Posted tagged ‘classroom’

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!

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!

The Fifth Grade Congregation

April 22, 2016

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                        April 22, 2016

                            

I substitute taught in a fifth grade class this week. It was really an awesome experience, and I’m not just whistling Dixie! I found myself liking these kids! They didn’t try to tell me that their teacher gives them an hour for recess, or lead me down the wrong stairway, or shoot spit wads at me with their luncheon drinking straws…as some of us did a few decades ago to our substitute! (Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned!)

I also found myself connecting dots! A fifth grade class is a lot like a typical congregation.

First of all, there was “the system”. Every church has a system, sometimes written down in documents, but most of the time unwritten but known by the members. When someone veers away from “the system” there is much consternation. Special meetings get called. Phone calls get made. Side conversations become more frequent. In many churches “the system” is sacred!

In the midst of the fifth grade math class that was dealing with something called “line plots” I foolishly veered away from “the system.” It was as if a dark family secret just got revealed on Jerry Springer. There were a couple of gasps, several confused looks, but then one “rescuer” brought me back under control before I drifted too far into math curriculum heresy.

Close call!

Systems are important to help the congregation know there will be order in the midst of the journey. It’s kind of like serving the salad and main dish before you can get to the dessert. There’s an accepted order, a process for getting things done, and…processes that “we don’t do around here!” As a pastor there were a few times I didn’t follow the system, didn’t follow the order, and those were the most gut-wrenching, stressful times of ministry.

Clarification! There are times to go outside the system, but the “trailblazer” better have a well thought out plan before that path gets taken. If the congregational road has become a rut it is a sign that the system has become a detriment to movement.

The school system I was a part of this week included “parts” of math, science, and literature. Since it was a state testing day I didn’t get to have a part on “social studies.” Each part had its advocates and opponents. That is, there were those who were excited and focused, and those who just wanted to get through it. The purpose behind all the parts was for them to work together to provide a well-rounded education.

In any congregation there are also a number of parts in the system. There is worship, education/discipleship, fellowship, missions, serving ministries, and a number of other parts. People get excited in and invested in different parts, and, just as in the fifth grade classroom, there are other parts that they just want to get through. The passion comes out as the focus comes to the part they are excited about. The disinterest surfaces when the other parts are emphasized. I remember a man from a congregation I pastored who would get up and walk out when praise music was being sung, but sing with passion when a hymn was happening. Interestingly enough, in my experience there were very few people who loved praise music but had a disdain towards hymns. They were the much more flexible group when it came to the “music sub-parts” of the worship part.

In part two of “The Fifth Grade Classroom” I’ll focus on “personalities and pecking orders”.