Archive for the ‘Youth’ category

Middle School Speeders and Laggers

November 9, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                      November 9, 2019

                             

I’ve noticed something about middle school students. Most of them have gotten their speed controls confused. They speed when going slow is the wise decision and they go slow when speed is better suited for the moment. 

Somewhere along the line wires got crossed. Rewiring doesn’t seem to be an option now. Instead, teachers monitor the hallway speed zones and take note of slow-moving students taking their time to get back to the math or language arts class. 

For example, I substitute taught in a seventh grade science class yesterday. They were taking a test. Before handing out the three page exam, I emphasized that they should take their time and recheck their answers when they were done. Some listened, others didn’t. Fifteen minutes into test time several students rushed their papers to me like they were trying to be the first to buzz in on Jeopardy. 

On the other hand, I’ve noticed one student who seems to have to go to the restroom every class period. When he goes…to go…his classroom absence more resembles the Israelites’ 40 years of wandering in the wilderness. He never seems in a rush to “cross the Jordan” back into the classroom.

At lunchtime several students remind me of Joey Chestnut eating hot dogs at the Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest on July 4th. They throw their lunch items into their mouths without a need to taste what they’re eating. Their objective is to be one of the first ones to get to the GaGa ball pit outside. There should be a mandatory serving of peas and carrots for every middle school lunch. It would act as a dietary speed bump.

On the other hand, rarely will there be a student who is quick to pick up a piece of trash under or on their cafeteria table, especially if it wasn’t put there by him/her. The same student who is quick to grab a Cheeto from someone else’s bag treats a chip bag wrapper like the source for the Bubonic Plague.   

At 2:45 when the final bell rings to signal the end of the school day the scene is similar to a Walmart 5:00 A.M. Black Friday sale. Kids fire up their turbos and battle the hallways in a human sorta’ Dodge-Em Cars. Teachers stay to the sides for their own safety. To cross the hallway during these few moments is a recipe for becoming roadkill.

On the positive side I’ve seen several students in non-academic settings, such as Target or the supermarket or an Air Force Academy basketball game and they are quick to acknowledge me with a greeting. I was glad to see one of them because I couldn’t remember if he had ever returned from his restroom wilderness journey or not. 

The Influence of Mis-fluencers

November 3, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                              November 3, 2019

 

Freddie Bentley is a 22 year old British reality TV star and social media influencer. That is to say, what he says, for some strange reason, influences the minds and beliefs of others. Freddie stated his belief this past week that World War II shouldn’t be taught in school because it’s too intense for young minds. The Gen Z influencer thinks the past is best left in the past.

He’s a part of a growing number of social media influencers who might better be described with a new title, “mis-fluencers”. 

“Mis-fluencers” are those who have taken advantage of their elevated social media popularity to promote ideas that others buy into simply because of who has said it, even if it is idiotic!

Mis-fluencers are okay with leading the Titanic on full speed towards the iceberg. And let’s face it! Social media is over-populated with mis-fluencers in every age bracket, every political persuasion, and every industry. They are evidence for the troubling trend that more and more people can’t think for themselves, but follow whatever tune the pied piper is playing, bad notes and all.  

Misguided ideas easily accepted by people who can’t process thought patterns lead to a chaos that awaits in the fog of the future. 

Freddie Bentley doesn’t believe that we need to learn about the past because of the challenges of the future. The past, however, is destined to be repeated if we don’t learn from its mistakes. 

I cringe at the “mis-fluencers” of Hollywood, the sports world, Westboro Baptist Church, and the Tea Party. The urgency of convincing the populace knows no boundaries. The pull to gain a following knows no limits, whether it is convincing fans that a wide receiver is worth a boatload more money for being able to catch a football, to a politician making his followers believe that the other side of the political spectrum is over-crowded with idiots.

Most of the responses to Freddie’s mis-fluency were not in his favor…but there were several who were fully in support of what he was saying. It is the wonder and delight in our belief in the freedom of thought, as well as the red flag that says the potential for a fire storm has been raised. 

