Posted tagged ‘adolescents’

Perplexing 8th Graders

March 7, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                          March 7, 2019

                                    

There are some eighth grade students who I have gotten to know in the past two years as I’ve substitute taught in their classrooms and coached them on athletic teams. Some of them I joke around with in “perplexing ways”! That means that I’m able to bring a look of confusion or perplexity to their faces!

Yesterday as I subbed in a social studies class, that I enjoy greatly, I brought uncertainty and pondering to one student’s face, and a realization to another.

In the classroom there was a constant, annoying, ringing sound, almost like a humming, that could be heard in the midst of a silent moment. I wondered what it might be, but then a student sitting next to my desk asked me the question.

“Mr. Wolfe, what’s that sound?”

I paused and listened, sensing that I could lead him on towards perplexity. My face took on a moment of extreme concentration as I pretended I was trying to hear what he was hearing. I shook my head.

“What sound?”

“That sound!”

“I’m not hearing anything.”

“You can’t hear that humming, or whatever it is?”

I listened again like I was a contestant on that old TV game show, “Name That Tune”.

“No!”

Unbelief dotted his face.

“I’ve heard about people like you,” I said. “I know there’s only been a few cases, but they do happen.”

“What are you talking about?”?

“People who’s hearing is as acute and sensitive as a dog’s. It’s called Auditory Canine Syndrome.”

“What?”

“It’s when someone can hear sounds that no one else can.”

“You can’t hear that?”

“Hear what?” I turn to the boy sitting in the chair beside him. He is perceptive enough to go along with “the play”. “Do you hear anything?” He shakes his head no.

Perplexity has landed on Student #1’s face. For a few seconds he thinks he has Auditory Canine Syndrome. I let him swim in the currents of confusion for a few seconds before I confess to our ploy. Yes, we can hear the humming. One class period later I have someone check it out from the maintenance crew. It ends up being something in the heating ventilation system.

And then there was the “realization” that came to another student. The class had watched a video that dealt with the “Trail of Tears”. A study sheet accompanied the video, some questions that could be answered as they watched the 20 minute video, and a few others that they would answer afterwards. With 15 minutes left in class one young man hadn’t answered any question, even the most obvious ones! I walked by and he smiled at me. 

“Freddie (not his real name!),” I said. “Your paper has so much open space on it that it resembles South Dakota!” 

“Huh?”

“I’m not seeing anything on your paper but open space!”

“Yes, there is! There’s the ink print on it.”

I just give him “the look”. A few minutes later I walk by again. He looks up at me and says, “See! I answered number 1!”

His answer consisted of two words, short words at that! 

“Great!” I respond. “Now it looks more like North Dakota!” And I look at him with eyes that express disappointment. He realizes that I believe in him, that I don’t think he’s as dumb as he wants people to think. For a moment he realizes he is underachieving…and then he lets it go!

The Young Life Ministry

February 12, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                  February 12, 2019

                            

This past Sunday night Carol and I attended the banquet sponsored by Young Life of North Colorado Springs. Young Life is a long established ministry to young people. It was started in 1941 by a guy named Jim Rayburn in Gainesville, Texas, and has been going ever since. 

Young Life is significant for us in that it was how Carol and I met! We were both working with Young Life high school clubs in the western suburbs of Chicago…she at Elmhurst York and me at Hinsdale Central, and then Downers Grove North. Hinsdale Central was the school she had graduated from and one of the other club leaders, Jeff Slaga, had invited her to come to a summer evening gathering of students who had been to one of Young Life’s summer camps. He knew that I was going to be there and was trying to be the matchmaker. 

So, it was at a Young Life event that we first met! The next March we went on a Young Life spring break ski trip to Colorado with a couple of busloads of students. The summer after that I took a van load of students from First Presbyterian Church of Arlington Heights, Illinois to Silver Cliff, a Young Life camp at that time in Colorado. It was a life-changing experience for some of the students. Three years ago when I was back in the Chicago area I met one of those students, now in her fifties, for dinner and she told me that it was during that camp week that she became a follower of Jesus. 

Now, forty years after we had been Young Life leaders, we were back at a banquet to hear the Young Life story again. It’s different today, and yet the same! The gospel is still the center of the ministry, but some of the dynamics of youth ministry are different than they used to be. Forty years ago we didn’t have to deal with a sense of hopelessness in some young people’s lives that made suicide a final solution for several. We didn’t have cyber-bullying or as many split family units. There were different kinds of teen pressure that we dealt with, but nothing like vaping and gender confusion. 

