Posted tagged ‘7th Grade’

Why Teachers Deserve More

March 10, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                            March 10, 2018


When the teachers in the state of West Virginia went on strike for a pay increase I found myself conflicted. I agreed…some, but also was uncomfortable with it. So I had to ask myself why I was uncomfortable with the idea of teachers holding picket signs and demanding more?

The answer I found spoke to the images I held in my own mind of who teachers are and what they are about. When I think of teachers- the teachers I had in my growing up years back in the 1960’s, and the teachers I know today- I seldom think of how much they are paid. I think of sacrifice, impact, dedication, influencers, passionate people, shapers, leaders, and guides to help students discover

I don’t think about compensation and pension plans…and that’s part of the problem! When I look at the whole picture of teaching, compensation is just one of the many colors that are used to paint the portrait. We rely on teachers to do so much that we often forget that they deserve more.

Most of us have heard the arguments. “Well, they only work nine months out of the year! I wish I had a job like that!” Right!!! As a pastor I heard the same jab at my calling. “Must be nice to only work one day a week!” I wanted to reply “If I didn’t have a congregation filled with messed up people I COULD just work on Sundays!” People who are stuck in a time warp of the belief that teachers only work nine months out of the year are as clueless as a first grader in trigonometry class! Summers are now filled with preparation for the next year, reviewing textbooks, continuing education, interview committees, team meetings, getting the classroom ready, strategizing, etc.

Meanwhile, I could almost justify what teachers are compensated…if all they had to do is teach! But, guess what? Now their job description has been compounded and multiplied (I substitute taught 6th Grade math yesterday!). They are now classroom counselors, social workers, expected to straighten out the mess of the increasing number of students who come to school from dysfunctional families, caregivers, educators of students with attention spans resembling hyper puppies, and judges giving rulings about misbehaving students whose parents still think they are angels in disguise.

As a substitute teacher this year I’ve encountered a student who continually fell asleep in the first class of the school day because he’d stay up until one o’clock in the morning playing video games; a student who did not come to school regulated four out of the five school days that week because he, evidently, was not taking his medication; a student who was disruptive numerous times in a class period and, literally, could not help it; and numerous students who came to school without having anything to eat and became more sluggish as the school day went on.

Teachers are expected to be the problem solvers of the messes that many parents drop off at school at 7:30 in the morning. For many parents, teachers and school are seen as cheap child care. Thus, when school gets canceled because of the weather, or even has a two hour delay, the number of irate parents goes off the charts. What are they expected to do with little Johnny on a Tuesday work day?

When I think of my school days growing up I can remember, and see the faces, of my teachers. I remember Mrs. Riley, Mrs. Nuzum, Mr. Cooper, Mrs. Waybright, Mr. Jenkins, Ms. Lewis, Mr. Trent, Ms. Gruber, and Mr. Burcham…fifty years later! I can not remember the names of my banker, doctor, pharmacist, tailor, and others. I can remember the name of my elementary principal, Mr. Morton, but not the name of the town’s mayor or police chief.

Teachers have been taken for granted and taken advantage of. They deserve more, and when I say they deserve more I’m not just talking about compensation!

Adventures of A Substitute Teacher: Field Trip

May 13, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                               May 13, 2017


School field trips were always awesome! I remember my first one back in…1960! Our class went to the Royal Crown Bottling Company plant in Winchester, Kentucky. We discovered how they made the sugary drink and then each student received his/her own bottle to drink at the end of the tour. Awesome! RC Cola was our standard back in those days!

Field trips are no different today! In the past two weeks I’ve been a part of two 7th grade field trips. The first was an “educational” educational experience. The second was an “educational” experience to a minor league baseball game. Whatever and wherever class field trips take place some common elements exist.

