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The Patience of a Virtual Teacher

September 6, 2020

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

August 29, 2020

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

August 22, 2020

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

August 20, 2020

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

August 12, 2020

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.

Grandkid Com—plete Sent—ences

August 6, 2020

I love my grandkids, and not just because they provide me a wealth of a writing material. They are wrapped-up packages of diverse personalities and unique talents.

Since their mom is a 15 year veteran of elementary school teaching, each one of them has developed pre-mature oratory skills. They are highly proficient in their reading, but…higher still in their ability to interrupt one another…and me in the midst of any sentence.

For example, this morning it took me a full two minutes to ask the simple and brief question “What would you like for breakfast?” It was like taking the Kentucky backroads because of a main road under construction. There are so many twists and turns that one can forget where he was initially heading to.

“What would you like–“

“Granddad, the sprinklers went off this morning even though it rained a–“

“Leo’s asleep on my bed!” (Leo is their new kitten, who catches “catnaps” when he can because of the excessive activity he’s expected to have each day.)

“What would you–“

“Reagan, why is he sleeping on your bed? Why isn’t he in my room?”

“Because you carry him around by his neck and he’s scared of you.

“No, he isn’t!”

“Like I was saying, what–“

“Anybody see my retainer case?”

“It’s right there!”

“Granddad, did you know that Mommy took Leo to the vet yesterday?”

“Yes, I did. So, what would you like for–“

“He got a shot and he didn’t like it.”

“And he hissed at another cat. That would have been so funny!”

“Granddad, did you know that I broke my horse’s neck yesterday?”

“See, Corin! That’s why Leo stays away from you.”

“No, it’s not, Reagan! He loves me and he’s so cute.”

“Do you mean the horse that you bought at the dollar store?”

“Yes, that one who’s head snapped off.”

“I was aware of the snappage. Now, what would you like for–“

“Granddad, when are we going to go to the North Pole?” (The North Pole is a small kid-friendly amusement park a few miles west of Colorado Springs. Carol and I have made it a yearly-tradition to take the grandkids, except 10 month old Joey, for a day of an assorted mix of rides, most of which go around in a circle and make honking noises)

“Next week, I believe. Now, back to my question.”

“Are you wondering what we want for breakfast?”

“Yes, exactly!”

“Just ask us, Granddad! That’s all you have to do. I’ll take a bagel and cream cheese.”

Like I said, Kentucky backroads to finally arrive at the forgotten destination.

The Need For Renewable Grandparent Energy

August 5, 2020

Carol and I have been assigned grand-parenting duties for this week and next as our daughter goes back to her school and 3rd Grade classroom. Those old Geritol commercials from Ted Mack’s Amateur Hour now seem relevant. We need energy packs. Not Red Bull energy, mind you, but just something to get us over the hump…er, humps! Like at 9, 11, and 1.

By 2:00 we’re into the downhill coast, guilt for laying on the couch has long since become a scene in the rearview mirror. By then we give a grandparent edict, proclaiming a mandatory 30 minute quiet time. It’s like receiving a gift of chocolate mousse cheesecake from The Cheesecake Factory.

But if this was a track meet and our 5, 9, and 12 year old grandkids were in lanes 1,2, and 3, the grandparents occupying lanes 4 and 5 would be smoked!

My venti-sized cup of Starbucks Pike Place get me through the first laps off the morning. I feel sharp and witty and maybe to play with their new kitten, Leo. Fixing bagels and cream cheese for their breakfast is non-taxing.

About 9:30, however, the first squabble of the day occurs over any one of a variety of issues: hair ties, the unjust decision of not letting one of them have ice cream, the life threatening restriction on their use of technology (Read video games!), and mediating the conflict over a 12 year old boy not wanting to play Barbie’s with his 5 year old sister.

It’s like working at the Customer Service/Returns counter at Walmart, every return or request presenting the possibility of unhappy consumers and bad Yelp reviews.