A Man Before My Reality TV Time

October 30, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                   October 30, 2019

                           

I was born in 1954, about sixty years ahead of my time. With all the reality TV shows on these days I’ve figured out that a reality TV show about me, or my special quirks, is still in the future. If there can be a TV show about Doctor Pimple Popper, I’m sure I could have been just a couple of years removed from starring on screen with my nasty toenails and emerging aging spots.

In fact, looking back over my life I can come up with a long list of reality TV show ideas that I could have been featured in. For example, “College Prank-stars”! My creativity came out as I lived in various dormitories. I flunked Latin, but I would have “aced” laughter. Like when I put Orange Tang powder mix under the bed sheet of a friend down the hallway and then turned the heat up full blast. At three o’clock in the morning he woke up sweating and his back a sticky orange.

Or maybe a show called “Benevolent Bill”, where I’d pay it forward for the family’s McDonald’s order who are in front of me; or take care of the cost of the next person who comes into a Starbucks. The cameras could zoom in on their reactions. What would the Girl Scout think if I came up to her outside of the supermarket and bought her whole supply of cookies? Or left a fifty dollar bill as a tip for the hotel housekeeper! Or left a note for the trash collector guys saying, “No trash this week, but here’s four tickets to Saturday’s Nuggets game in the front row.”

What a hoot!

According to my wife I could star in a show called “Snore Roar”. One time she recorded me in the middle of the night. The house shook in the midst of the thunder. It could be a show with sub-plots like the grandkids being afraid to have a sleep-over and Carol shopping on Amazon for ear plugs. A spin-off show could be “Alas! He Has Gas!” Not proud of that one!

My study is loaded with books, so maybe I could star in a show entitled “Book Mo-Bill”! Each episode could be divided into a “give” part and a “receive” part. I wouldn’t be able to receive…or buy…a new book until I had given one or more away. Not sure it would take off, but I like the name for the show.

“Annoying Neighborhood Canines” would bring out one of my “pet peeves”! I’d walk around the neighborhood and have confrontational conversations with neighbors whose dogs bark constantly and leave their poop for other people to pick up. Networks seem to like those dramatic encounters and, Lord knows, our neighborhood has its share of barking dogs.

And finally, I think a hit show could be “Middle School Substitute Teacher”. It would be like a reincarnation of “Welcome Back, Kotter!”, the show that gave us, amongst other things, John Travolta! The quirks and personalities of 11 to 14 year olds would lend themselves to a never-ending supply of episode ideas. Think of it! Cafeteria conversations, principal office dialogues between administrators and offending students, middle school boys discovering deodorant sticks for the first time, and the perusing of the enormous “Lost and Found” tables. 

Yes, my reality TV hit shows are things of the future that someone else will star in. For now, I’ll just have to sit in my favorite Starbucks on my favorite stool (Last stool on the right, looking out at Pike’s Peak), drinking my Pike Place brew, and thinking about what could have been.

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. 

Hide and Scare

October 12, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                        October 12, 2019

                                      

There are certain events and traditions that each of our families practice that stand out in our minds. We remember them years later and long to return to those moments. They aren’t necessarily Grand Canyon pictures, but rather shared experiences that still reach down and touch our hearts.

Simplicity may define them. I remember family Monopoly games in my growing up years. I remember my sister hiding some of her play money under her legs to make her brothers believe she was a Monopoly welfare recipient.

I remember riding in the family car to Paintsville, Kentucky. The road was almost as curvy as Hawaii’s “Road to Hana”, so Mom would make each of the kids take a Dramamine before we left Winchester. 

For Carol and me, we’ll always remember hiding the Christmas presents in the freezer in the garage. The freezer no longer worked, but it worked as the depository for toys bought at summer garage sales. 

We’ll remember February and March spring break trips to her parents, Richard and Barbara Faletti, living in the Phoenix area; and we’ll remember my mom always greeting the kids with the statement “Give me some sugar!” Our oldest daughter, Kecia, got into the tradition of bringing her a sugar packet in response.

We’ll remember Christmas Eve Candlelight services at church and countless soccer games for all three kids. We’ll remember all of our cats, all named by the kids: Tickles, Prince Charming Kisses, Katie Katie CoCo Puffs, Duke. and Princess Malibu (Boo). I have no idea how the name “Duke” appeared in the midst of the rest. It must have been David’s choice. He was prone to being short and to the point. 