1) There are attempts at adolescent romance! Mostly unsuccessful, mind you! You can see the hints of it on the bus ride. Most of the two person seats, which were mandated to hold three, get occupied by three of the same gender, but then there were the couple of seats where a boy wearing his dad’s borrowed cologne and a young lady who is trying to look like she’s twenty get scrunched together…happily! Whereas most of the bus passengers were counting down the minutes until they could unpack themselves these “couples” wanted these moments to last forever! They are now “an item!” At the baseball game I saw a couple of “roosters.” Game time temperature was 50 degrees (It did get warmer, but the forecast was for a high of 58 that day), and a couple of the young men wore tank tops to the game. They were proudly modeling their biceps, which must have looked bigger to them than they actually were. I watched, and was intrigued by, these boys, who did not pay one bit of attention to the baseball game going on. The young ladies crowded around them weren’t paying attention to the pitch count either. They were focused on whether one of the these guys was going to make a pitch to them. The next day a young boy, with one blonde hair sprouted on his chin like a dandelion, told me he had gotten the phone numbers of a couple of girls from another middle school. What???

2) There is money that is burning a hole in someone’s pocket! At the baseball game I heard one boy, who was surrounded by nachos, cotton candy, and a Pepsi, make the remark, “I have seventy dollars in my pocket!” He was like a concession stand high-roller! By the end of the game He had a couple of coins and a sick-looking expression on his face. I was glad to know that on the return trip he was riding on someone else’s bus. There were the students who hadn’t brought squat and those who had stopped by the ATM on the way to school. One student looked at me and with a high pre-puberty voice said, “Mr. Wolfe, guess how much I paid for this popcorn and Pepsi?” I gave up. “Twelve dollars!” I looked at him and asked, “Well, why would you spend that much?” “I needed to eat lunch!”

3) Someone will lose something! One frantic student ran to one of our bewildered teachers, “I lost my hoodie!” Several moments of desperation resulted before another students came up with the misplaced hoodie that had simply been left behind. One reason God created necks was to keep the heads of middle school students from getting lost from the rest of their bodies! I’m always amazed at how trusting parents are with cell phones for their sons and daughters who lose their math homework with regularity!

4) On field trips students often discover that their teachers are really people! My teaching partner, Ron McKinney, and I danced together in the midst of the educational establishment we visited. There was a peppy song playing in the background. The students discovered that their teachers could actually…get crazy! They discovered that their teachers could actually function OUTSIDE of the classroom! It was a scary moment for many of them! Scary also for Ron and me…because someone videotaped us on their cell phone! Where and when will the video resurface? We live in fear that the momentary lapse of our “teaching persona” will be discovered!

Adventures In Substitute Teaching: Old Mr. Wolfe

May 10, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                           May 10, 2017


I have nicknames for many of the students I substitute teaching for. I’ve been in their classrooms enough that having a Mr. Wolfe-created nickname is a badge of honor…sorta’!

Bryson has become Bison, Marina gets called Marinara, Alex is Arby’s, Josh with his man-bun is “Pimple Head”, Jonah has become “Goat” (His choice! He says it is an acronym for “Greatest of all the rest!” I pointed out to him that the acronym would then be “Goatr!” He gives me a blank look…like a goat!)

I rattle off group nicknames also, like “Fruit Loops”, “Munchkins”, and “Space Cadets.”

Evidently, turn about is fair play, because a day of subbing in 7th Grade Science produced a new nickname for the teach!

Back in my high school days I was nicknamed “Beowulf” when my sophomore English class was studying the old story. “Bill Wolfe”… “Beowulf”…it stuck to me like a fly on a fly strip. In due time it got shortened to simply “Beo.” People I went to high school 45 years ago…no, it can’t be that long!…still call me “Beo.”

On this day of science discovery a new name was delivered my way. As my first class began trudging into the portable classroom of my friend, Ronnie McKinney (whose uncreative nickname is “McKinney!”), the pre-bell chatter began. One of the students who I had nicknamed “Abnormal” (Abigail is her real name) asked me how tall I was. I responded with “5’6” and 1/2.” Then I added, with a note of pride, “However, I used to be 5’8”!”

“So you’ve shrunk?”


Another young lady who I nicknamed “Camm-ay” (from Cammie), saying her name like she’s French, joined in the conversation. Since I refer to her as “Camm-ay”, she calls me “Wolf-ay!”

“Wolf-ay! You’ve shrunk?”

