Posted tagged ‘education’

Mr. Wolfe'(“Wolf-ay”), Substitute Teacher

December 6, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                          December 6, 2017

                               

Almost a year ago I had an unusual bonding experience. I got a phone call asking if I would do a long-term substitute teaching position for a month at the middle school I also coach at. The call came on Friday and I started the next Monday. I was as green as week-old guacamole when I arrived at 7:15 that morning of January 9th. The principal’s granddaughter was in my first class!

It was 7th Grade Social Studies and I admitted to the class that there were a lot of things that I DIDN’T KNOW as I started the journey. On the board in front of the classroom I made three columns of marks to indicate all the things I didn’t know…and then to the right of that a column of things that I did know that included about three tiny marks under it.

The class was held in one of the portable classrooms outside the school building, and on the first day high winds that registered as much as 110 miles an hour in the area made the classroom shake like a 7th Grader standing in the middle of the principal’s office. The school district cancelled afternoon bus transportation because a couple of trucks had blown over.

That was the first day of my new experience…and it was awesome! We laughed together each day in our pursuit of knowledge and figuring out the world. Each day the 125 students that entered my classroom taught me as much as I taught them. They knew things would be a bit different when I showed a Duck Tales cartoon to introduce our study of how inflation worked.

And then one day a couple of the girls were playing around with how to pronounce my name and they suddenly made me French. Wolfe became Wolfe’, pronounced “Wolf-ay”. To be fair, I had turned a couple of their names into French-sounding mademoiselles first and they returned the favor.

After my month-long stint I was a bit depressed at no longer heading to the portable classroom each morning. The other three teachers on my team asked me why I hadn’t applied to be the new teacher and were a bit surprised when I told them that I did not have a teaching degree. I was simply a state certified substitute teacher.

Those three teachers would call me to sub for them, and for the rest of the school year I was in one of the portables several times each month.

Now…Year Two…word has spread about the substitute with the French name and the new seventh grade students have joined the parade of students who have made me a French-Canadian. I walk down the hallway and have students yell my name. Yesterday I was subbing for Physical Education, today I have seventh grade language arts, tomorrow eighth grade science, and Friday seventh grade science.

And it’s awesome!

Going Back To School

October 28, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                     October 28, 2017

                                  

My parents would testify to the truth of this statement.

I was not a very good student!

Actually, I was not a very motivated student. I was motivated to get to physical education class, but I can not remember another class in middle school or high school that I was motivated to excel in. Each day was a trip to Boredom in a vehicle named Mediocrity.

I remember a number of my teachers, but not necessarily for what they taught me. I remember “earthquake drills” in Health class where we laid our heads on our desks. An earthquake drill meant that our teacher hadn’t had time to plan a lesson. I remember my chemistry teacher saying that if an atomic bomb was going to be dropped by Russia it would be aimed at a place within an hour of our location. I don’t remember the chemical symbols of the periodic chart, but I do remember that we’d be the first to perish on doomsday!

I substitute taught seventh grade all five days this past week. The techniques and methods of teaching have changed, but the students are still the same. For many students the legal requirement of being in school seems to cast a looming shadow over the opportunity to go to school. Since they HAVE to do it there is a lack of WANTING to do it!

I was the same way…or worse! I now wonder what my teachers said to my parents during those parent-teacher conferences. I doubt that it included statements about my academic achievements and prowess.

And now…forty-five years after high school, I often wish I could return to the role of student and sit under the tutelage of some of those teachers that I rarely gave a hearing to. I wish I could actually sit in one of those desks and hear about dangling participles and plane geometry theorems. I’d like to sit there with my laptop and type out notes as my teacher lectured on the Spanish Inquisition.

Why is it that we are too often late in appreciating what we’re a part of, and left to sadly reminisce about lost opportunities?

Of course, that’s how it is with other area of our lives, also! We take for granted the presence of family and friends, talk about visiting that certain aunt someday soon…that never seems to come…and then it’s too late! We commit to getting out of debt…next month! We’ll make that doctor appointment for the physical exam we’ve been dreading…sometime soon! We’ll take the family to a movie…as soon as we get that major house project done that we keep putting off!

I wish I could go back to school. Maybe I will! My Great Aunt Lizzie took art classes at the community college in Paintsville, Kentucky when she was in her mid-nineties! I still have the painting she gifted me with of her log cabin birthplace. Maybe I’ll sign up for an American History class with young adults and risk being called Grandpa!

Funny, isn’t it…my longing for education when I used to long for it to be over!

Assuming Knowledge

October 19, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                             October 19, 2017

                                       

Much of our lives are based on assumptions. Assumptions are as basic as assuming that the next time I inhale there will be air around me to breathe in, and when I get out of bed in the morning that there will be a solid floor under my feet to step on.

