Archive for the ‘Teamwork’ category

Having a Teacher’s Third Eye

December 7, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                     December 7, 2019

               

In many ways I’m clueless.

Don’t ask me about who is singing what song. I can recognize Bing Crosby singing “White Christmas”, but I’m a loser in identifying Crosby, Stills, and Nash. Same goes for the whole gaming area. If you ask me about “Fortnite”, I’ll look as lost as a child in the Chicago Futures Exchange.

But one thing I’m pretty good at is figuring out who to keep an eye on in any middle school classroom. My third eye, that is! I don’t have to actually keep my first two eyes on the student, it’s the invisible eye that knows and sees. 

Most of us who have been around the block a few times can still remember teachers we had in school who we couldn’t fool, and others who seemed to be oblivious. One of my high school teachers was so clueless that when he’d leave the classroom for a moment, students would climb out the first floor window and leave, while other students would climb into the classroom. 

Having that third eye is essential for classroom survival and control. Recently I was sitting in on a class who’s teacher I would be subbing for a few days later. The teacher told me that the class was made up of great kids, but there was one student who I’d have to keep an eye on. She said to me, “See if you can figure out who it is.” Even before the class had officially started I knew who the suspect was. She looked at me and I motioned with a slight nod of my head in the direction of the young man. She smiled and nodded back to indicate the accuracy of my choice.

Yesterday I had two classes of sixth graders in the afternoon. Same thing, my third eye knew who I had to be aware of. 

On the other end of the spectrum, a teacher can usually figure out who the students are who will help him steer the class in the right direction. It’s almost like having teammates who are on the mission with you. Whereas some kids will lead the herd to the edge of the cliff, the students who you praise God for will help the teacher in the pursuit of knowledge and understanding.

There are the kids who seem to think the world revolves around them and there are the students who have a desire to help make the world right. 

Oh, there’s been a few times where someone has gone undiscovered in their antics…like the boy a couple of years ago who was handing out Flamin’ Hot Cheetos that he had also doused with a hot sauce called “The Devil’s Blood”. I didn’t catch on for a few minutes. When  the fifth student came to me and asked if he could get a drink of water, as tears ran down his cheeks, I finally figured out something was up. 

Most of the time, however, I’m like a wise ole’ cat fully aware of the mouse trying to get a nibble of the cheese nearby. In each of the sixth grade classes yesterday I knew who had the potential to some day be on the FBI Most Wanted list before I had even finished taking attendance…and they lived up to their potential!

Middle School Weirdness

October 26, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                              October 26, 2019

                           

When I walk down the halls of Timberview Middle School each day I’m taken back by the weirdness. The weirdness is a strange recipe mixture of cluelessness, pseudo-coolness, and a special spice of individuality. It goes like this:

“Mr. Wolfe, I can’t get my locker open and I’ve tried ten times.”

“Okay, let’s have a look.” We walk a few feet to a locker. “I see the problem.”

“What?”

“Your two inch thick backpack strap is hanging out like a human hand trying to escape jail.”

“Oh! So, you think that’s the problem?”

Then there’s the boys who take a clump of their hair and stand it up like a corn stalk with a rubber band or small scrunchie. If a boy wears a scrunchie around his wrist, evidently it means that he is “taken”! That is, a girl gives it to him because she likes him and he wears it to tell her he likes her back. Weird! The corn stalk hair, however, that just looks stupid.

The awesome kids who bring flavor to each of their teachers are offset by the few students who are committed to being bitter herbs in the midst of a great school day. They are the bite of “raw horseradish” in the midst of an apple pie. They come to school seeking to destroy class momentum and the grasp of concepts and ideas. One boy who makes me break out in hives has strengths in the areas of annoyance, immaturity, and inappropriate comments. He works well in a classroom all by himself, but in a classroom of 30 students he is determined to lead the Titanic into an iceberg. I have nightmares of a futuristic scene where he’s been cloned.

Then there’s the new fashion of jeans with rips and holes in them. Yesterday one girl had more holes than Swiss cheese in her pants. I remember the old days when my mom would iron on a patch over a hole in the knee of my jeans. A pair of jeans that needed a third patch ironed on meant it was time to go to J.C. Penney’s and buy a new pair. 

Weird! 

Yesterday a 7th Grade boy stood in front of his locker with an empty Dorito’s chip bag balanced on top of his head. I didn’t understand it, and I don’t think he did either.