As Carol and I entered the place for the banquet I was manhandled by five of my current basketball players who were a part of the cheering group of greeters. 

“Coach Wolfe! Coach Wolfe!” they shouted as they jostled me back and forth. They were surprised to see me and even more surprised when I told them that Carol and I had been Young Life leaders. 

The evening was a revisiting of part of our life stories, a confirmation of a ministry we had once invested in and will now come back to in support of. 

As I’ve coached and substitute taught I’ve seen and heard some of the heart cries of today’s teens. They’re confused and yet knowledgeable; depressed and yet smiling. Young Life offers an invitation to a relational road that they need not walk alone.

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.

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?”

“Unfortunately!”

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!

Adventures In Substitute Teaching: The Cell Phones

April 30, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                             April 30, 2017

           

I was driving to school last week for a day of substitute teaching. I’m like an educational handyman…science class one day, language arts the next, physical education the day after, and social studies right before those. On this day I was headed for another day of language arts. As I approached the school I noticed one student crossing the street while looking at his cell phone. My first thought was “That kid could get hit and he wouldn’t even know it!” My second thought was “What is so urgent that it needs to be texted by a middle school kid at 7:00 in the morning as he’s crossing the street in heavy traffic?”

I’ve noticed it quite often. Students walking to school with their eyes focused on their cell phones. Cell phones have become what could best to described as “technological alcohol!” They are tech crack! People can’t live without them, but more than that, they can’t live without them for the next five minutes.

The school I mostly substitute teach at has a program called “Face Up/Face Down.” Students know that “face down” time means their devices are face down on their desks. When it’s ‘face up” time they can use their devices to look up information for class assignments or view relevant videos connected to their study focus.

But, you guessed it, the addiction to their electronic devices has resulted in “sneakiness” as a developed student skill. One young lady was sitting at her desk with her backpack in her lap trying to look studious whenever I looked at her. But I wasn’t born yesterday. Her backpack was in her lap, for crying out loud! I knew she was using the backpack to shield her cell phone from view. I let it slide for a few minutes and then in one practiced move she simultaneously put her backpack on the floor and slid her cell phone into her pocket. She asked if she could go to the restroom, and I said yes. In essence, she probably had to text someone about where they were going to sit at lunchtime in the cafeteria. When she came back and started to place her backpack on her lap again I told her to put her cell phone away…that, even though I’m old I’m not entirely clueless. I didn’t just fall off a turnip truck! In fact, I was once gifted in the art of sneakiness!

In a different class I confiscated three cell phones- placed them on the teacher’s desk for the rest of class- because one was posting on Facebook and two others were playing video games. Here’s the thing about a student using his cell phone to play a video game in class! Others become interested in watching him play the game. There becomes this little audience behind the student! It’s not bad behavior, just behavior that students know is not allowed in class.

The two students who were playing video games ratted out the girl who was posting on Facebook. I hadn’t noticed her!

A study conducted by the psychology department of UCLA on a group of sixth graders concluded that students who were deprived of all digital media for a few days did much better in recognizing emotions than students who were allowed access of digital media. One researcher made the comment that a student can’t learn emotional cues from a screen like he can from face-to-face interaction.

Digital media has its benefits, but, like anything that is consumed too much, it has become destructive. It’s like Lay’s Potato Chips…you can’t eat just one…and suddenly you real;ize that half the bag is gone! MIT sociologist Sherry Turkle agrees with how our digital addiction effects other things. In her 2015 book Reclaiming Conversation she makes the argument that cell phones are greatly affecting people’s ability to have deep conversations. She says that 89% of Americans took out a cell phone during their last social interaction, and 82% say that it resulted in a deteriorating of the conversation they were in.

A friend of mine who manages a hair salon told me that she instituted a digital devices ban for her employees when they are working. She had noticed that their focus wasn’t on the customer entering the store, but rather on their cell phones. They fought her tooth and nail on the ban, but now are realizing how much more interaction they are having with the person whose business they need in order for the store to stay in business and continue handing them pay checks.

Back to middle school! Let me tell you! Students think that substitute teachers are essentially clueless and won’t pick up on their device activity. But you know something? I’ve been there many, many years ago. Oh, it wasn’t a cell phone used in forbidden ways, but rather “the passing of notes” in class. I could pass notes with the best of them and not be discovered. Back in the day this Wolfe was a sly fox!

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!