Posted tagged ‘classroom’

Dictionary Education

November 3, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                     November 3, 2018

                          

It has been a full week of substitute teaching- one day of 7th Grade Language Arts and then the last four days in 8th Grade Social Studies. I love teaching in a class for a number of days in a row. Next week I’ll have the same 8th Grade Social Studies for four more days.

8th Graders crack me up! They are as diverse as “Jelly Belly” jelly beans, but also with many similarities. They want to be liked and kinda’ cool without having to announce to everyone that they ARE cool! Most come to class not expecting to receive anything but homework and in-class assignments. So I like to do the unexpected with them!

For the 8th Graders on one day we closed class with a quest to find who could create the most stupid question with the answer being “Cream Cheese”. Call it “Dumbed-Down Jeopardy!” The winning stupidest question received a roll of Smarties! 

On another day this week a few students were finishing their classroom work early. 

“Mr. Wolfe, I’m done. What can I do now?”

“You can study for the test you’ll be taking next Wednesday.” (To tell an 8th Grader that he can study for a test that is a week away is like telling him that he can start preparing for the Graduate Record Exam to get accepted into Grad School.)

A non-verbal facial expression communicates that my idea is lame! 

“Or you could read a book.”

“I don’t have a book with me.”

“I’ll take care of that!” Twenty seconds later I come back to his table and put a dictionary in front of him. “Here.”

Confused eyes dart back and forth. “It’s a dictionary!”
“Yes, it is! A mind is a terrible thing to waste…especially the mind of an intelligent 8th grade student like you. Here’s what I want you to do! Start with the “J’s”! I think we may be “J-deficient” in our vocabulary, so expand your understanding for the next few minutes and tell me one word that is like a new discovery for you…okay?” I help him find “J” just in case!

His mouth is wide open and nothing is coming out of it. The other two students at his table who are still working on the classroom assignment are snickering.

Two minutes later another student falsely believes that he’s going to camp-out for the rest of the class period and pop Sweet Tarts as he does nothing. 

“All done?”
“Yes, Mr. Wolfe.”

“Okay, well…you can study for the test or read a book that you have.”
“Ahhh, I don’t have a book and I’ve done all the studying I need.”

“Well, that is awesome about the studying aspect of things, but since you’re so advanced I have something else for you to read.”

“Ahhh!”

“I’ll be right back!” A few seconds later I return with the Geographical Dictionary. “Here you go! Start with the ‘K’s’! I don’t think there are many places that we’re familiar with that begin with the letter ‘K’!”

“Huh?”

“An 8th Grade mind is a terrible thing to waste!”

Later on in the day a couple of other students discovered the treasures in “Q” and “X”. 

“Mr. Wolfe!” says the boy who is immersed in the letter ‘X’.

“Yes!”
“The word ‘xylo’ indicates something made of wood.”

“Really!”

“Yes! Like xylophone has the different keys made of wood.”

“Wow! I didn’t know that!” He seemed excited by the fact that he shared something with an old guy that wasn’t known.”

The next day another student asked if she could READ the dictionary! And I stood there with my mouth wide open!

The Warts of Seventh Grade

August 28, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                     August 28, 2018

                               

Today, Tuesday, is my day off this week. I substitute teach the other four days of the week. Last week I manned a classroom Wednesday through Friday. Most of my days so far have been spent being the sheep dog for seventh graders. You know, chasing behind them and barking loud enough that the ones threatening to become wayward from the flock correct their perilous destinations!

Seventh graders in August are like caterpillars who haven’t cocooned yet. They are still wobbling around trying to find their way. The incredible thing is that most of them will evolve by the following May into beautiful butterflies of various brightness. Resisting temptation, their teachers will abstain from squashing a select few! 

Last week most of the seventh grade flock headed towards the green acres of educational grazing, but there were a few who seemed drawn to the brier patch. I’ll call them “the warts of seventh grade”, the oddities who stand out like a bald man wearing a petticoat and drain teachers of energy and patience.

There are the warts that LIKE to be noticed. When the attention of a class gets too focused on knowledge and away from them an outburst deadens the pursuit of discovery. One wart’s stainless steel water bottle redirected the attention of her class half a dozen times as she dropped it, tipped it over, and kicked it. Each drop had the same effect of someone raking their fingernails across one of those old chalkboards we used to have…back in the old days! the student squealed in glee at her ability of distract.