Carol and I feel the drain, brain drain and senior citizen slowness. It’s why some restaurants have senior menus. They know it takes us longer to raise the fork from the plate all the way to our lips, and so they scale down the sizes to allow multi-generational families to all get done with their meals at the same time. (I guess that sounded like one of those conspiracy theories, didn’t it?)

And then there’s Kid’s Bop on satellite radio! By the time we pull into the driveway or whatever we’re going, my hearing has been numbed and the hair on my arms is standing up as a result of the constant high-pitched shrieking voices singing song after song that all sound the same. By the time I exit the car I’m longing to hear a voice like Tennessee Ernie Ford or George Beverly Shea, nice and soothingly deep. Of course, both of those have passed on to the place where there are no more squeals and the music is always angelic.

I’d better close now since my heating pad needs to be warmed up again, and I need to visit the bathroom for about the twentieth time today.

First Responder Teachers

August 1, 2020

It’s usually the time of the year when the excitement of welcoming a new batch of kids into a teacher’s classroom is evident. Educators get all giddy and jiggly with laughter. They anticipate the variety of personalities that will descend upon them and how they will influence and impact these young minds.

But this coming school year looks to be like the discovery of a new dark, suspicious-looking planet that has an ominous-sounding music echoing out of its fog. In most schools the teaching staff has the feel of being more like a special ops squad. Think Alien!

My oldest daughter is one of those first-responder teachers (3rd grade) and, I guess, I’m sorta’ one of them since I’ll still substitute teach and coach snotty-nosed middle schoolers this year. Our daughter began teacher meetings this past Wednesday, even though students don’t arrive until August 17. Let’s see…do the math…that’s 13 days of teacher meetings and preparation for an educational environment that may change half-a-dozen times before students enter the classroom.

At my middle school, whose principal is awesome, the game plan has become more like a football team that uses the option offense. There’s about five possible ways this next play can go, so the teachers are being trained in the new most valued skill: flexibility. In other words, always be ready to go in a different direction.

Into this educational tussle, add face masks, rearranged classrooms, kids who sneeze a lot, middle schoolers who are very social and often times clueless about their surroundings, students who may choose to suddenly stay at home, teachers who may already have compromised immune systems, and many of them who have their own kids to worry about, and most people realize that it is a first responder situation for a forest fire with changing wind patterns.

Geez! And I didn’t even mention the handful of parents that teachers have to deal with each year who are convinced their child is the greatest thing since sliced bread, or the those few students who make the educator realize there is something more painful to deal with than a root canal.

In my opinion, teachers are the new heroes, the new frontline workers facing the new adversary. And this school year, they will also be the new learners, receiving a new kind of education that they never received in college classes for education majors.

Perhaps we need a “Teacher Appreciation Year”, not just a “Teacher Appreciation Week”!

children sitting on brown chairs inside the classroom

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Our Growing-Up God That Never Grew Up

July 26, 2020

Andy Stanley talks about the number of young adults and thirty-somethings that have exited the Christian faith that they grew up in. He makes the point that God never grew up as the person grew up.

I’d better explain that a little more.

Kids learned the stories of the Bible and sang simple songs like Jesus Loves Me and Jesus Loves the Little Children. They were good stories and memorable tunes, but then the teenage years arrived along with doubts about faith-based facts. Cause-and-effect came on the scene with high school science classes. They caused adolescents to question the effectiveness of their faith.

The questions became deeper and more cerebral as young adulthood was entered. For many young people the college campus became the clarifying experience as to how deep their spiritual journey was and how much of the Jesus stories and miracles of God did they really believe.

Now back to my first paragraph. Many young adults realized that they were still holding on to the God of their childhood who they had never allowed to grow up, to mature to the point that He could help them in the wrestling matches of what they believed.

Not to be too much of a Debbie Downer, some did experience faith journeys that grew up God as they grew up, but most didn’t. Doubts became sticking points and skepticism became exit doors from the faith.

“The Nones” became a major category for religious affiliation. That is, the person who identifies as a none has no affiliation whatsoever…even atheism. He/she is nothing in particular.  Their childhood faith never grew up. Their grown-up questions stopped being answered.