There’s students who seem to have bathroom issues. That is, their need to go to the restroom happens about once every class period, but never during lunch and the few free minutes at the end of their lunch period. Put a mathematics calculation before them and they suddenly have irritable bowel syndrome. 

Every passing period there are a few students who walk down the hallway entirely focused on their cell phones. If the school hallway suddenly had a sinkhole they would be swallowed up…still looking at their cell phones until they hit the bottom. 

And in the midst of this climate of strange emerging adolescents are the teachers who seek to lead them to a brighter future through the jungles of their present. 

The Specialness of Special Needs Students

September 28, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                   September 28, 2019

                         

I’ve been looking forward to bedtime these past few days. By 7:30 I’m being challenged to stay upright until 9:00. I’ve been teaching special needs students at Timberview Middle School. Let’s just say that I’m getting my steps in during the school day.

It’s a three week assignment that they asked to take on while the teacher is away. One week is done and I’m down three pounds!

It’s been amazing, amusing, intriguing, and educational. Each of the students has their challenges and their awesome characteristics. Each is unique in some way and just like any other middle school kid in other ways.

For example, yesterday I was teaching a lesson to a group of 8th graders about the American Revolution. I mentioned the Declaration of Independence that was signed on July 4, 1776, and then strayed off with the question about whether any of them have watched fireworks. One girl shook her head yes and then said “Katy Perry, Fireworks.”

Being the old guy who is immersed in the middle school culture and yet totally clueless, I asked what “Katy Perry, Fireworks” meant. That led to us pulling up the song on a cell phone and singing it together. The young lady wants me to work on it and sing it solo-style on Monday. 

And then there’s the 7th grade boy who I do math work sheets with. Each time he gets a problem correct he becomes a drummer with his pencil and the edge of the table. His pencils literally take a beating each day. One 6th grade boy calls everyone “Dude”, even the school principal, but has added “Mr. Wolfe” to his vocabulary now. 

The para professionals who work with the students, go to the regular classrooms with them, help them to the bathroom, and do special feeding for the ones who require it…are incredible! I’m like a fish out of water that is being saved numerous times each day. They appreciate the consistency of my presence and my willingness to help, my conversation with the students and communication with classroom teachers about assignments and daily topics, but they know I’m a green rookie. 

It’s a new kind of education. I’ve discovered the specialness of their personalities, the challenges of keeping their attention, the variety of “paces”…from the young lady that required 28 minutes just to get to the physical education class outside, to the 8th grade boy who I can’t keep up with as he runs to give his mom a hug at the end of the school day.

I see the strain on the paras, who must constantly be alert to the sudden changes in their students’ movements and decisions- the chance of a sudden fall, shift in direction, changes in mood, and need to go to the restroom. There is no down time. A couple of them are often bruised by the unintentional blows that they receive.

And yet the work is rewarding. It is a reminder that the most rewarding moments of life are usually uncomplicated expressions of delight and discovery. Understanding algebra is one thing, but having a challenged student consistently being able to correctly add another number to an “8” is another. 

I see other students trudging through their school days uninspired and uninterested. Most of the special needs students look forward to their school days. It is their daily adventure into a place of discovery and relationships. They walk to class with their peer partners and engage in conversations about life. It’s the place where they are challenged, but also cheered.

For the adults that walk along beside them, it’s an opportunity to see life from a totally different perspective. 

And for me? Well…come Monday I’d better be ready with “Fireworks”!

The Guidance and Misguidance of Coaches

September 15, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                               September 15, 2019

                            

I think the first team I ever coached was the Arlington Heights, Illinois First Presbyterian Church boy’s basketball team that played in the community church league. We were mediocre at best, and probably the last basketball team experience for most of the players. But they had fun lacing up their sneakers and trying their hardest.

That was in 1979. Forty years later I’m still coaching. This year will see me coach cross-country, boy’s and girl’s basketball, and track at Timberview Middle School in Colorado Springs. It will be the first year in the last eleven that I won’t be on a high school bench for the basketball season, but the middle school teams will suit me just fine.

What I’ve learned over the years is that a coach can guide, motivate, counsel, and influence for a lifetime. The words we say and the message that our lives speak lead our athletes towards not only success, but also to what are the most important things in life.

On the other hand, coaches can misguide, destroy, and instill the wrong set of values in their athletes. The sports world is littered with stories of athletes who were abused in some way by their coaches. The sexual abuse situations make the headlines, but the verbal abusiveness rarely is heard about. 

Coaches have the opportunity to fan the flames in their athletes to become passionate about their sport of leisure, or to douse the desire with showers of destructive communication. 