Another young lady, Ky-lay joins in. “Like a grape!” Wolf-ay is like a raisin!” Everyone laughs, and I even chuckle about the personalized humor.

“Wolf-ay has become all wrinkled!”

“It happens!” I admit.

Three minutes later as the class is about to begin there is laughter by the white board at the front of the class. I know something is up. I didn’t graduate from high school with a 2.4 GPA because I was stupid, mind you! I gaze at the board as the students clear out of the way. Camm-ay has drawn two pictures with a dry erase marker. The first one is an oval shaped figure with two stick legs. The picture is labeled with the words “Young Wolf-ay!” The second picture is also an oval shaped figure, but a bit leaner with a few lines squiggled through it. It’s a raisin! And the name beside it is “Old Wolf-ay!”

I chuckle at their humor aimed lovingly at me. During the course of the day and since I’ve been referred to as “Old Wolf-ay” and “Raisin” quite often.

Even as I write this I’m picturing the drawings…and I’m still chuckling!

Seventh Grade Peer Pressure…Er…Influence!

April 8, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                April 8, 2017


I substitute taught Health class for 7th graders one day this past week. There is something about 7th grade that resonates with me. Maybe it’s because it was such an awkward year for me back in…1967! Lord, help me! That means that this is the 50th anniversary of my 7th grade year! (I should make a Chef Boyardee pizza tonight and relive the memories!)

In the Health class we talked about peer pressure. Or, put in a more positive term, peer influence! I don’t know about the students, but I enjoyed it. The discussion was interesting, as we identified different ways our peers influence us…positive and negative. I don’t remember “drugs” as being one of the conversation pieces when I was in 7th grade, but kids today are feeling the pressure to experiment.

Social media was not a temptation back in ’67! We passed notes that shared information like “Bobby wants Jenny to be his girlfriend”, or “Fred told Mr. Smith he was full of crap and he’s in the principal’s office now!” That was our non-verbal information system. 7th graders today are a little more sophisticated, and becoming wiser. They are increasingly knowledgeable about the advantages and dangers of social media. They know about SnapChat and texting, have heard the situations involving sexting, and the ripple effects of comments that people have made on Facebook.

The encouraging thing for me was that many of them identified the peer group they “hang around with” as being the most important decision. Wise choices flow much easier from a student who has friends who also make wise choices.

That is one factor that has not changed in fifty years. I remember one of the friends I had back in my Williamstown, West Virginia 7th Grade year was a boy who was fun to be around, but prone to “doing stupid!” I laughed a lot around him, but “did stupid” a couple of times when I was with him. Like when one of our teachers heard him utter a curse word and told him to watch his language. As she continued down the sidewalk from the school I hollered after her, “What are you going to do about it, you old bag?”

Dumb, dumb, dumb! Five minutes later I was in the principal’s office along with my cussing sidekick. That was back in the days when principal’s still had paddles in easy to retrieve places in their offices.

I went from dumb, dumb, dumb to my butt being numb, numb, numb!

I tended to make unwise decisions when I was with my cussing friend. Our family moved a year later to a new town, and as an 8th grader I hooked up with two friends who tended to make wiser choices, Terry Kopchak and Mike Bowman. Funny…as I think back on it now I realize I never saw the inside of the principal’s office that year!

Two years later we moved again and I connected with another positive peer group of Mike “Fairboy” Fairchild, Tommy Douglas, and Dave “Hugo” Hughes. They rescued me from a couple of other guys who tended to “do stupid” and seemed cool! Fairboy and Hugo were both groomsmen in my wedding, and I officiated the wedding ceremonies of Dave and Robin, and Mike and Carol. I’m increasingly thankful for these friends who rowed the boat with me in positive directions.

Most 7th graders today understand the positive influences of their peer group and the negative peer pressure of those who like to live dangerously. They know that we all make bad choices and dumb decisions, but also are acutely aware of the fact that a positive peer group will tend to minimize the number of poor decisions.

I asked the class the question “If you could put percentages on how much of the peer pressure you experience is negative and how much is positive what would be your assessment?” Several of them said it was 50-50, but one wise and intelligent young lady said 90-10! I assumed she was saying that 90% of the peer pressure she experienced was negative, so I asked her to explain her 90-10 assessment. That’s when she indicated that the 90% was positive, and it came down to the friends she hangs around with. I loved her simple solution: “If your friends tend to make stupid choices you need to get some new friends!”

