Posted tagged ‘adolescence’

Why I Substitute Teach

August 18, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                    August 18, 2018

                                     

School began again this past Wednesday in our area! At Timberview Middle School four hundred or so sixth graders waited outside the doors that first day. Seventh and eighth graders came back on Thursday.

The school staff waited inside the doors and cheered them on as they entered the building for their first middle school experience.

And I was one of the cheering high five-ing staff members!

I’m a substitute teacher, but had been asked to teach the first three days of school by a teacher back in April because of a family wedding she would be attending out-of-state.

Other staff members asked the question: “Mr. Wolfe, subbing already?” Yes, in fact, out of 13 August school days I’m scheduled to sub 10 of them for 7 different teachers. 

I often have people ask me why I substitute teach? Am I a masochist? Is it the appropriate level for how mature I act? Will no one else hire me? Am I reliving my junior high days?

Truthfully, I substitute teach because I enjoy it! I’m serious! One of the best months of my life was when I was asked to do a long-term 7th Grade Social Studies teaching position. I had to work like crazy that month preparing for each day of instruction and interaction, but I was a bit sad when the new teacher was hired. She’s a great teacher (who I have subbed for several times since!), but I missed the kids who I was privileged enough to teach, challenge, and converse with each day. 

That experience has probably influenced my feelings on substitute teaching more than anything else. It imparted confidence in me and brought me to the point where each school day was seen as being an opportunity to influence and educate, as opposed to enduring and dreading.

I don’t substitute teach because we need the income. We’re okay regardless of whether I decide to take the month off or appear in a classroom every school day of that month. The pay, in my mind, is simply a side benefit for doing something I enjoy doing. 

I substitute teach because of the relationships with staff, parents, and students. A few of my best friends are now teachers, who are on staff at Timberview. One of them has been on two mission trips with me. I officiated at the funeral service for another teacher friend who succumbed to cancer two years ago. 

I substitute teach at middle school because it’s an impressionable time for the children who enter there and three years later exit as teenagers. It’s an uncertain and confusing part of their life journeys. I remember my junior high days. They were not that pleasant. I was the smallest kid in my whole class. Other boys in my eighth grade class were beginning to sport facial hair and armpit hair that was dense and long enough to take a weed whacker to. I didn’t even have peach fuzz! I was still like a facial hair desert, void of signs of adolescence!

As a sub I have the opportunity to give a word of encouragement, bring a class to laughter, and grace students with nicknames. I have the opportunity to make a school day more than just books and study sheets. I’m able to make it an experience.

It’s a bit flattering to hear good things being said about me. I’m scheduled to teach 8th Grade social studies for two weeks at the end of October and beginning of November. The teacher came up to me on Thursday and told me she had shared with her classes that I’d be subbing for her during that time. 

“They were so excited!”

Wow! Putting the pressure on me! But, you know something? I’m also excited! I am a blessed man!

Encouraging the Untalented

June 10, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                          June 10, 2018

                                

In all my years of coaching multiple sports I’ve had numerous athletes who were extremely talented…and I’ve also had numerous athletes who were incredibly untalented!

-Kids who get positioned in right field

            -Kids who play a forward in soccer because you would rather play great defense than score goals.

-Kids who can’t walk and chew gum at the same time.

-Kids who you could use a sun dial in timing their 100 yard dash.

-Kids who have great attitudes and no athletic skill.

In our sports-crazed world there seem to be more non-athletic, untalented participants lacing up the sneakers and putting on the pads.

I remember one young man on the middle school football team I coached. In practice one day he was playing defensive cornerback. He was about as far away from the action as he could possibly be and still be standing on the field. I suggested that he move in closer since there wasn’t even a wide receiver on his side of the field. All five feet one inch of him looked at me and said, “No, I’m okay!”

Or there was the foreign exchange student one year on the Girl’s JV team I coached. She had never played basketball, plus she had gotten out of line the day God passed out athleticism. If she shot the ball it had a better chance of getting stuck in the rafters than going in the basket. Her accuracy never improved during the season, although she did come to understand that the team with the ball was on offense and the team that didn’t have the ball was on defense. Running down the court without dribbling the ball meant that you suddenly would no longer be on offense and once again be…on defense! She came to realize this from personal experience.

