Posted tagged ‘classroom’

Looking Back: Rookie Substitute Teacher

January 10, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                          January 9, 2019

                           

Today is the two year anniversary! On January 9, 2017 I entered Room 306 at Timberview Middle School- a classroom in a portable structure outside the building, mind you! I would be teaching 7th Grade Social Studies for at least a month and maybe the rest of the school year. 

There had been a sudden resignation during the Christmas break and the other three teachers on that team (math, science, and language arts) had requested me for a long-term sub.

Carol and I had flown back from Phoenix the previous Wednesday and there was a message on our voicemail from the principal’s secretary to call them. It was too late to call that day and then the next day school was cancelled because of the weather. Friday, January 6, I drove over to the school and met with the assistant principal.

“Bill, we’d like you to consider doing a long-term substitute position for 7th Grade Social Studies.”

“Okay!”

“And we’d like for you to start Monday!”

“Ooo…kaay!

That next Monday was the beginning of one of the best months of my life. I went into it like someone who has never tasted coffee suddenly working as a Starbucks barista. I was about as raw and wide-eyed as a rookie can be.

And I admitted it! Each class knew that this guy in front of the class could be seen as being fresh meat to chew on or the new guy to simply enjoy and even teach. Thankfully they took the second approach. They enjoyed me as much as I enjoyed them.

On that first day there were high winds in the area that measured up to 109 miles an hour at Cheyenne Mountain. A window blew out of the library at a high school two miles away from Timberview. Afternoon buses were cancelled because of the fear of them tipping over…and here I was in a portable classroom! I remember the windows sounding like they were doing a drumroll as they rattled, but inside the classroom I was teaching kids about the meaning of “Coats of Arms”. 

I put two headings on the board…DON’T KNOW and KNOW. Under DON”T KNOW I drew about 20 lines, and under KNOW I put two! 

“This is me! I’m going to be your teacher for at least the rest of the month, and maybe longer, and this is about how much I know in terms of teaching a class. And all these lines under DON”T KNOW, that tells you how not-with-it I am in regards of your culture, words and sayings you use, and stuff. So…you’re going to teach me each day just as much as I’m going to teach you!”

Each day when some new term was mentioned that I was unfamiliar with I’d add another line under DON”T KNOW. For example, several students used the term “memes”. I had no idea what a meme was. They were astounded. Was I really a person? Had I just been unfrozen from the Ice Age? 

My cluelessness extended into their music world. I didn’t know what song was being sung by what singer or group. On the other hand, when I mentioned “Three Dog Night”, “Steppenwolf”, or “Jethro Tull” they were as clueless as I had been about their music. 

I gave them nicknames. Kids who did not have nicknames would come to me whining and say, “Mr. Wolfe, I don’t have a nickname!”

I taught them about inflation, using a DuckTales video clip. I had them look at the different kinds of taxes that would be added onto a purchased plane ticket, and also a rental car at the airport. We talked about how different things are valued differently by different people and why that is. Each day was a journey into discovery…for all of us!

I don’t think I’ve worked so hard in my life. After the school day I’d be preparing for the next day, and then I’d go to officiate a high school basketball game, come back home, finish getting ready for the next school day, and then fall into bed.

I loved it! When Jenn Dilger was hired to be the next teacher, beginning in early February, I was disappointed. She is an awesome teacher, who, in fact, recently I subbed for the last week before Christmas break,break, and am subbing for her three days this month. I just missed the kids, the students, who had taught me so much. I missed the day-to-day interaction and humor. Laughter was a part of the educational adventure for each of my classes.

A couple of weeks ago Carol and I went over to watch a Liberty High School basketball game and three of those students I had on January 9, 2017 met me by the bleachers. We relived those days once again. One of them said, “Coach Wolfe, those were the most fun classes I’ve ever had!” 

“For me, too! I’m not sure how much you all learned, but I had a great time.”

“I still remember when you showed that DuckTales video. And do you remember Abby’s flying lego car? And when Dominick couldn’t answer any of your questions about Iran, the country he was doing a presentation about? And Jonah telling you that you could just call him “G.O.A.T”, greatest of all time?” 

I nodded my head. I remembered and I was very, very blessed to have been a part of it…and still miss it!

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!”