Just as there are stories of helicopter parents who make life miserable for the coaches of their kids, there are tyrant coaches who bring misery into the lives of young athletes. How sad is it for a kid who puts in years and years of practice, looking forward to the time he or she can represent their school and wear the school colors, only to encounter a coach, or coaching staff, who operate from a completely different set of values. How tragic and confusing to have an adolescent from a solid well-grounded family experience a coach whose life priorities are on the other end of the spectrum!

I’ve had the opportunity to know some great coaches who are also great human beings. You can see them teach the game to their players, but also teach their players about life. And I’ve also known some coaches who are, quite simply, scoundrels. My kids were fortunate to have a number of coaches through the years who were also great human beings, the kind of coaches that your kids run up to years later and want to embrace, the kind of coaches your kids want to introduce their kids to!

Coaches whose personal lives and life values are a mess, more often than not, make a mess of things with their athletes and teams. 

The Coach Makes Us Run 8 Miles

August 22, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                      August 22, 2019

                              

We’re a week and a half into middle school cross country season. Eight days, so far, of practice and popsicles. 

Our athletic office secretary received an email from a parent after the first four days. 

“Is it true that the coach is having them run 8 miles a day?” 

No! To this particular mom I could have replied that we’re having a hard time getting her child to run an eighth of a mile! He’s comfortable walking…everywhere and at any time!

In fact, he was one of three who were walking downhill! And it was only a quarter mile into a 1.5 mile loop we were doing. 

The tragically humorous elements of middle school runners are contained on a long list that stretches the course.

One of our other downhill walkers was bemoaning the belief that he had pulled a muscle…during warm-up stretching! He walked most of the way downhill to a park where our workout would consist of a special Swedish type of running called “Fartlek.”

Fartlek means “speed play”, but to middle schoolers it means something that causes tittering through the ranks. “Pulled Muscle Boy” walked and limped his way through the workout. When we finished I told our 70 runners that we’d be running the half-mile back to the school and we’d have popsicles if everyone got there in time…no walking! “Pulled Muscle Boy” was one of the first 15 back, even though he had to run UPHILL! I’m trying to figure out if we can dangle a popsicle in front of him for each run, kind of like the rabbit for a greyhound race. 

And then there’s the other end of the spectrum. Yesterday I challenged the top group of runners to run a four miler with one of our coaches. I left the invitation open for any runner in our second group to try it also. (We have four groups, dependent upon experience and capability.) Other runners in the second and third groups did three miles. Group 4 did 2 miles.

I was delighted to see that about 40% of the kids did the four miler, another 40% did the three miler, and most of the remaining 20% did the two miles. 

It wasn’t 8 miles, but half of it, and considering we have an hour and twenty minutes to meet, talk, stretch, run, and warm down, it felt like an achievement.

There are those in our number who are wondering what their parents signed them up for! A few were maybe under the impression that cross-country was some kind of travel club that would take them to see some places they haven’t seen before. They were partially correct. There are a couple of places where we’ve been running that they probably had not set foot on before the last week and a half. However, none of our places are in any travel brochure!

A couple of our kids seem to have digestive issues at a certain time each day, right after we get stretched out and are about to begin our run. Funny how they have to “run” to the bathroom about that time. 

But then I have a few kids who yesterday ran the three miles and then asked permission to run another half mile. Absolutely, I said! 

I’m hoping for the same enthusiasm today when we go through an interval workout that will test their desire and require determination and perseverance when whining will be the normal middle school go to.

And the promise of popsicles will be dangled in front of them!

Taking Personal Irresponsibility

August 17, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                       August 17, 2019

 

Once in a while you’ll hear the words, although they are often uttered by the designated scapegoat. 

“I take full responsibility!”

Responsibility. It’s a word that gets thrown around a lot with middle school students. We tell them that they’re responsible for making sure they have all of their supplies, that their valuables are locked up, and that their classwork needs to be completed. It’s a big word for them, and they hear it so much that they begin to believe it’s part of our country’s DNA.

But then what gets emphasized actually comes into play. Something happens that the word goes from an emphasized principle to an actual life experience. As fast as someone can say “Not my fault!”, responsibility gets trumped by excuses.

I’m sure it’s been going on for a long, long time, but I remember a situation in 1997 when a young man killed several people and the defense set forward for it was that he had been influenced by video games. In other words, he did not bear responsibility for his actions. He was found guilty, but it put a seed of thought into people’s minds. That is, we are responsible for our actions and decisions, until they affect us adversely…and then it becomes someone else’s fault- a game company, a dog who munched on our homework, the alarm clock that didn’t work properly, or a certain coach who is so stupid he didn’t recognize talent when it was staring at him right in the face.