I had a young man who would be the first one to show up for open gyms but couldn’t make a layup if his life depended on it. When he asked me if he was improving I replied, “Well, I can’t fault your effort!”

Every coach has the untalented kid who wants to be on the team. It becomes an exercise in patience as they struggle through the simplest drills that focus on fundamentals. Often they are the also the nicest, most well-behaved kids. They are the ones that you grieve over cutting, but know “there ain’t no way” you can keep them on the basketball team!

I try to find ways to encourage students who fall into this category, engaging them in conversation that shows I see them as persons of value. At the end of a tryout practice I may ask one of them to “get us a team break”.” I applaud their effort. When I post the basketball roster I try to be ready to give an evaluation to anyone who asks for it, what they can work on as well as a couple of positive points. I also try to communicate the importance of being a team manager or someone who keep stats. This past year I had one boy who didn’t make my basketball team, but I convinced to keep game stats. He’s a great kid who was disappointed in not making the roster, but saw how he was valued in a different role.

Often I encounter kids who are not as invested in athletic success as their parents are. There’s the parental pressure to change Lenny into LeBron…and Lenny would prefer to just be Lenny! 

There’s a lot of pressure on kids these days to be someone that they aren’t. It seems that only certain roles and specific achievements are valued, while others are ignored. 

As a coach, however, I hold to a certain principle: It is not necessary for an awesome kids to have a ball in his/her hands to still be great!

Teacher-Parent Conference

March 26, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                           March 26, 2018

                                 

Dear Mrs. Jones,

It was very considerate of you to offer to have a conference with our teaching teammates, but we have decided not to take you up on your offer. Meeting us at the fitness club at the conclusion of your workout before you even have a chance to go for your spa treatment and shower was a strong indication of your desire to fit us into your schedule.

But then to offer a second possibility of a conference at your favorite Starbucks sometime between two and four o’clock so you can get double your Starbuck’s rewards…well, that was taking self-sacrifice to a new level!

I know you have concerns about how we have been teaching Johnny Junior the essential knowledge and skills necessary for him to be successful next year when he enters 8th Grade. Believe me, we understand that pre-algebra is a challenging subject to master, but most students need to pass it before they take algebra. We understand the difficulty of that task, especially when Johnny Junior has missed so many days of school because of the two different five-day suspensions and your family’s twelve day vacation to Disney World during the two school weeks preceding the week-long Thanksgiving break.

We understand your opinion that the first five-day suspension because of the sexually explicit remarks and inappropriate physical contact he made on several occasions to a female student was excessive, but it followed school policy and guidelines. I’m sure it was comforting to find out the family decided not to press charges.

And the second suspension also followed school discipline guidelines. It’s unfortunate that the bottle of whiskey was mistakenly placed in Johnny Junior’s backpack. I’m sure his father felt terrible when he realized that he had accidentally placed it in the backpack as opposed to his suitcase for the business trip he was about to embark on.

We recognize, as Johnny Junior’s teachers, what a burden such events and family vacations have placed upon him. We apologize for being underachieving teachers. We really do want Johnny Junior to be successful, and we will try to adjust to the challenges ahead. We know you’re seeking to accommodate us as much as you can, letting us know ahead of time of Johnny Junior’s absence the week after Spring Break because he will be at the NCAA Hockey Frozen Four games in Minneapolis.

We will try to do our best. With his suspensions, vacations, and also sick days he’s been out of school almost forty days so far. We’ll try to step it up as his educators and overcome that challenge. After all, being in class sometimes get overrated. If you do the homework assignments you’ll get the jest of things.

Speaking of homework, we’re missing a number of Johnny Junior’s assignments. We know you suggested that he turned them in and that we were not very responsible teachers in losing them, but our team of teachers has talked about it. Ms. Morton, his social studies teacher, distinctly remembers when one day she asked for the homework assignment to be handed in, gathered them up, and Johnny Junior looked at her and said he hadn’t done it. Could it be that there were other occasions when he didn’t do the assignment also? We know that’s an assumption on our part, but we were just asking.