We assume certain rules of order. Close to the middle school I teach at there is a four-way stop. When the car on my right proceeds through the intersection I assume that I am the next vehicle that will go. Yesterday, however, someone behind the first car did a quick stop and stepped on the gas. My assumption of courteous and orderly driving was false. Irritation did a quick circuit through my body as the wild woman driver turned in front of me and gave me a non-conforming look.

Yesterday I was teaching a class of sixth graders about the homesteaders of the latter part of the eighteen hundreds in our country, the push to settle the Great Plains and the West. I began by talking about the Civil War and was taken back by some of the blank stares that communicated ignorance of the topic.

“Who knows what century the Civil War was fought in?”

A raised hand. “1900’s.” I gasped.

“No. Anybody else?”

Another raised hand by a confident young man. “1700’s?”

“No.”

Another hand. “1800’s?”

“Correct!” Of course, the student, using his inflated amount of common sense, had figured it out by the process of elimination.

I had assumed that sixth grade students knew about the Civil War. In quizzing them on why there was a Civil War only about twenty per cent knew the primary reason as to why it happened. Of course, about eighty percent of them knew the names of the most popular video games out right now and the words to several of the top ten songs on the “hits chart”!

It occurred to me that part of the confusion of these times that we live in goes to the uncertainty of assumptions. There’s the greying of guidelines, the haziness in unwritten rules, and the fog of expectations.

For instance, my daughter who is a fourth grade teacher can no longer assume that a parent who is sitting in front of her at a parent-teacher conference is on the same page with her in seeking to help the student have academic success. She now, too often, runs into parents who see her as their son’s adversary. The conference becomes a battle where she is viewed as the problem as opposed to little Jimmy’s reading level still being that of a second grader. She can no longer assume that a conference will help the parents understand where their child is in his schoolwork, and how they can help him.

Today before my 8th Grade basketball practice I will draw the team together and talk about the importance of selflessness in creating a strong team. I can no longer assume that players that I coach understand that the game they are playing is a team sport. I still remember the halftime locker room several years ago where the team I was assistant coach for was trailing by ten points. One player suddenly said, “Coach, I’ve got eleven points!” It was almost as if she didn’t understand that the purpose of the game was to win it, not keep track of personal stats.

We sometimes assume too much, assume things are the way they’ve always been, and assume people have a basic understanding.

Ohhhh…..for a clearer time when people understood the way life worked better!

Re-entering The World of First Grade

September 20, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                         September 19, 2017

                               

The six year old boy stood beside my desk and looked at me. “I’ve never had a boy teacher before. I’ve always had girl teachers.”

“Oh, is that so?” I replied.

“Yes, and I’ve always wanted a boy teacher. If I didn’t have a boy teacher by the time I’m eight or nine I was going to be really upset!”

“Okay! Well, I’m a boy!” He smiled and walked back to his desk. My morning of teaching first graders was beginning with one young man’s personal agenda being fulfilled.

Being a substitute teacher in first grade is a delightful experience…mostly! There were the moments when movement in certain students legs required them to get out of their seats and wiggle for a few seconds, and there’s always a student who wants to answer everything, be the one who is always chosen, and the one who is always first in line…but, for the most part, it’s an enjoyable experience. Someone’s pencil falls on the floor every five seconds, but no one ever throws a pencil at another student. That doesn’t become a problem until like…middle school!

Being a man…or a “boy teacher” in first grade causes the mouths of first grade students to drop open as they see the teacher of the other gender standing there as they arrive.

Some people who know me would say that my maturity level is similar to a first grader’s. At the school I subbed at a classical piece of music is played over the speakers in the classroom to begin the school day. I could not help myself as I swayed and moved my head from side-to-side in front of the classroom. The students giggled at my gyrations! In my opinion first grade needs to include a lot of laughter and giggling. Each day needs to be an experience in education, not a task in learning.

I led them on a journey with a nomad tribe, as we studied history. I made a fool of myself by intentionally saying the months of the year incorrectly and having them tell me when I messed up. I told them about my family as they enjoyed their mid-morning snack. My granddaughter is in first grade this year, and they thought that was pretty cool!

But this first grade class steered me back on the road when I was straying off-course. For example, at the beginning of the day the date is written on the board and I was forgetting to do that. STOP! As we were heading out for recess I had not taken the whistle that was hooked to the wall right by the door. One cute girl with a very serious look on her face corrected me. I repented of my omission and grabbed the whistle. I believe she has a future in law enforcement.

At noon the teacher who had been at training that morning…a girl teacher!…returned and I turned the rest of the day’s journey over to her…a little sad that I was leaving and blessed to have been a part of it!

