and what 8th Grade girls will look like their jeans were vacuum sealed around them. I’ve noticed- and maybe you have also- that my middle school experiences are filtering more and more into my writing. In the first month of the school year I wrote 7 blog posts related to middle school. Today I’ll write 1,000 to 2,000 words in the third fiction book I’m writing and the story will have been influenced by my recent middle school experiences. One of the two main characters is a 7th Grade boy! That’s what I do on my day off! I write about middle schoolers.

I’ll also eat a more substantial lunch today, maybe a luncheon date with Carol. I won’t need to “wolfe down” a Tupperware bowl containing cottage cheese and cucumber, or a PB&J sandwich while gulping a bottle of water. Today I won’t even have to use a plastic fork!

I’ll be able to talk in a normal voice, use the bathroom when I want to, wear a pair of shorts and a tee shirt, and sit in the swing on our back deck and read Vince Flynn. I’ll be able to enjoy a third cup of coffee on my writing stool- the last stool on the right looking out at Pike’s Peak! I can stop at the supermarket and check out the “day old food” discounted rack and play Words with Friends. I may even run by Penney’s and see if they have underwear on sale!

And in the midst of all those opportunities and “down time” I’ll be thinking about Timberview, like a kid wondering what might happen in the next episode of my favorite action TV series. 

Crazy, I know, but it brings a smile to my face! And I’ll ask myself “Was I that dorky when I was in middle school?” 

Absolutely!

The ‘What Ifs’ of Sixth Graders

September 8, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                        September 8, 2018

                      

Squirrels were named after sixth graders! When you’re around sixth graders for very long you just automatically blurt it out. “You’re squirrelly!” And then someone saw a furry looking hyperactive, confused critter climbing the tree in their front yard and he said, “Wow! I’m not sure what that thing is but it’s as squirrelly as a sixth grader so I’m going to call it a squirrel!”

Okay! It probably didn’t happen that way, but it’s a good story, and if you’ve been around sixth graders for very long you understand how plausible the story sounds.

Yesterday I was teaching sixth grade physical education. It’s kind of like filling thirty balloons with air and letting them go all at the same time.

We were teaching the students a new game, which was not complicated to understand. It involved trying to get all of the people on one team to the other end of the field without having the flags they wore around their waists pulled by someone from the other team. 

Simple, right? 

The other teacher I was partnered with that day explained the game thoroughly and then said the words that she wished she could take back, the words that cause body tremors and sweating. 

“Are there any questions?” Hands shot up in the air like 4th of July bottle rockets.

“What if…someone doesn’t mean to fall, but he does? Does that mean he’s frozen until he gets freed by one of his teammates?”

“Yes.”

A future lawyer. “What if…the person who falls has been tripped, pushed, or in a collision that results in his tumble? Would he be held liable for the consequences of the action, or would you take into consideration extenuating circumstances…AND, is there an appeal process in place for the defendant?”

My teaching colleague has a blank stare for a moment. “We will consider each action individually.” The student starts to ask a followup question, but my colleague ignores her and looks at the body attached to another raised hand.

“What if…I’m running down the field and my flag falls off just because? Can I just put it back on? You know…like the wind just blows it off of me, because that wouldn’t be fair!”

“If your flag falls off because of the wind or as the result of some other act of nature you can put it back on and resume the game.”

The future attorney is raising her hand and waving it wildly as she considers her case before the Court of Sixth Grade PE Appeals. The teacher contines to ignore her, and turns her attention to a squirrel sitting on the top row of the bleachers.

“What if…someone calls my name and when I look to see who said my name a different person from the other team runs by and pulls my flag off?”

“Then you are frozen until a teammate frees you.”

“Ahhh!” he responds with a look of agony.

Redheaded girl with a bored look wishing she was in math class. “Do we have to play?”

“Yes.”

Blonde boy who has a tendency to want to always say things that makes his other squirrelly classmates giggle. “What if…someone’s shorts rip right down the middle and their underwear is showing?” Giggles from the gathered.

“If that happens they will be out for the rest of the game.”

“That’s not fair!”

“By the time they go back inside, change shorts, and come back out again, our class period will be over.”

Future prosecutor’s hand going berserk. 

“Is this question relevant?”

“Yes, absolutely!”

“Okay! Last question because we aren’t going to have that much time to actually play the game.”

“I’m not throwing any accusations or inferring that a certain person, who will remain anonymous, would do this, BUT…what if someone from the other team made some offensive remarks about another person in the course of game play? Would that be grounds for, so to speak, legal action?”

My colleague looks at her with a facial expression that communicates “No comment!’

“Okay! Mr. Wolfe’s class is red and my class is yellow! Let’s play!”

And the squirrels rush the field to play the game for the one reason we’ve planned it for. That they will run around like crazy for the next fifteen minutes!

5 Stars for My Book From 3 People

September 5, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                     September 5, 2018

                           

Two weeks ago my cell phone rang around 8:00 in the evening. I was finishing up the rewrite on the sequel book to the first one…that I hadn’t planned on there being a sequel to!

I picked up my phone and saw that the call came from my oldest daughter, Kecia. So I answered, as I have a tendency to do, by speaking Spanish.

