Reading The Last Half of the Story

Posted October 5, 2019 by wordsfromww
Categories: children, Christianity, Community, Freedom, Grace, Parenting, Story, Uncategorized, Youth

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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

Posted September 28, 2019 by wordsfromww
Categories: children, coaching, Community, Grace, Humor, love, Parenting, Story, Teamwork, Uncategorized, Youth

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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”!

I’m So Popular!

Posted September 21, 2019 by wordsfromww
Categories: children, Community, Freedom, Humor, Story, Uncategorized, Youth

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WORDS FROM W.W.                                                    September 21, 2019

                                          

I was never really one of the popular kids back in high school. More of a middle-packer…not avoided, but not invited to parties either. Actually, I was so clueless I didn’t know if there were any parties. My church youth group was who I hung out with. We weren’t cool, but we didn’t know we weren’t cool!

But recently I’ve become popular! That’s right, I seem to be in demand. 

You see, I’m getting calls from all over the country. Cadiz, Kentucky…Austin, Texas…Carlsbad, California…Fort Lauderdale, Florida…Hamilton, Alabama…just to name a few.

I seem to be so popular that I received a call from the Department of Social Security telling me that I needed to give them a call because they had suspended my number as a result of fraudulent activity. I didn’t know there was a Department of Social Security. I thought it was called the Social Security Administration. At least, that’s what it was when my dad worked for them. Anyway, fraudulent activity…the price of popularity, I guess.

In fact, I had also received a call from the IRS telling me that I needed to call them because of some irregularities, and if I didn’t call them they were going to “send the coppers to my house!” Their words, not mine!

I never used to get these calls before I became popular. My phone used to be dead as a doornail. Celebrity status has its downside.

Obviously word has gotten out about my importance with the cruise ship lines, because we get brochures from Viking and Crystal Cruise Lines just about everyday in the mail. We’re saving the received mail from them and will use them get the wood burning in the fireplace this winter.

So, some of us are popular earlier in life, but some of us don’t get there until later on. In fact, I’m so popular that I’m even getting calls from somebody in Nigeria wanting to talk to me about something. I haven’t returned his call yet, though.

Gotta’ close quickly! There’s a call coming in from Saskatchewan! Probably want me to be their guests at a Roughriders Canadian Football League game!

The Guidance and Misguidance of Coaches

Posted September 15, 2019 by wordsfromww
Categories: children, Christianity, coaching, Faith, Freedom, Grace, Grandchildren, Parenting, Story, Teamwork, The Church, Uncategorized, Youth

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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. 

Middle School Sub Teacher: Episode XXVI

Posted September 14, 2019 by wordsfromww
Categories: children, coaching, Humor, Parenting, Story, Uncategorized, Youth

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WORDS FROM W.W.                                                    September 14, 2019

                             

It was a week!

I was in a middle school classroom five days this past week. The last four days were for 8th Grade Social Studies, a class I had also subbed in the week before another four days. In essence, I shepherded this flock for the past two weeks.

Some of the adolescent lambs needed some encouragement, some needed a watchful eye to keep them from falling into the chasm of complicating life. A few were identified as wolves in sheep’s clothing, seeking to lead the class to destruction. And then there were the sheep, gentle in nature and smart beyond their years.

There were statements like this: 

            “Rhode Island isn’t a state, is it?” 

           And “Mr. Wolfe, this doesn’t make any sense.” “What’s that?” “It says the Quakers believed in the s______________ of c____________ and s______________. What’s that mean?” “You mean right here in the reading where it says ‘the separation of church and state’?” “Oh!”

A couple of students put a ‘c’ in Quaker and made them Quackers. Puritans became “puritains”, a rare form of plantains. Spell check doesn’t work when you write it out longhand.

One student brought me his essay to read. I encouraged him to try reading it out loud to himself. “When I read it, it’s worded like a dialogue line for Tonto, saying something to the Lone Ranger.” 

I received a few questions such as this: “Mr. Wolfe, how many sentences do we have to write for the essay question?”

“So what you’re really asking is what is the minimum I have to do?”

            Pause before the confession. “Ahhh…yes.”

But then there were the ones who went beyond the expected. Like, “Mr. Wolfe, if I run out of room with my essay can I continue writing on another piece of paper?” I fight back the tears of appreciation. “Thank you for helping me to believe again in the possibility that 8th Grade students can be awesome!”

Talking to two girls who did minimal work on an in-class assignment about 9/11: “Hey, I’m a bit disappointed in the lack of effort. I’ll give you the opportunity to come in during lunch tomorrow and bring a little more effort to the assignment.”

“Why do you want us to do that, Mr. Wolfe?”

“Because I’m concerned about the educational pursuit of excellence in your life.”

“You’re what?” (Confused looks on the two who seem to reside in the land of confusion).

“I’m concerned about the educational pursuit of excellence in your life.”

No comments, just confusion that awkwardly turns into grins.

“Mr. Wolfe, can I come and have lunch with you and talk about strategy for GaGa Ball?” (GaGa ball has become a popular outdoor game that’s kind of like mass dodgeball in a octagon ring).

“Ahhh…okay!”

“Mr. Wolfe, am I one of your favorite students?”

            “Yes, you are! You’re in the top 200!”

 

“Mr. Wolfe, don’t you wish you could teach us again next week?”

“I break out in hives just thinking about it!”

Back to the two girls mentioned above.

“We have homework again!!!” Pained facial expressions.

“Yes, I’m-“

“We know, we know! You’re concerned about the educational something in our lives!”

I smile. I think I’m getting through to them.