Put another way, if your friend is very familiar with the furnishings in the principal’s office…and even has his name on one of the chairs…you need a new friend! Don’t abandon him, but don’t do a Friday night sleepover at his house either!

Expanding On the Expectations

January 25, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                        January 25, 2017


I recently wrote a post on the list of “class expectations” I presented to my 7th Grade Social Studies classes that I’ve been substitute teaching. Next Monday will be my last day, a journey of fifteen days with 120 emerging citizens. It’s a journey that has involved death- the electric pencil sharpener croaked with a pencil still jammed in its mouth! A journey that has reacquainted me with how short school lunch periods are. A journey that has included students who want to do their best and others, similar to how I was, who just want to slide by! A journey where, like a shepherd, I’ve had to make sure that some of “the lambs” don’t wander off…topic!

The new teacher has been hired and the students get the news about her today. A couple of them have told me that they hope I’m their teacher for the rest of the year, but, honestly, I’m ready to resume a regular writing schedule occupying the last stool on the end at the counter of my local Starbucks gazing out at Pike’s Peak.

So here’s my list with some elaboration:

  1. Be here.
  2. No whining!
  3. No gum.
  4. Respect me.
  5. Treat each other with respect.
  6. Don’t do stupid.
  7. Expect to learn.
  8. Expect to even enjoy what you’re learning.
  9. Expect to teach me as we go.
  10. Expect to laugh…but never in a way that mocks someone else.
  11. Try your best, and always seek to do better.
  12. Don’t be a distraction or a disturbance.
  13. Be honest and have integrity.
  14. Share your ideas!
  15. Have fun!

Number 6- “Don’t Do Stupid!” One student said, “Mr. Wolfe, that’s not proper English!” I said that I knew that, but wanted to make a point that no one IS stupid. Doing stupid is a decision that someone makes…like the former football player I coached a few years ago who was dared to walk into the girls’s locker room where the girl’s softball team happened to be! He made the decision to do stupid…and got a five day suspension!

Number 11- “Try your best, and always seek to do better!” One student asked me what she had to do to get an “A”, and then the very next day she whined (#2- No whining!) that the world government project I had assigned to them was too hard. I reminded her of the question of the previous day, and added “I don’t know if you are aware of this or not, but ‘A’ does not stand for ‘Average!’”

Number 14- “Share your ideas!” Many of the students have taken me up on this one. Usually the ideas begin with words like “We should…” or “Do you know what would be cool?” And that has been way cool!

Great kids! Great experience! I look forward, however, to being able to actually chew my lunch!

Class Expectations

January 21, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                          January 21, 2017


Two weeks finished as a long-term substitute teacher for 7th Grade Social Studies! 120 students each school day filtering through one door into a roomful of desks that, unlike when I was in school, have no one’s initials carved into them.

Yesterday a young lady, whose family I’ve known for years, came up to me with “the long face” on. She looked at me and moaned, “Everyone loves your class!”

She’s not in it.

I don’t have a degree in teacher education, or been licensed/certfied by the state. I am not knowledgeable about educational philosophy, techniques, and curriculum. I’m simply an old fart who is enjoying the experience. It goes to what I told the class on my first day. I presented them with 15 Class Expectations, kind of like flags on a ski slalom course to show the downhill skier where he/she needs to go.

Number 8 on my list is “Expect to enjoy what you are learning!” There’s classrooms and times when straight lecture is the needed form, and there are other times when student input and discussion is the best road for discovery. I realize that I am not a grizzled veteran of the educational system, but I’ve listened to the stories of my sister, who taught university students who were looking towards careers as teachers, and my daughter who currently teaches 4th Grade. They found, and find, a balance between learning and enjoyment. My daughter greets her new class of students each year dressed up as a grandmother. Her students love her, and she loves her students!

I remember many of my teachers…the good, the bad, and the ugly. I remember the classes that I trudged to and from each day, wondering if there was an end in sight. My vision wasn’t on what I was learning, but rather on survival!