“Como esta usted?”

“Huh?” came the high-pitched voice on the other end of the line. It was my ten year old grandson calling on his mom’s phone. Jesse does not speak Spanish yet, at least the way I speak it!

“Is this Jesse?”

“Yes, Granddad!”

“Oh!” (pause) “What’s up, Jess?”

“Well, we just finished Red Hot: New Life in Fleming.”

“You did?”

“Yes, and we really liked it!”

“You did? That’s great!”

I had sent the book draft in an email attachment and each evening right before bedtime Kecia had read a chapter of the book to Jesse and my granddaughter, Reagan. They had read the last chapter that night.

If no publisher picks it up for publication I know at least three of the most important people in my life will have given it “five stars” in their evaluation. (Now they are reading the sequel at bedtime!)

Kecia told me that they had cried when a tragedy had occurred for one of the main families in the book. And she told me that they had enjoyed a certain chapter so much that they read it twice.

Both of the grandkids (Their 3 year old sister isn’t quite into the reading and listening stage yet, although she does get read to every night.) are avid and excellent readers, encouraged by their third grade teacher mom. Their reading level is far above the average for their peers. It’s a byproduct of the fact that they have ended their day with a reading time for as long as they can remember.

So now I wait to hear from the publisher who has the draft. I pitched it to the managing editor of a publisher back in May at the Colorado Christian Writer’s Conference. He gave me his card and told me to send it to him. Since then we’ve exchanged a few emails and he’s told me it won’t be until around the end of October before they’ll make a decision.

Another publishing house of the “vanity publishing” type wants me to pursue it with them, but a good-sized payment is attached to their contract…that is, I pay them and sometime down the road…in a future life maybe!…I’ll break even! 

My two good friends, both with knowledge and experience in the print industry, continue to encourage me and tell me that it is an excellent book. They have edited both my original draft and then my rewrite…as well, as the sequel. They have been drawn into loving the characters and have come alongside me as plots have been shaped and considered. In certain times in the writing of the book(s) one of them has said something like “What if…?” or “Why did you take the scene in that direction?”

The publishing industry is tough competition these days. Companies are much more selective in what they are pursuing. In this time of 140 character tweets people don’t read like they used to. BUT people will still read a good story!

For now I have at least three people who’ve given me five stars. Actually, my two editing friends would join the three related to me, so I guess I’m at five people! 

Now I’ve started writing Book 3. It seems somewhat strange to write a third book in a series where even the first novel hasn’t been published yet…but I want to see how the story ends!

Being Taught By Special Needs Students

September 1, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                            September 1, 2018

                               

I was asked to substitute teach one day this past week in the classroom that serves as the base for the students at our middle school who have special needs. As the day went on I realized that I was the student and they were my teachers. 

They treated me special!

One young lady let me join her in the morning for a few minutes of lego-building before she headed to class. I built a Starbucks drive-thru, which she flashed a smile about, but then threw me a look that told me that I needed to get back on task and stop goofing around.

A boy drew me into being a customer at his pretend restaurant, but when I didn’t put both of my legs squarely under the table he gave them a slight shove to get them where they are suppose to be…before taking my order of a pretend double cheeseburger and onion rings. A couple of minutes later when I had gone to the pretend restroom and then back to the table he repositioned my legs once again under the table like they are suppose to be.

Another young man drew an amazing picture of a mountain nature scene. His classmate flashed a “dab” for me a few times and explained to me what each of the three rubber snakes draped around his neck were with accompanying vital information that might save my life if bitten. 

Towards the end of the day the lego-building student “instructor” was working on math problems. She pulled another chair up close to her and smiled at me. 

“Would you like me to sit down?” She smiled, nodded her head, and patted the seat. Since my lego-building skills were suspect in her eyes, maybe I also needed math help.

Let me interject here! The para-professionals who work with the students are awesome. They guide them towards success in its various forms, whether that be improving their organizational skills, completing assignments, or relating to the other 1,200 students in the middle school. Every day is punctuated with the extreme emotions of tears and laughter. 

The students who take on the role of “peer partner” during each class period of the day are just as incredible and important. They walk with their students to class, help them conquer difficulties, and bond with them in lasting friendships. 

Last year an 8th Grade special needs student was on the school basketball team. Coach Achor told him he would play in a game sometime during the season. His anxiety was evident as he faced the possibility of that, but then the day of the game arrived. All of the special needs staff- para-professionals, teachers, peer partners, and other special needs students- were there. When he went into the game they all cheered. 

And then when he made a basket they all cheered…and cried!

Last week I went back to school for a day to be taught. By 2:45 I had learned a little bit about acceptance, grace, the love of life, and the humor hidden in the simplest moments of life. 

The next day after that I was the guest teacher for 8th Grade science. The student who had drawn the incredible picture of nature was in one of my classes. 

“Hi, Mr. Wolfe!”, he said immediately upon entering the class. “What are you going to do this weekend?”

“Well, (his name) I’m going to do some running, some reading, some relaxing, and some writing.” I should have added, “In fact, I’m going to be writing about you!”