The Stupidest Question In Seventh Grade Science Class

September 16, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                           September 16, 2017

                                     

In my other world of substitute teaching I entered a seventh grade science classroom for three days this past week. The teacher, Mr. Williams…”Dean-O” to me…had called in July to schedule me for several days this fall. This week included Days 3, 4, and 5 of that journey…so I knew the students already. I knew who the studious students were, as well as the suspect students. I knew the “go to” students- the ones who the teacher can always call on for help- and also the ones who were familiar with the furnishings inside the assistant principal’s office.

Wednesday started with questions spoken with a whine. “Do we have to do this?”, “Can I just sit here and not do anything?”, “Why does Mr. Williams give us so much to do?”, and “Do we have to do ALL the definitions?” (No, just the ones you know, so you don’t have to tax your brain too much!)

Other questions followed closely that were lacking in intelligence. It became a pattern…questions asked about terms that were right there in the reading.

“What’s the labrum? I can’t find it in the reading.”

“First paragraph under the section entitled Digestive System in bold print.”

“Oh!”

So on Day Two I made it a contest! I told them that during the last three minutes of class I’d listen to stupid questions, and the stupidest question would receive a bag of Skittles candy. You talk about excitement! The kids with the highest IQ’s were all over it. They used their extra intelligence to craft extremely dumb queries.

Some of the questions were more like problem-solving situations that required me to think…and thus were disqualified from winning! Others tongue-twisters, like the woodchuck riddle that creates muscle spasms in your mouth.

A few tried to plagiarize “stupid questions”, sneaking their smart phones under their desks and googling “stupid questions.” Most of them were nabbed. Like the boy who asked the stupid question, “Why does an alarm clock ‘go off’ when it’s actually ‘turning on’?” Questions such as that got class responses of “You got that on the internet!” I was amazed later on when I googled the category that there were so many links to “stupid questions”! Stupidity is in abundance!

There were the stupid questions that included no creativity, such as “Is this a stupid question?”, or “How do you spell “a”?”, and “Am I smart?”

The winners were usual the ones that were so stupid that I had to stop and think about it for a second. They will appear in the midst of the dialogue of the next Dumb and Dumber movie. Questions like, “How does brown work?”, “Since the moon is made of cheese is it true that astronauts can not be lactose intolerant?”, and “What do they feed the cows to make the milk come out chocolate?”

Let’s face it! In the midst of seventh grade science classes there have been a lot of stupid questions asked over the years, but on a couple of days this past week thought-through stupidity was celebrated!

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!

Supervising My Wife…and Others!

February 27, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                        February 27, 2017

                               

My new career as a substitute teacher had a new twist to it last week. I was my wife’s supervisor…yes, her boss! I watched her every move, yelled at her constantly, told her exactly what she needed to do…NO!

I was subbing for the teacher of the special needs students’ classroom. About eight para-professionals who work with the students looked to me for direction…and did not receive it!

They went about their routines and responsibilities and I just kind of hung around and tried not to get in the way. They were all highly-skilled women who showed extreme patience with the students with special needs and limitations. One of the students got a grasp of the hair of a para. She patiently and gently untangled his fingers from her hair. Another student had an expletive-laced episode and his para calmly reminded him such language was not acceptable, and then, without missing a beat, got him focused on the academic work he was to do.

Amazing women doing an extremely difficult job for limited compensation! Amazing women who treat their students with care and respect, give hugs when needed, stern direction when necessary, and encouragement constantly.

And so I was the teacher! One of the days I led the students and their sidekicks in “adaptive physical education.” We played a version of dodgeball that I came up with called “The Fox and The Hounds.” The dodge balls were small and soft, the students sat on floor scooters, and I encouraged them to throw their dodge balls at the two “peer partner” students. In other words, they were to be the hounds “chasing the foxes.” One student who is immobile and wheelchair-bound also became the target. He squealed in delight at being included in the chase as his para pushed him around the gym in his chair.

The paras let me lead that experience, but they made it happen. They made it an enjoyable time of recreation for the students.

For the rest of that day I stood in the background and watched those I was “the boss” of do their thing. I saw autistic students figuring out problems, strong-willed students having face-offs with their paras who would not back down from the tasks that needed to be accomplished. I saw paras helping students into the bathroom, and I was thankful that such a responsibility was outside my qualifications. I saw students being re-taught how to feed themselves- a process that was being re-learned for the hundredth time!

The evening after I was my wife’s boss I saw her with a new appreciation. She has always had a heart for children and youth, graduating from TCU with a degree in deaf education, teaching deaf pre-schoolers, working with kids at church, and, for the last several years, coming alongside special needs students at our middle school. She is amazing and I will never, ever, never really be her boss!