I replaced a teacher who the students loved. Several times in the past two weeks students, in referring back to him have begun sentences with the words, “Remember when we…”

I see it as an opportunity to guide students towards enjoying what they are learning, as opposed to turning them off to knowledge.

Number 10 on my list of expectations is “Expect to laugh…but never in a way that mocks someone else!”

Laughter is the saddle that keeps the student on the educational thoroughbred. We’ve laughed a lot these past two weeks as we’ve talked about “Supply and Demand”, “Taxes”, and other economic topics. They were tested on the material yesterday. I haven’t graded the papers yet, but I’m optimistic that almost all of them did well. If not…I may be blogging a retraction tomorrow!

As I would tell a story that made a point, and also cause laughter, students would raise their hands and share their own stories about similar experiences. Our laughter and chuckles bonded us on the road to understanding.

There is a definite connection between being in a new experience and the level of enjoyment of it. I understand that. After being a pastor for 36 years I recognize that my enjoyment level had taken a dip. Being a rookie often comes with optimism and enthusiasm, before the blood of too many parent-teacher conferences gets sucked out of you. I may have only one week left in this teaching position before a new teacher is brought on board. Maybe that’s a good thing, because I’ll leave still in a state of enjoyment and a volume of laughter.

And will have learned a lot! Oh, that’s number 9 on my list of expectations for the students: “Expect to teach me as we go!”

Confusing American and Sports History

January 7, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                      January 7, 2017


My substitute teaching gig takes a new turn next week. I begin a long-term substitute teaching position at the middle school I have coached basketball and football at for the past 15 years.

7th Grade Social Studies! I’m trying to think what I learned in 7th Grade Social Studies. All I can remember is sitting beside Becky Beckwith, a cute blonde whose brother played on the Williamstown, West Virginia varsity basketball team. I had a hard time focusing on the Civil War with Becky sitting to my right.

Now I’ll be teaching 7th Graders!

I’m using this weekend to bone up on my American History. In the 50 years (Say it ain’t so!) since I was a 7th Grader I’ve pumped a lot of history into my brain…sports history that is! Now I have to untangle the two spools of thread.

When I think of Patriots I go right to Babe Parilli, quarterback of the Boston Patriots of the old American Football League, and graduate of the University of Kentucky when it was coached by Bear Bryant.

If a student asks me how many Senators there are I may correct him and say “were!” The Washington Senators, perpetual cellar dwellers of the American League. One sports columnist made the statement, “Washington: first in war, first in peace, and last in the American League.” I’ll be able to tell the student that the Minnesota Twins exist because of the Washington Senators.

When we get to the Civil War and start talking about the Yankees I’ll have to be careful to not talk about the New York Yankees who began playing at the old Polo Grounds in New York. My disdain for the Yankees might emerge. I’m not sure how I got to the point of despising the Bronx Bombers so much. After all, my Topps ’67 and ’68 Mickey Mantle baseball cards were my most valued possessions. I’ll have to be careful when a student asks me about the biggest obstacle for the Yankees to not reply “the Red Sox!”

The subject of “oil” comes up and I may immediately go to the Houston Oilers and their running back Earl Campbell, or amaze the students with the facts that George Blanda played for the Oilers before he became an Oakland Raider. I may even transition into the Oilers transition to become the Tennessee Titans.

The subject of George Washington comes up and I’ll talk about the George Washington University Colonels basketball team and playing in the Atlantic 10 conference with teams like the Richmond Spiders and the Rhode Island Rams.

If we get to the California Gold Rush I’ll easily transition into the San Francisco 49’ers, and the days of Joe Montana and Steve Young, Jerry Rice and Dwight Clark. I’ll probably get caught up in the moment and start talking about Montana’s game-winning TD drive against the Cincinnati Bengals in Super Bowl XXIII.

I’ll just have to be careful as I hold the minds of these thirteen year olds in my hands. At the end of my teaching when someone asks them who some of the Trailblazers were of American History I don’t want them to say Clyde Drexler and Bill Walton…although they’d be right!