“Taking personal irresponsibility” is the mantra for a new generation of teflon excuse-makers who believe blame can never stop with them.

It comes at all levels. It’s the new math! The equation is no longer relevant for a lot of people. “Because of A and B, C happened” is not what the excuse-makers believe is true. “A and B” are disqualified from even coming before C!

For example, since Little Johnny didn’t lock up his $150 pair of sneakers in his assigned locker and left them sitting in the hallway, they were taken. Today’s culture abbreviates that statement to “Little Johnny’s sneakers were taken.”

When responsibility becomes simply a word we talk about, but not practiced we lose our voice. It’s like a person of faith emphasizing his belief in God until he has to live out that faith in a life situation. Then the shallowness of his faith becomes evident.

I’m amazed at the news stories that fill the daily paper or on the nightly news. There are only hints of responsibility, mostly when it’s advantageous to do so. More often than not, sparring matches take place of two or more combatants dodging punches as they throw one back in the other direction.

With that in mind, I take full responsibility for my cholesterol level (Although I could blame it on my taste buds’ infatuation with fried foods). 

I take full responsibility for my lack of academic success when I started college back in 1972 (Although 8:00 classes should be banned…as well as 9:00 classes! Was I REALLY expected to get out of bed in time to attend them? ).

I take full responsibility for walking through an airport unzipped one time (Although I think their should be a warning light attached in some way to warn me of my openness, maybe even a buzzer in my pants!).

I take full responsibility for my lack of video game knowledge (Although the blame should be on my thumbs…all ten of them!).

I take full responsibility for the bad financial decisions I’ve made (Although the advertisements have drawn me into making rash decisions. Consumerism is a temptation of the Deceiver!).

There…I feel much better about taking responsibility…unless most people!

Grandkids Negotiations

August 3, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                    August 3, 2019

                                   

It has been “Grandkid Week” for Carol and me. Their mom, and our oldest daughter, went back to school for several days of teacher’s meetings. That, plus she and our son-in-law are participating in a race this weekend called “The Beast”, so we’ve got the three “grands” until Sunday afternoon. By then I may be the beast!

For reference, they are ages 4, 8, and 11…close in age if you fast forwarded about 30 years, but worlds apart this weekend.

If I was updating my resume I could add the experience of “grandchildren negotiator”, for you see getting these three to agree on what activity they want to do, movie they want to watch, dinner entree they want to eat, and bed they want to sleep in is on par with getting China and the U.S.A. to shake hands on a trade agreement.

Dissension surfaces in the form of whining and stomping away from the bargaining table.

“No, Jesse!” directs the four year old. “You’re the bad man. Reagan and I are the good guys!”

“I don’t want to be the bad man.”

The four year old starts to whine. It’s her “go to” to get her way. “You have to.”

“How about,” offers the 8 year old, who often tries to find a way to compromise, “Jesse begins as the bad guy and then we’ll switch places after five minutes? And then, Corin, you’ll be the bad guy.”

The four year old digs in deeper. “No, I don’t want to be the bad guy.” She folds her arms in front of her to reinforce her position of no compromise. It is a picture of conflict between differing personalities and ages. 

They can not come to agreement. The compromiser looks for common ground, but the ground is loose sand that is constantly shifting. 

Time for Granddad to offer arbitration to settle the differences. Reagan will be in agreement, Jesse will consider it, and Corin will frown about any solution that differs from her way. She is the strong-willed child who will someday be either a corporate CEO, the owner of a professional baseball team, or entrepreneur with a defined vision. 

“How about if all of you are the good guys doing battle with an invisible bad guy?”

Jesse agrees and starts play-acting as if he has a light saber. Corin frowns. Reagan says to her sister, “And Corin, we can pretend that we’re protecting the newborn baby from the bad guys.” It has the feel of a similar storyline from the first two chapters of Matthew. It’s her Sunday School lessons emerging in her play. She reasons with her sister and puts her arm around her shoulders to help her understand the value of the scenario. 

The added touch brings the four year old back to agreement and for the next 15 minutes they work together on the mission. The 11 year old then decides he doesn’t want to play any more…and the whole series of negotiations starts over again.

Meanwhile, Carol and I are envisioning a different storyline, one that involves naps…long naps!