Honestly, some of the nones became disenchanted with the evangelical church that married itself to the conservative political views, to the point that they didn’t feel comfortable or welcomed anymore.

The Jesus of the scriptures who welcomed questions and dialogue seemed to have disappeared in the places of worship where questions were frowned upon. After a warm welcome at the front door, many nones discovered rigidity in doctrine inside the walls and, therefore, looked for the backdoor exit.

The tragedy in all of this is that Jesus hasn’t changed since he taught on a hillside, gave sight to the blind, and accepted the ostracized off His day. He knew He was the Savior then, just as He is now. He welcomed the children and the grown-ups. Somewhere, however, many of us were stunted in our spiritual growth. We were like the boy who had almost a full beard in 6th grade and was also the tallest and most muscular. Ten years later he was still the same height and muscle-build, and still couldn’t figure out algebra.

I’m far from having everything all figured out, wrapped nicely, and dressed up with a ribbon and bow, but I’ve come to a point where I can ask the Almighty a book load of “Why” questions and not be afraid that I’ll be bolt-smote. There are even times where I haven’t decided what God is going to do, or how He’s going to respond, before He answers; that I’m open to divine surprises, even though they sometimes might be painful.

I’m thankful for Sunday School teachers that I had growing up at Central Baptist Church in Winchester, Kentucky; and First Baptist Churches of Williamstown, West Virginia, Zanesville and Ironton, Ohio. And I’m also thankful for teachers, mentors, and listening ears in my grown years who have journeyed with me in the times of questions and doubts, discoveries and amazement.

I’m pretty sure God has grown up in my life.

white and brown church

Photo by Tom Fisk on Pexels.com

 

Fake Jesus Followers

July 24, 2020

Major League Baseball began last night. The Dodgers filled the area behind the backstop with fake fans. That is, cardboard cutouts of people who, evidently, paid for their unreal likenesses to be positioned there. It’s an interesting concept, to say the least. Professional teams are trying to make the game experience for the players as real as possible with piped-in fake crowd noise, public address system announcer, well-groomed fields, and the national anthem. Dr. Fauci threw out the first ball for a Nationals’ game!

The only things missing are the vendors yelling “Beer” as they stroll up and down the aisles, high-fives with a player who hits a home run, and the criminal price that is charged to park at the stadiums. The Oakland A’s even had Tom Hanks be the voice for a virtual hot dog vendor.

For someone to be there, but to not really be there, for a Dodgers home game, will cost the fake fan $299. That’s the price to be in one of those unique field level seats right behind home plate. And, I noticed it was crowded! You don’t have to worry about social distancing if you’re a cardboard cutout.

The Red Sox are charging $500 for someone’s cutout to be positioned above the Green Monster in left field for a portion of the season. The money goes to their foundation. If a home run hits the cutout, the “hit fan” will receive two tickets to a 2021 home game and an autographed baseball. It’s kinda’ like that carnival game with the dolls that a person tries to knock down with a baseball.

It got me thinking about Jesus and a teaching session he had in the 6th chapter of the gospel of John. He talked about being the bread of life and some of his followers found it to be such a hard saying/teaching that they didn’t renew their season tickets…er, that is, they no longer followed him. The season became too tough, too much of a downer. They could no longer put their heart, mind, and soul into following the carpenter from Nazareth.

Cutouts of real people at baseball games is an analogy of Jesus followers in the midst of a crisis. They’re there, but not really. They’ll be back when God gets back to blessing them with problem-free lives, jobs free from stress and worry, and the sanctuary has only smiling faces and the sounds of laughter.

Maybe that sounds cynical…okay, it does sound cynical…but a ballpark with unreal people seems a few steps away from reality. It’s like the sports industry is pretending it’s business as usual. We can pretend like that in church, also, because the book of Lamentations doesn’t fit into the personal theologies of a number of folk.

close up photography of four baseballs on green lawn grasses

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