We hate to bring this up at this time, but Johnny Junior may be facing another suspension, although this could just be a three day instead of a five day! The assistant principal will probably be calling you today to give you the details and consequences. Johnny Junior was having a bad morning probably as a result of skipping breakfast and relying on the nutritional value of a Venti Vanilla Bean Frappuccino from Starbucks to get him through the tough grind of Science class followed by Language Arts. He probably didn’t mean it, but he called Mrs. Case a couple of derogatory names. More specifically, “a big fat pig”, followed closely by a comment heard by the whole class about the size of her back side. Since everyone heard at least the second derogatory remark Mrs. Case really had no choice but to send him to the office. The good news is that the office staff knows Johnny Junior well so they don’t have to fill out a lot of personal information sheets all over again. His is on file…right in the front so that it’s easily accessible.

Thanks for your understanding about not being able to meet with you at your request. Sometimes Johnny Junior will have teachers who just aren’t with it. Between the four of us on our teaching team we’re now at seventy-four years of classroom teaching. That means a lot of things, but one of the downsides is that we just don’t seem to adjust that well to special cases like Johnny Junior. Perhaps in another ten years or so we can acquire those extra needed skills and quantity of patience to be able to handle things better.

If, by chance, you would like to meet with us during the two days of parent-teacher conferences provided for parents please let us know. There are still several open slots available and it would only require twenty minutes of your time here in one of the actual classrooms that Johnny Junior comes to.

Expressing My Opinions…and Knowing People Disagree!

March 22, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                       March 22, 2018

           

Crotchety…that’s what we would call old embittered men who walked around with scowls on their faces, mad at the world, and complaining about today’s youth.

I think I’m becoming crotchety! I seem to be shaking my head a lot these days, not necessarily at today’s youth, but the world in general. If you would like to draw a scowling face beside the page right now to characterize me, go ahead! If you are using an iPad do not use a Sharpie!

Opinion #1- Adults are pulling kids out of childhood like it’s a disease! Ever seen one of those TV show episodes about child “pageants” where a six year old is made to look like she’s twenty-six? As my Papaw would say, “Lord, have mercy!” Too many parents have bought into the lie that if little Johnny plays baseball year-round and gets expensive extra personal instruction from a hitting coach that he will receive a college scholarship down the road. Meanwhile, little Johnny would just like to play with his Lego’s for a while! Adults have minimized the importance of letting kids grow up gradually. The same development of a seed that becomes a bean plant should be used for our children. One day at a time and one stage at a time.

Opinion #2- The NCAA Basketball Tournament selection process is fixed! If money is connected to every tournament win, how much is the selection committee listening to the West Coast Conference versus the ACC? If strength of schedule is a deciding criteria for mid-major conference teams to be invited, how many Power Five conference teams turn down games with Western Kentucky and St. Mary’s in favor of Bethune-Cookman and Houston Baptist? Arkansas-Pine Bluff gets invited to play AT other arenas (Their first 13 games this season were on the road!) not because they’re expected to win!

Opinion #3- The public library has become a noisy place! Remember when you were expected to be quiet in the public library so people could focus? Last month the guy two seats away from me was doing a job interview on his cell phone! This week three people were gathered around a nearby table having a meeting. Where have the cranky librarians gone off to who elicited fear in those present? AND, half the time as I’m approaching the entrance or leaving afterwards there is someone trying to get me to sign a petition or Girl Scouts selling cookies. I know what you’re thinking…I’m really, really crotchety, but I’ve put on five pounds in the last month!

Opinion #4- My mom used to throw away blue jeans with holes. Now someone gets paid for putting holes in them! Actually, my mom would turn my jeans with holes in the knees into shorts! I don’t understand fashion, but I guess I prefer jeans with holes over sagging pants any day!

Opinion #5- Teens can’t go to the bathroom without their cell phones! With that exceedingly crotchety statement I’ll conclude my rant.

I had a student in a class this past week who asked me how old I was? I asked her how old she thought I was, thinking she’d mention a figure that began with a 4 or a 5, and she replied, “I dunno…70!”

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.