Archive for the ‘Teamwork’ category

Just a Little Cut on My Right Thumb

January 3, 2020

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                  January 3, 2020

                                     

“On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor…Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.” (1 Corinthians 12:22-23,27)

It was a paper cut, but it must have been angry paper…paper with an attitude looking to inflict pain!

The cut only measured a couple of millimeters…I think! I could never understand those ways of measuring things. In laypeople language it measured itsy-bitsy, but it was on the tip of my right thumb. I guess you could say that “it stuck out like sore thumb!”

No big deal. It was only a tiny cut, barely big enough to put under the microscope. I had nine other fingers to take care of details. I never use my thumbs when I type, so there was one thing. I’m a three-fingered typist, two on my left hand and one on the right. Always have been. If I have to think about using more fingers than those three I’ll become frantic, like the person in the movie who has to figure out which wire to cut, perspiration running down his face, along with tears.

So, no big deal on the thumb, right? 

Wrong! I started getting dressed to go to church and I couldn’t get the top button on my dress shirt buttoned. I’ve never worn a tie and had my top button unbuttoned, but that night— Christmas Eve, in fact— I had to resort to looking, as my mom would say, “slouchy!”

With great effort I was able to zip myself up, but I almost had to take my pants off first, zip them, and then “vaseline up” my legs and slide in.

It took me great effort to tie my shoes. I thought about wearing my loafers that I hadn’t put on since the 1990’s and have a hiding spot in the deepest part of my closet, but I struggled through the loops and would have won a shoe-tying race against my 3 month old grandson if need be.

And that’s just getting dressed with the mini-cut! 

At Christmas Day dinner we had a delicious ham, but “the cut” made cutting my piece of meat painful. Eating a pickle was painless, but how many pickles can I person eat as others are piling their plates with ham, scalloped potatoes, corn casserole, fruit salad, rolls, and veggies? Picking up the whole slice of ham and jamming it in my mouth seemed to be unfitting for the occasion. I did that later!

A couple of days later I had to shovel the driveway. Oh, the pain, the pain!

I reached to turn the lamplight off beside the bed. Jumpin’ Jimmy!

I flipped the top open on my container of Old Spice “Steel Courage” Body Wash and grimaced. Where’s that Dove bar of soap when you need it? 

You get the picture! A minute cut on the end of one finger had a ripple effect on the decisions I made, or didn’t make, for a good ten days. It’s still there, but I can at least button my shirt all the way to the top now and I’ve been able to put the Vaseline away without thinking about having to use it.

The pain of the least of these amongst us has a ripple effect on all of us. In the Apostle Paul’s description of the functioning church he never talks about the over-effectiveness of one of its parts. There’s to be no strutting amongst the people of God. Instead, he focuses the health of the church on all of its parts functioning properly…even the tip of the thumb. When one of the parts can’t be counted on it causes the whole body to shift, to rethink how to get something done, and ends up overtaxing the other members. A small cut on my thumb brought that home to me.

The Body of Christ is a unique group. When it began back in the days after Jesus was crucified and rose again it emphasized the importance of everyone. Heck! Jesus emphasized that his whole ministry. Those who were considered “the tips of the thumbs” and “the toenails on the little toes” were given just as much attention and care by Jesus as anyone else. When the church becomes more like the spiritual form of a pyramid scheme the whole body uses its focus.

My right thumb is back to ninety percent now. All is right again in the universe, but I’m putting a sign up in my study “Beware of the Angry Paper!”

Last Day of School Before Christmas Break

December 21, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                   December 21, 2019

                            

I agreed to it. It wasn’t like I was entering a dark unknown cave unaware of the dangers and unexpected holes sending me into the great abyss. I knew I was agreeing to substitute teacher on the last day before the school’s Christmas break. Some of the students had requested me. I’m still trying to decide whether that is a good thing or a warning sign, kinda’ like the army recruiter who smiles at the young buck standing in front of him and making him believe the next four years of his life will be simply a more mature version of Disney World. 

The last day of December school is frequented with sudden fits of stupidity as young adolescents all sugared up feel compelled to commit head-shaking acts of frenzied unintelligence because of their excess consumption of candy bars, peppermint candy sticks, and Starbucks Frappuccinos.

