Posted tagged ‘adolescence’

Temporary Disfigurement

February 5, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                 February 5, 2018

                              

My wife and I went to see the movie Wonder a few weeks ago. We found ourselves shedding a few tears during the film, which followed the story of a fifth grade boy named “Auggie” who had Treacher Collins syndrome. Because of his condition Auggie would wear an astronaut’s helmet around whenever he was in public. He dreamed of being an astronaut because in space no one sees the faces of others.

Ten and eleven year old kids can be cruel, but they can also be compassionate. Auggie experiences both ends of the pendulum as it swung from classmate to classmate.

I was deeply moved by watching the film and pondering its messages. Weeks later I’m still thinking about it!

And then Saturday morning I woke up with a rash on the side of my face that made me want to put on an astronaut’s helmet…or paper bag. By Saturday afternoon I looked like I had a huge chaw of chewing tobacco between my left cheek and gum (Not that I’ve ever done that, but I was born in Kentucky! Half the barns in the state used to have “Chew Mail Pouch” painted on one side!).

The past two days I’ve had a few “Auggie moments”. That is, I’m very self-conscious of my face and I assume that everyone I see is looking at me. There’s a sense of embarrassment tied into it. I don’t feel normal, and normal is what all of us want to be unless we’re doing something that our culture thinks is extraordinary.

Lessons are learned in the abnormal moments of life.

This afternoon middle school boy’s basketball tryouts begin. It’s my seventeenth season coaching at Timberview Middle School, and it’s the seventeenth time I will see the uncertainty of seventh and eighth grade boys as they deal with the uncomfortableness of being watched by coaches and other boys who they feel inferior to. Perhaps God gave me this rash to help me empathize with the pressures of being a twelve year old.

Actually, there’s that hint of uncertainty and inadequacy in any middle school child. With some it just might be a little deeper below the surface, but it’s there. Much of the time he or she simply stays out of situations where it has the potential to rise to the surface.

I can relate. In my few trips out in public the last three days I’ve tried to stay to the left so the left side of my face is away from people. Three months from today I’ll turn 64 and I’m still sensitive to my insufficiencies!

I’m simply a self-conscious adolescent in an elderly shell!

Seventh Grade Peer Pressure…Err…Influence!

December 12, 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!

The Blessing of Cluelessness

December 12, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                       December 12, 2017

                            

Recently I was sitting on the bench waiting for my 8th Grade boy’s basketball team to begin their game. The 7th Grade team had played right before us, and, after a post-game meeting with her team, the coach came out of the girl’s locker room, where the boys had been assigned to dress, and sat down beside me. She was laughing…one of those “I can’t believe I heard that” laughs.

“What’s going on, Coach?” I asked her, wanting to be clued in on the humor behind the chuckling.

“I just heard one of the boys say to one of his teammates as they stood in front of a machine anchored to the locker room wall, “Twenty-five cents! Who would pay twenty-five cents for a napkin?”

Sometimes middle school kids bless us with their cluelessness. The head librarian at the middle school where I coach told me a story about another 7th Grader who was reading an article about the Easter Island’s famous stone statues. He called across the library to her and asked her, “What does defecation mean?” She let him know that it means to poop. A strange look came over his face as he stared at the picture in the article. She watched for a few moments and his expression of confusion did not change. It was as if he was trying to figure out a math problem, so she walked over to see what was puzzling him. There was a man in the picture standing in front of the statues showing their massive size in comparison to him. Then she saw what the wording was underneath the picture. It said, “Easter Island stone statues are thought to be the result of deification.” The librarian chuckled as she realized the student’s confused look was because he was trying to figure out how the man in the picture had been able to poop out the statues?

Cluelessness leads us to moments of humored blessing!

One of the reasons I love teaching and coaching seventh graders is the heightened level of cluelessness that appears in their midst. I was the same way growing up! Perhaps my enjoyment has some connection to some of those past personal experiences. I see myself in the rear mirror of some of the seventh graders I’m walking by.

We often limit our understanding of blessing to the serene, the peaceful, the surprise gift in the mail, but some of the pimply cluelessness of adolescent life also falls into that category as well.

In fact, last week as I was substitute teaching seventh grade a couple of students were updating me on some of the middle school lingo that I was clueless about. They taught me what a couple of words meant and challenged me to use them in some way in my next class. When I did they burst out laughing! There’s something refreshing to students to be able to view cluelessness in their instructors.