One boy, resembling a bad rash in the midst of academia’s complexion, must not only be ADHD, but a few more letters added onto that. Like a bug headed for a zapper, he doesn’t seem to be able to keep himself from being sent to the principal’s office. 

And then there are the few who mistake their warts for being adorable freckles. Like a bad case of acne on the teenager’s face, their teachers will be applying steady applications of disciplinary Clearasil to help their classroom complexion. For an even more select few there is now Clearasil Ultra that applies even deeper forms of correction.

In August “the warts” stand out. By next spring the beauty marks will, thankfully, command more of the attention. It’s why teachers teach! They teach for what they believe will be the result towards the end of the nine month journey, the vividness of their students’ discoveries, and the hope that warts can even be transformed along the way.

The Button-Pushing Middle School Student

November 4, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                          November 4, 2017

                         

I’m becoming experienced as a substitute teacher. Everyday I experience new things, am dismayed in new ways, and face intriguing situations that would make good fodder for reality TV.

I’ve come to realize that there is a certain category, a distinct species amongst students that causes a few to stand out like peacocks. It’s not a very large group of students, and they don’t usually cluster together like geese.

They are the button-pushers, the students who would give Jesus a hard time for walking on water. They look for the seeds of distraction and chaos to infect good discussions and teachable moments.

Recently, I had a week with the same 125 students, grouped into four classes and another class period for specialized study. Out of 125 students I discovered “the button-pusher”. Everyday he pushed my buttons in some annoying way. On Day One he asked belittling questions to another student after she gave a report on a current event in front of the whole class. His questions, which I squashed after the first couple, were asked in a way to make her look stupid. Hear the button being pushed and held down! On Day Two he kept bothering the student sitting beside him, saying things under his breath to her, touching her arm with his pencil. I was clueless of what was going on until she finally erupted…which is what he was going for!

On Day Three we had a confrontation. When I asked him to stop making a noise with his ruler, slapping the desk with it, he pushed his button with “What about him?” “I’m not talking about him. I’m talking to you!” He gave me the button-pusher look of defiance. “Don’t give me that look!”

On Day Four he started early and I attacked early. “We aren’t going to repeat yesterday. You either get with the program or take a nice vacation to the assistant principal’s office and stare at his wall posters.”

On Day Five his dad came and picked him up for some kind of appointment five minutes into class. God does answer prayer!

Button-pushers gain reputations amongst teachers. This button-pusher had done a couple of things to other students that were just plain mean, but when the teacher talked to his mom the response was that the teacher must be mistaken. It couldn’t be her son!

Conspiracy theorists believe button-pushers have been inserted into middle school classrooms to sabotage the education of the masses, but, even more than that, to become detriments to the preparatory process for the state assessment tests. There’s rumors that they have taken summer training in “argumentative classroom behavior” and “creating crying teachers who start mumbling to themselves”. Like the four celebrity judges on The Voice they have learned how to recognize opportunity and hit the button at a moment’s notice.

Oh, that button-pushers would be a dying breed heading towards extinction, but unfortunately they seem to be repopulating every year. Perhaps it has something to do with the growing number of helicopter parents, absentee parents, clueless parents, and the natural order of disorder. THEY would have you believe that! And if you do you’ve just had another button pushed called “gullible!”

Adventures In Substitute Teaching: The Questionnaire

May 3, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                        May 3, 2017

                

Dear Teacher and Students,

I am scheduled to substitute teach the 8th Grade Science classes next Monday. In preparation for the class I’d like to get an understanding of class expectations and boundaries…what is allowed and what isn’t! Please answer the following questions to help me facilitate an academic day that is similar to other days.

Q. 1- Is there an assigned seating system for the class?

Teacher: Yes, I will have each class charted for you indicating where each student is to be sitting. In several situations a student is seated at a certain desk/table for specific reasons.

Students: No, there is no assigned seating. Our teacher believes that students learn best when they are sitting with their friends. It promotes a class environment that is more relaxed and stress-free.

Q. 2- Are students allowed to eat food during class?

T: When they are involved in individual work, snacks are allowed. Do not allow snacks during class discussions, tests, or quizzes.

S: Absolutely! In fact, our teacher encourages it. His motto is “Food for the mind and food for the stomach!” Students pass snacks around to each other to promote a sense of classroom community. Once a month, in fact, the teacher orders Jimmy John’s for the class. Coincidentally that day comes next week when the guest teacher is here!

