Posted tagged ‘elementary school’

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!

Give Them More Recess!

May 14, 2016

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                         May 13, 2016

                                 

In recent weeks I’ve been substitute teaching in several elementary classrooms. I’ve observed tendencies and oddities that make me ponder the methods of educating kids. Last week I had a kindergarten class where multiple boys fell out of their seats numerous times during the day, but not a single girl took a spill. Why would that be?

One of my former college classmates, Cyndi Faur, had given me an idea that I had put into practice that hit upon the epidemic of chair-clumsy boys. It concerned recess. She suggested that I write the word “R-E-C-E-S-S” on the board and tell them that if their actions and focus were excellent that each of the letters would mean an extra two minutes of recess. Inappropriate behavior took letters off the board.

I tried that a couple of times, and then I switched to writing a letter on the board every fifteen minutes when there was good behavior and focused work.

If you want to help elementary kids stay focused give them the possibility of more recess. This past week I was back in the same building where I had subbed for first grade a couple of weeks ago. A few of the students saw me and ran up to give me hugs. “Mr. Wolfe!” they shouted as they saw me on the playground. They remembered me, not for my math prowess, but rather for the fact that I gave them a few extra minutes of recess.

“Recess” means “retreat” or “withdraw”. Growing up, youth retreats were the ultimate. Going away for a weekend with our youth group, retreating from the busyness of Ironton, Ohio for two days…those experiences were the mountaintops of my high school years! Retreats readied us for the weeks of school, the struggles of being teenagers in the midst of a world that was sending us all kinds of mixed messages.

Kids need retreats! They need breaks from the classroom. They need five extra minutes of getting that energy out. Five extra minutes of being let loose from the bridle of the daily phonogram lesson.

And here’s the thing! It doesn’t stop with elementary school students. All of us need more recesses…a few more minutes to retreat…even to let loose.

God created us that way. All work and no play makes Billy a very somber boy! All work and no retreat gives us a grayness that hangs over us like a Charlie Brown rain cloud.

I saw a picture of a church that has a kid’s play area in the sanctuary. I’ve got to think a little more about that one…like will we have to keep the adult kids out of there?… but perhaps churches should think about adult play areas, places of recess. Those youth retreats I referenced…some of the best times during those weekends revolved around just being together for a few moments of laughter and conversation. We draw close to God as faith journeyers as we walk through crises together, but also as we laugh, talk, learn, and play together. Shallow relationships focus on one aspect, instead of all the parts of the journey.

The small church in the small rural community that I travel to two Sundays a month to speak concludes each service with about 30 minutes of cake and coffee. Since there’s only about 20 people it is informal, punctuated with laughter, and blessed with awesome cakes from a lady named Betty (Crocker). In many ways it is the recess from the week for the farmers and hard-working people of that congregation. No one leaves right the benediction. Everyone stays. Everyone recesses.

There’s something sacred about that.

Back to school! I was the sub for a third grade class this week. They earned extra time at both recesses, but what may have stuck in the minds of several of the boys was the fact that I joined in with them each recess with the games of “Four Square.” Some of them looked at me differently after recess…like “Wow! Even teachers like recess!”

Yes, most of us do! And not just because I knew we had to do science when we got back to class!

The Fifth Grade Congregation (Part 2)

April 23, 2016

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                        April 23, 2016

                            

I recently substitute taught in a fifth grade classroom. What an awesome experience! It gave me several revelations about the fifth grade and a typical church congregation. I wrote in Part one about “the system”, and how foundational it is in both groups. In Part 2 I’ll ponder another discovery- personalities.

It only took a few minutes of being present in the classroom to discover the personalities of this fifth grade class. Most of them were delightful in their uniqueness and yet predictable in their reactions and responses. It was very similar to a congregation, where uniqueness is applauded in terms of callings and giftings as long as they don’t upset the system.

There were the two or three students who saw their role as being the “irritators.” They were the ones who seemed to always drop their books at the quietest times, the ones who made farting sounds, and comments that brought laughter and attention for a moment. The typical church has a few people like this as well. Sometimes it is “the sacred child”, who has grown up in the church and can do no wrong…and offer nothing positive, as well! Sometimes the irritator is the one who wants the pastor’s attention and time. He/she is usually spiritually immature and wants to be needed. In the classroom the irritator is the one who slows down the completion of the day’s objectives and learning. In the church the irritator is the one who could care less about movement and progress. The church is their playground.

There were also the class leaders. When I started straying outside “the system” the class leaders steered me back onto the road. Class leaders can lead to achievement or lead the herd to run off a cliff. Thankfully the two class leaders I had were more like Moses and less like Aaron.

In the church the leaders are not necessarily the elected officers. They are the ones who guide officially or unofficially. There are leaders who lead the congregation to their kingdom and leaders who understand that they are servant leaders for the kingdom of God. I remember Bill Hybels giving a talk about getting the right people on the bus. That is, the right people to lead the church need to be on the bus. Too often the wrong people are the ones who fight to get on the bus. The right leaders will rarely push to be in a seat of power.

The fifth grade class had a couple of “helpers.” They were the students who picked up paper off the floor or straightened the desks at the end of the school day without being asked. It was part of who they were. They were self-motivated to help. If we had been in a rowboat they were the ones who would have manned the oars without being directed to do so. They saw their role as helping the class get to the finish line of the school day.

In the church the helpers are God’s blessings upon the pastor and leadership. Sometimes they serve in recognized positions, but “the helpers” stand out on a Sunday when the pastor is gone, or people are absent because of sickness. They fill in the gaps. They pick up trash off the floor…naturally…without thinking “That’s the custodian’s job!”

Helpers need leaders, but, in the loneliness of leadership, leaders are extremely indebted to helpers.

The fourth group of the class were “the silent.” They were the few students who never raised their hands to answer questions or offer opinions, the ones who needed encouragement and to be valued. The silent can easily get run over by the irritators and leaders. Like scared kittens they need to be coaxed to come out of their hiding places.

The congregation has the silent group as well. The interesting thing about the silent is that they will often come out of their hiding place in the pew if the leaders personally encourage them, or if one person invites them to come alongside him/her in some simple ministry. The silent can be there every week and yet be invisible.

Finally, in that fifth grade classroom there were “the outliers”, the couple of students who stood outside the expected, and surprised the teacher. They didn’t fit into any one category, and could not easily be described. They were the ones who didn’t fit in the grading curve, like the one student who was in our seminary Hebrew class and had studied Hebrew for years in preparation for his Bar Mitzvah! What!!!!

Outliers are simply surprisers! They hadn’t read the manual on what a fifth grader is suppose to be like. They were the special secret spice in the class recipe.

A congregation has outliers as well. They are the ones who surprise the pastor with a theological insight dealing with social justice, and yet are also card-carrying members of the NRA. They vote Republican and watch CNN, play the saxophone and run marathons. Congregational outliers are the few people who the pastor has a hard time getting a handle on how to describe. They often are the few who have a completely unique perspective on the church that is a revelation to the ears who are willing to hear it.

A fifth grade classroom….and a church congregation- different, and yet so similar!