God blesses us through wisdom and revelation, but he also touches the tickle side of our spirit through the innocent moments of cluelessness.

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: The Hot Sauce

April 29, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                        April 29, 2017

                           

The students slowly entered the classroom, uninspired examples of adolescence. It was Wednesday…”hump day”, as they say, and they resembled marathon runners who have already run thirteen miles, but realize they have another thirteen to go. Weariness was setting in.

The lesson plan had them listening to a chapter of the book they were running through as they followed along page by page. I took attendance and started getting my bearings. It’s always interesting to me that I can figure out who the “suspects” are in the first five minutes of class even before we begin studying the material for the day. After all, they are thirteen year old adolescents who are prone to test the limits and explore the dangers, like a kid who has just learned to swim and is standing at the deep end of the pool…considering!

“Mr. Wolfe, can I go fill my water bottle?” asks a young lady who looks like she is wilting.

“Sure!”

Water bottles are part of the middle school student essentials now. Companies realize that and have made them stylish. When I was growing up our water bottle was a thermos with that cup on top that you unscrewed, poured the beverage into, and then sipped from. I don’t remember ever carrying a thermos of water with me, but most students lug their water bottles around all day…because it’s cool! They are the name brand jeans of the water world!

“Mr. Wolfe!” The voice comes from my right and I look around to see one of my basketball players standing there with tears streaming down his face.

“You all right?”

“Yes,  but could I go get a drink of water?”

“Sure!”

I notice a couple of students snickering, a sure sign that some non-curriculum activity is developing. Students don’t snicker at novels! Snickering is a reaction to their actions. It’s a hypothesis that has been proven!

Two minutes later two other students ask to be allowed to hydrate. I recognize that some of these students have just come from physical education class, but since I’ve subbed in that class I’m familiar with the physical inactivity that is prevalent.

When student #5 and #6 ask for water relief I decide to investigate a bit more as soon as we get done reading the chapter in the novel.

“Hey! Before we go on, who has the Flaming Hot Cheetos?” All eyes zoom in on one young man. He plays “the innocent card!”

“Where’s the Cheetos?” He gives me the shoulder shrug, but I watched a lot of Perry Mason episodes in my younger days and I recognize that look. He’s still proclaiming his innocence when the Assistant Principal walks in and puts the heat on! The pressure gets to him and the bag of Cheetos emerges from his backpack. Not a snack size bag, mind you, but the family size bag, or in this case the school size bag. He’s reluctant to part ways with them and his heightened sense of ownership results in him having to follow the Assistant Principal back to the office. The last words of the condemned are a lamentation of injustice. “I’m going to get in trouble because of Cheetos!” he wails as his classmates suppress their laughter.

“So…tell me the rest of the story here. Why didn’t he want to give up his bag of Flaming Hot Cheetos?” I’m looking at the class, inviting them to fill in the gaps for me.

One young lady’s hand goes up.

“Yes.”

“Mr. Wolfe, it wasn’t just Flaming Hot Cheetos. He had doused them with “Devil’s Blood.”

“Devil’s Blood?” I ask cluelessly.

“Yes, it’s an extremely hot hot sauce.”

I turn to my basketball player whose eyes are still steamy. “And you ate them?” I look at the whole class. “Why would you eat something like that?” The shoulder shrugs pop up around the room. The answer is clear! They would eat something like that because they are kids who have just recently arrived at being teenagers…and if Flaming Hot Cheetos were around when I was growing up I probably would have done the same thing…and cried like a baby!

Teaching Seventh Grade Algebra

April 15, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                           April 15, 2017

                                    “Teaching Seventh Grade Algebra”

My substitute teaching resume’ added another wrinkle to it this week when I subbed for one of the seventh grade math teachers. When I did a long-term substitute position in January in seventh grade social studies Mrs. Tiernan was on my four-person teaching team, which means we had the same 125 students in math, science, social studies, and language arts.

But here’s the thing! I was as clueless as a prepubescent boy in a Victoria’s Secret mall store! I had no clue on what they were trying to figure out. When some genius decided it would be funny to combine letters with numbers in a math equation he/she lost me. I write blog posts with letters! I figure out my checking account with numbers!

X – (y + z) + 3 – (-x – 3z) = ______

Huh?

“Mr. Wolfe, I don’t understand number 13 on the work sheet!” whined a blonde-headed kid.

“Great! It’s good to know I’m not the only one!”  He stared at me confused for a moment, and when I didn’t offer anything else he turned and walked away thinking, “He’s not very smart!”