We’ll always remember Lizi having a piece of pizza sausage stuck to her cheek, totally unaware of its attachment.

And NOW, new traditions are being formed. One of them involves the three older grandkids (Older, because #4 made his debut on September 19…yes, 9/19/19! A palindrome!). We now play a game at their mom’s house that they’ve call “Hide and Scare.” 

Here are the simple rules. Granddad (That’s me!) goes and finds a hiding place while the grandkids count to fifty in the main level bathroom. On the mention of “fifty” they come searching. Grandad is expected to hide in a different place each time…closets, behind shower curtains, around corners, in the pantry…and he is also expected to do things that make it scarier, like closing all the doors to all the upstairs bedrooms and placing decoys under blankets to fool the searchers. 

“Hide and Scare” went on for an hour yesterday. I got my steps in going up and down the stairway. Each hiding moment was culminated with “the scare”, jumping out of the closet with a scary yell that sent the searchers squealing and then laughing back to the main level restroom where the whole sequence would begin again. Granddad is expected to give a monster-like cry at the least likely moment. 

It’s something that they will remember, and years from now they will think back to those moments and have a moment of inner giggling. 

You see, we have a habit of not remembering, and it’s the remembrances that get lost in the busyness of life that bring a sweetness to it. Sometimes our approach in the present has a soured feel to it, blind to the blessings in our past. Perhaps we need someone to request that we “give them some sugar”, or, better yet, we need the sweet memory of a granddad standing in a closet waiting for the anxious moment of giggling grandkids to discover his hiding place.

Reading The Last Half of the Story

October 5, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                      October 5, 2019

                      

I’ve finished two weeks of a long-term substitute teaching position for a teacher who works with students who have special needs. It’s a day that, in basketball terminology, would be comparable to a motion offense. All the players are moving…and moving…and moving!

The calmest moments of my teaching day come mid-morning when I read for about 20 minutes to a small group of sixth and seventh grade students. They’ve been reading Percy Jackson: The Lightning Thief. 

I picked up the story on page 160, and I entered a world of confusion and cluelessness. That is, trying to figure out what’s going on halfway through a book is about as easy as the prep for a colonoscopy exam. 

Some books are painfully predictable, but Percy Jackson brings in Greek mythology, tour guides turning into monsters at the top of the Gateway Arch in St. Louis, strange dreams, strange characters, and plot twists.

I’m sure that starting at the beginning of the book would clear up much of my confusion, but that option was not available for me. The students had already traveled through those first chapters. 

Two weeks into the reading I’ve been able to figure out why some things are the way they are, but the picture is still cloudy.

Beginning a novel halfway through is comparable to trying to understand people who are halfway through their life journeys. We have a multitude of questions as to why they think the way they do, their lack of emotion or being overly emotional, their addictions and passions, their propensity for making the same mistakes over and over again, their reluctance to talk about their past or their skepticism about the future. 

When we’ve missed the first half of the book we’re confused about the decisions, the unrest, and the attitudes. And let’s be honest! It’s hard for any of us to look at someone’s disrespectful behavior and think to ourselves, “I wonder what happened in his past that brought him to this display of behavior?” 

How someone became so self-centered and arrogant is a question that is usually beyond us. When did Jeffrey Epstein become so arrogant that he felt entitled to any woman he desired? How did he come to that point of committing reprehensible acts whenever he desired? Did his billions end up blinding him to what is moral and right, or did he have those behavior patterns before the billions insulated him?

On the other side- the compassionate side- of the character fence how did Mother Teresa come to the point where her life calling was caring for the “untouchables of” Calcutta? What put her on the path towards mercy? 

As I walk amongst the students, special needs and others, in Timberview Middle School, I try to keep my judgment to a minimum and grace to a maximum. I often shake my head in bewilderment about what I’ve heard or seen. 

On Monday I’ll read another few pages of Percy Jackson. More questions will pop into my head about “what in the world” is happening, but there will be glimpses of understanding. It will be better than the Latin class I took my first term of college. At no time, during that torturous ten week period, did the clouds part for me to the point that I understood! It was all Greek to me…even though it was Latin!

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”!