Crotchety People

Posted September 7, 2019 by wordsfromww
Categories: children, coaching, Freedom, Grace, Humor, Jesus, love, Parenting, Pastor, Story, The Church, Uncategorized, Youth

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WORDS FROM W.W.                                                       September 7, 2019

                                     

The elderly man in front of me at Starbucks this morning looked like he had been chewing on some bad prunes. He scowled at the barista taking his order. She had misunderstood his mumbling words and he was not one to extend grace. Thinking the best of people, I thought maybe his disposition could be blamed on not having partaken of his coffee yet, but he ordered iced tea. Tea wasn’t going to help improve his personality. 

I wondered what had brought him to the point of being the stereotypical crotchety old man. Was it his diet of high fiber cereal, throbbing knee joints, or Washington politics? Had he always been this way? Would he always be this way?

Crotchetiness has no age boundaries. We may use different terminology for different age groups, but it’s still the same thing. For adolescent students I teach or coach, I instruct them to get an “attitude adjustment.” For young children we say they need a nap. For young adults we tell them to “get a clue!” 

Of course, we all have crotchety moments. I was substitute teaching each day this past week in the same class. One student tested my patience each day…the last class of the day! By 2:45 p.m. I could have been viewed by many as being crotchety. I have the same class this coming week. I’m going to suck on Jolly Ranchers to help my disposition even as my son-in-law dentist frowns at my sugar intake.

People who are momentarily crotchety I get! But people whose personality is defined by the term I have a hard time with. You know, people who can cause sunflowers to wilt by just walking by them. 

And they’re everywhere! In my 36 years of pastoring I could have filled a sanctuary with all the crotchety people I was the pastor for. Thankfully they were spread out over the span of the 36 years. Too many at one time in the church could make the pastor ponder new occupations. It always seemed like crotchety people were at the front of the church potluck line, laying their plate with excessive amounts of the offerings while those at the back of the line would be left with jello salad.

I knew a office receptionist many years ago who would have scowled at Jesus if he had come by. A friend of mine came by to see me one day and she looked at him like she was a TSA agent, all suspicious like. Like a San Quentin greeter she said to him, “What do you want?” In the time i knew her I can not remember her smiling. Her face was like a stone, hard and cold.

At the grocery store that my dad shopped at, right next door to his senior citizen living complex, the cashiers were about as agreeable as month-old cottage cheese. My dad, one of the most friendly people you could ever meet, would cringe every time he exited the check-out lane.

Some people don’t recognize their crotchetiness. They blame life circumstances…their hourly pay wage, lack of air conditioning, dry skin, noisy neighbors, bunions…there’s always something to blame their right to be grumpy. 

Each day of life is a gift that crotchety people seem to forget about.

Okay! I admit it! All this talk about people with a turned down smile is making me a bit crotchety. Unlike the man at Starbucks ordering iced tea this morning, I’m on my third cup of Pike Place. I should be close to ecstasy by now, not Mr. Grumpus! It’s not even decaf!

Middle School Cell Phone Addiction

Posted September 1, 2019 by wordsfromww
Categories: Bible, children, Christianity, Freedom, Humor, Parenting, Pastor, Story, The Church, Uncategorized, Youth

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WORDS FROM W.W.                                                     September 1, 2019

                                    

A few days ago NBC Nightly News ran a story about San Mateo High School, just down the road from Google headquarters. The school has instituted a ban on cell phones during the hours of the school day. Students put their phones in a locking pouch when they arrive at school and go to a staff member with the unlocking device at the end of the school day. There are exceptions for medical reasons and special circumstances.

The reason for the “lockup”, according to one of the administrators, is because the phones were having a negative effect on the educational environment of the school. One student also made the comment that at lunchtime “now students actually talk to one another!”

I see the addiction taking over the lives of adolescents, but also adults. I’m always amazed when I tune into a baseball game on TV at the number of people right behind home plate focused on their cell phones instead of the game that they paid several hundred dollars to attend. Or foru adults sitting at a restaurant table for dinner, each staring at their cell phone. 

Middle school students mimic what they see their older peers doing. They’ve even learned how to be sneaky about it. Most of the classrooms I substitute teach in have cell phone policies that stipulate that they can be used for educational purposes. Students use them to go online for sites such as Schoology and Google Classroom. The problem is that a number of them will be using them for gaming or social media and then quickly switch to Google Classroom when they see the instructor heading their way. 

At my school the consequence for being discovered is to have the student take their phone to the office where it will be kept until the end of the school day. Last year I had a student playing video games on his phone when the rest of the class was ten minutes into doing an assignment. I had him take the device to the office…but he didn’t come back! We discovered from security video that he had gone into the school library, found an isolated corner, and continued to play his video game. 

Some teachers have a “cell phone parking lot”, a bin that phones are put in when students enter the classroom and “unpark” at the end of the class period. Some teachers have become so frustrated that they don’t allow cell phones to even be seen.

San Mateo may pioneer a movement in the opposite direction from technology. My guess is that there are a multitude of teachers who wished they could be in San Mateo’s shoes. 

At the church camp this past summer where I was middle school camp pastor, we limited cell phone use to a couple of short time blocks each day, a half-hour in the afternoon and a half hour at the end of the day. It was amazing to see how the young teens connected with one another when their “cell buddy” was not holding hands with them.

BUT many of them ran to their phones like kids to free candy being thrown in a parade when they had permission!

Cell phone wisdom is needed. Proverbs 3:13 says “Blessed are those who find wisdom, those who gain understanding.” The word ‘wisdom’ is used 54 other times in Solomon’s sayings of that Old Testament book. Anytime a word in the Bible is used a multitude of times it means it’s a need, not just a want! It’s an essential, not a luxury!

Perhaps a class called “Device Wisdom” could help!

Nah! Students would probably learn the information, but not take it to heart. It would be like learning the state capitals- impressive, but not useful for figuring out the consequences of bad decisions.