A red-headed young lady approached. “Mr. Wolfe, when x is negative and it’s added to y that is positive do you figure out the total of the equation inside the parenthesis before using the multiplier with z?”

“Sure! Why not? Go for it!” I respond, like I’m giving her permission to supersize her meal at McDonald’s.

“Are you sure?” she looks at me with growing uncertainty.

“As sure as an eskimo trying to find a polar bear in Bolivia!” (I have a habit of just making up sayings on the fly that sometimes make sense, but often are about as understandable as spaghetti and meatballs on a Chinese buffet!)

The whispers in the class increase as the period goes on. They know I’m a good social studies teacher, but have discovered that I’m as impostor in the math classroom. I’m like a bad Leonardo DeCaprio in “Can’t Catch Me Now!”

When algebra is not your strength in the midst of seventh graders they begin to question your intelligence…some even whether you have any value to the human race still! To be fair, I was a whiz with numbers before they start dating letters! I could add two numbers in my head in a snap while my classmates were struggling to “carry the one!” I was feeling pretty good about myself with I was twelve, and then someone broke into the math textbooks and inserted x’s and y’s!

Perhaps that’s where adolescent uncertainty and the reduction in a teenager’s self-worth occurred! I would have probably continued to be well-balanced until that unnatural connection between a number and a letter appeared.

And now I’m reliving those days when my first facial pimple surfaced and anything said to a student of the opposite sex could be twisted or misunderstood in ways that caused me to break out in a sweat and run in the opposite direction.

“Mr. Wolfe, I don’t understand-“

“I hear you on that one! But, hey…good luck! I’ll be praying for you!”

Guest Teacher Orientation

August 10, 2016

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                            August 10, 2016

                                

I took my seat on the left side of the long conference table. Ten of us looked expectantly towards the front of the conference room. The presenter was getting his materials organized and about to start.

I was about to get oriented! I was about to find out how to be a guest teacher. Let me emphasize GUEST TEACHER! Not substitute teacher! Somewhere over the last forty years somebody decided that the term “substitute teacher” was like attaching a sticky note to the back of a person’s shirt with the words “Kick Me!” written on it in large bold letters.

Time to confess! I remember the number of times I took advantage of whoever it was that was substitute teaching in my classroom. I remember asking Ms. Roth, who also happened to be a member of the my church, if I could go to the restroom. I feigned illness from eating lunch in the cafeteria that day…a logical conclusion! She gave me permission as I grimaced in front of her, and then I went down to the gym and shot basketball for the rest of the class period. Now… she would probably not remember that, but I do!

Perhaps my transgressions were part of the soil that produced a new name growing out of it, the name “Guest Teacher!”

The orientation began. The presenter stressed a couple of points to help us survive…or that is, be successful! One was “Use your common sense!”  He gave us several examples of what BAD guest teachers have done! At the end of it all of us had the same thought: What were they thinking? Perhaps being around middle school students rubs off on the substitute…er, guest teacher, and they start doing stupid things that result in them getting called in to talk to the school administrators.

I started to make a mental list of all the things I couldn’t bring with me to school: handcuffs, a pocket knife attached to my car keys, peanut products, Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue, words with too many syllables, taser gun, transistor radio, pillow, iPad, sense of humor, bull whip, duct tape, and all political commentary. If I left all those things at home my chances of being a successful guest teacher would be greatly increased. The storyline of guest teaching has been littered with examples of people who “did stupid”, were asked not to come back again, and now are making more money working on a fast-food drive-thru lane.

But then came the second point of the orientation to realize. That students will try to take advantage of guest teachers! Wait a minute! That’s how it was back in 1972 at Ironton High School, in Ironton, Ohio! That means…that means…that nothing has really changed! Well, one thing has…the title. because I am a “Guest Teacher!” Hear me roar!

We were brought back to the reality of the situation; that students are by nature the same as they were back in the day…that they will try to get away with whatever they can!

This is where leaving my sense of humor at home becomes important, for I will look at them like a drill sergeant facing his green recruits and with no expression say “I don’t think so!” It’s also where it is important that I have left my taser gun at home, because I would be tempted to use it a few times.

So now I am ready for battle…I mean, to teach! I’m ready to impart my pearls of wisdom to a new generation of young learners. I’m ready to experience the new chef creations of school cafeterias, students ready and eager to learn, the latest adolescent language terms. and spending the whole day in the gym!

I am oriented! I am a Guest Teacher!