Q. 3- Are their any class restrictions on the use of electronic devices?

T: Yes! Students are allowed to use their devices when doing research that is dealing with the class subject matter. When doing individual work they may also use their devices to listen to music that they have their own set of earbuds for. Otherwise, devices are to be facedown on their deck or in their backpack.

S: Our teacher understands how “connected” his students are. Our smart phones can be used not only for research, but also to communicate to our friends. Once again, our teacher is more concerned with promoting a sense of community, and believes that restrictions on devices leads to isolation and ignorance. It shows his students that he totally understands us and our needs!

Q. 4- Does class end a few minutes early or the time posted?

T: At the assigned time and not a minute sooner!

S: Our teacher usually dismisses five minutes early to allow the students to visit the restroom, fill their water bottles, and get to their next class. Some of our classes are a long distance away, totally impossible to reach is we aren’t dismissed early! So if a class is scheduled to end at 9:30 he dismisses us at 9:25, and on snowy days 9:20.

Thank you for your time in answering these questions. It will help immensely in facilitating a calm and orderly class that is similar to what the students are accustomed to.

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!”

The Most Under Appreciated Occupation

January 15, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                           January 15, 2017

                              

There are a number of educators in my family. My dad taught high school agricultural science for a year in Kentucky before family demands caused him to pursue a different career path. His mom, my Granny Wolfe, was a teacher. My sister and brother-in-law were both teachers, and in the last several years of her career my sister was really a teacher of teachers. I’m married to a wonderful woman who taught pre-school deaf children before we were married. She had graduated from Texas Christian University with a degree in deaf education. One of her sisters was in vocational education for close to twenty years, and now my oldest daughter, Kecia, is in her twelfth year of teaching fourth grade.

Back in the mid-nineties I served on the school board of the Mason, Michigan school system. In that capacity, two years of which I served as President, I learned the challenges of being a quality school system and the daunting challenges of teachers. Now I’m a substitute teacher, and about to start my second week as a long-term substitute in a seventh grade social studies class.

What I’ve discovered is that teaching is the most under-appreciated occupation in our nation. Others may disagree with me, based on their observations and circumstances. I won’t debate the situation with them. From my perspective, however, a teacher is like a person who is asked to build a mansion with a pile of sticks, a bag of nails, and a hammer…and to do it quickly and with quality!

A teacher is a counselor…for the student who comes to school dealing with the fact that her parents are divorcing…and for the student whose dog just got hit by a car the night before.

A teacher is a listener…for the classroom full of students who all want to tell her what they did over Spring Break…and the student who needs to share what someone had said to her in the cafeteria at lunch that was hurtful.

A teacher is an evaluator…of the research papers turned in by a hundred and twenty students, tasked with the responsibility of evaluating who made a determined effort and who didn’t, who gave their best and who gave the minimum.

A teacher is a presenter…of subject matter that must be informative, understandable, and interesting. The challenge of educating the gaming and social media generation demands creativeness and a number of ways to communicate the material.

A teacher is asked to prepare students for state assessment tests and expected to have their students produce great scores…even though they have no control over such factors as home environment, limited resources of a family such as food and clothing, and emotional issues that effect a student’s ability to perform well.

A teacher is asked to participate in a number of ways outside of the classroom…such as meeting with the other teachers of their subject matter, school staff meetings, training meetings, team meetings, support school functions such as concerts, games, dances, and fundraising efforts.

A teacher is expected to continue his education…learning the latest in curriculum material, the updated technology, the new school procedures, and also know what it is that his students are interested in.

A teacher is expected to be innovative…thinking beyond the box even though most of her school day deals with stuff that is in the box, developing new and better ways of teaching old things.

A teacher has a never-ending lists of tasks to complete…replying to parent emails, meeting with students who need a bit more help in understanding the subject matter, grading papers, entering grades, contacting parents about their child’s classroom behavior, doing bus duty, doing cafeteria lunch duty, cleaning the room, communicating with the administration, and trying to get a few hours of sleep each night.

A teacher is a planner….of the classroom presentations weeks from now, putting lesson plans together way ahead of time in case he catches one of the numerous illnesses that his students have been freely passing around.

A teacher is underpaid, but passionate about her opportunity to influence lives.

A teacher is a difference maker. When I look back at my school years and also years of college and seminary training there are numerous teachers and professors who still are very memorable in my memory. They challenged me, changed me and motivated me to be someone who lived a life of purpose.

So back to my statement! Teachers make up the most under appreciated occupation…and yet, perhaps, they make the biggest difference!