Teachers hold up surrender flags in the form of “Home Alone” and “Home Alone 2”. In reality, by 9:30 they’re wishing they were home alone and wondering why they didn’t take a sick day? 

The sound of shoes sprinting down hallways is common. Students wearing red Santa hats and adorned with tinsel is the norm. Ugly Christmas sweaters and students in Santa suits pass by almost unnoticed. 

In a couple of classes a few students suddenly broke out in song…off key, but still festive. One student blessed me with a candy cane and another with a container of baked goods that were meant for the teacher I was subbing for. When he saw that the teacher was gone he said, with great disappointment, “I guess you can have them!”

The political correctness of our culture leads some students into some degree of uncertainty as to what the right greeting/blessing is. Do they say “Merry Christmas!”, “Happy Hanukkah”, “Have a great break!”, “Happy Holidays!”, or “See ya’ next year!” I wanted to say “May the coming celebrated birth of the Christ-child be experienced in a deep way by you and yours!”, but I knew the typical middle schooler’s attention span wasn’t that long so I shortened my greeting to “Merry Christmas!”

The teaching staff did hallway countdowns as the day went on…”Three classes to go!” “Down to two!”, and words of encouragement “You can do it!”

When the final bell rang the walls of the school expanded as the entire staff exhaled in the realization that survival had been accomplished. 

Timberview Middle School, where I hang out, is a great school, great staff, mostly great students with a few warts thrown in that grab most of the attention. I almost always enjoy my days there, but Christmas break is longed for by everyone. It’s like the  opposite of the college student who comes home on Christmas break. Coming back and living with the parents is okay for the first couple of days, but then everyone is looking forward for the second semester to begin so Junior can leave again.

My First Dear Santa Letter…at Age 65!

December 14, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                   December 14, 2019

                       

Dear Santa,

    

  I’m sending this letter through the air, kinda’ like your sleigh. I don’t know how my letter will get to you, but I also don’t understand how your sleigh can get to New Guinea and Newfoundland in the same day either. Makes me wonder if you have a business arrangement with Amazon Prime.

Anyway, I was never much for sending you letters when I was a little kid. My parents hid the postage stamps and my penmanship really sucked. I knew that the things I had circled in the Penney’s catalog probably wouldn’t end up under our tree. I never ever circled Towncraft underwear and socks and they were ALWAYS under there. Towncraft didn’t seem like it was your brand, but it was the brand of the company my mom worked for. I didn’t know there was any other kind of underwear but Towncraft “tighty whitey’s” until I was like…60!

Back to this Christmas, my list is short and sweet. Well, Enstrom’s Toffee would be the sweet part, that is!

The short part…well, you being up at the North Pole most of the time may not be aware of this, but do you have some kind of toy or device that would make me, and others, better listeners? I mean, there’s all that virtual reality stuff that you’re delivering this days, like those goggles that people put on that somehow take them into a different world like Avatar. (Back in my day we just had the ViewMaster that I used to watch an “episode” of Donald Duck in 3D!)

How much more difficult would it be to have a device or “persuasion”, that would increase our ability to listen to the essence of what someone else is saying without formulating our rebuttal in the midst of their words? 

Maybe this would be something that sorta’ looks like one of those new hearing aids that you can hardly see. The advanced model could even give a shock to someone who decides to get into a word battle before the complete thought is given. 

I admit my hearing has taken a dip from time to time. Just the other day I thought a young lady at one of my basketball practices said “my bad ass stinks”. I looked at her, somewhat confused, and asked what she had just said. “My passes stink,” she responded. I was relieved to know that was it, but, like I said, I’m misunderstanding and not hearing people as well these days as i did a few years ago.

I know, I know, St. Nick, there’s a lot of talking these days. It’s hard to separate the gibberish and noise from the messages and opinions. It’s like a middle school hallway during a passing period. You just want to run to a quiet room!

But perhaps we can make a short stride in a better direction. 

That’s it! You don’t have to worry about any Towncraft products anymore. Since my mom passed away five years ago I don’t feel guilty wearing Fruit of the Loom’s or Hane’s. 

The Enstroms’ though…

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.