Posted tagged ‘junior high’

Playing Hoops Against the 8th Graders

May 25, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                          May 25, 2019

                              

They hoot and holler as I emerge from the locker room wearing gym shorts, tee shirt, and lily white Air Jordan sneakers. Most of them haven’t seen me in anything but sweat pants or jeans. The paleness of the skin IS a bit alarming!

I’ve been their coach, but never competed against them. Today, however, is the Student-Staff basketball game, an event each year where players who were part of the school 8th grade basketball teams strut onto the court to teach their science, math, and social studies teachers a lesson. 

To them I’m just an old man who knows his “x’s’ and o’s”. They don’t realize that I have a jump shot and can see the court well, even though I take my glasses off when I play. The staff also has “Big Matt”, who measures at about 6’6”, a former college football player who can’t jump or shoot, but…hey! He’s 6’6” and beefy! He causes some of students to “reconsider” every time they have an opportunity to take the basketball into the lane.

Mr. Williams, seventh grade science teacher, has been playing at lunchtime with his students. He’s developed into a shooter, at least for this annual game! Mr. McKinney, despite a sore knee, is fundamentally sound and my coaching compadre!

But the students think that they are all that and a slice of Swiss Cheese! They only have five more days of middle school, and it’s time to leave their mark on the staff! To dominate and then leave like Clint Eastwood at the end of each of his westerns, riding off into the sunset.

One thing, however, that has remained consistent through the years about these basketball games is that the staff plays “team ball” and the students play as individuals. The bodies of the staff might be a bit achy and moving slower, but we know that the whole is better than the sum of the parts. 

Big Matt towers in the lane like Shaq and Mr. Reynolds, who teaches most of the players in social studies, is making them pay for not remembering the three branches of our government. He’s administering “justice” to them, “legislating” pain, and “executing” the game plan. By the middle of the third quarter the lead has hit double figures and keeps growing.

The crowd of students and staff watching from the bleachers cheer on their friends and foes and by the fourth quarter everyone is simply enjoying the event. I close out the game with a half court swish shot at the buzzer and smiles emerge from both sides. For the students, their teachers have become human. For the staff, the students have minimized their swag and enjoyed the moment. 

The next day the kids who I competed against greet me with high fives and looks of amazement. Instead of mentioning my pale-skinned legs they tell me that my sneakers are cool! Instead of my slow defense they talk about my half court shot! 

And what I don’t tell them is that I maxed out on Motrin the night before and soaked my aching body in the hot tub! They are the epilogue to the finished story!

Middle School Passing Period

April 13, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                   April 13, 2019

                             

It’s like an 8:00 A.M. corridor in an O’Hare International Airport terminal…many people rushing and others in no hurry at all…people on a mission and others who look like they’ve been beaten into submission…people all put together and others who are frantic as they seem to be coming apart.

Instead of an airport terminal, however, it’s a  middle school hallway…between class periods. It’s the four minutes of bedlam where a thousand students are required to navigate slimmed down hallways to get from one classroom to the next. 

I stand with two of the awesome sixth grade teachers, Dan Ferrante and Stephanie Wilcox, against a railing watching the mixture of personalities and temperaments pass us by. 

Some use it to ask one of their teachers a quick question or to plead their case for grace.

“Ms. Wilcox!” whines one girl, as she sticks her lower lip out and speaks in a tone that conveys the world is coming to an end, “I didn’t get all of my math homework done…but it wasn’t my fault! My little brother was sick and I had to do his jobs around the house, PLUS my own!” She punctuates the agony of injustice in being the overworked child of the family with a deep sigh.

Ms. Wilcox is very understanding of the inconvenience and tells her that she will send an email to the mom to express her concern for the illness of the brother and her understanding of the daughter’s inability to complete her math assignment.

Eyes wide open greet the teacher’s response. “Oh, you don’t have to do that! He’s…he’s fine today! Our…ahhh…internet is down anyway!”

Ms. Wilcox knows the talent this student has for avoiding work. She’s heard it all before. As the student walks away she enjoys a giggle of satisfaction over the terror she has created in someone who’s been prone to be the terror!

Several eighth graders walk down the crowded hallway with their noses in their cell phones, oblivious to the mass of bodies around them. 

A couple of sixth grade boys with an obsession for looking cool walk by with AirPods in their ears, as if their social status has been elevated. AirPods are the middle school version of a high school student driving a Maserati GT Convertible to school. They think people notice! They overestimate their peer group. Little Tommy, who has so many papers sticking out of his folder that it resembles the aftermath of a tornado, notices only the obstacles in his path to science class. His coat, which he never takes off, flaps in the hallway breeze and one shoelace is untied and so loose the tongue of the shoe looks thirsty! AirPods mean as much to him as hominy grits!

A small herd of seventh grade girls roam down the way in unison. Their conversation is so fast-paced they sound like Alvin and the Chipmunks. Never once do they acknowledge the three teachers. We are obstacles in the midst of their verbal jabber.

The boy I sent to the office last week passes by and I sense a scowl. He may have just spit on me…in his mind! His preference is to have the inmates run the asylum. Teachers are like prison guards. Someday he may find out from first-hand knowledge that prison guards are different!

“Mr. Wolfe, who are you subbing for today?” asks a cute sixth grade girl who still isn’t tall enough to ride the carousel merry-go-round by herself. 

“No one! I just decided to come and hang out in the hallway for a while.”

She giggles and goes on to her Language Arts classroom, not sure if I’m serious or trying to fool her. 

Another sixth grade girl. “Mr. Ferrante, do you want to read my speech?”

“Sure, but maybe at the beginning of our lunch period…unless I can read it in 15 seconds!”

There are the few who seek to take five minutes to get to their destination. They are in no hurry…with the exception of the 2:45 bell at the end of the school day. Jet propulsion empowers their feet at that point!

The crowds lessen and the teachers turn towards their classrooms. For the next 57 minutes the terminals will be quiet until the next class period’s flights begin boarding. 

The Blessing of Cluelessness

December 12, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                       December 12, 2017

                            

Recently I was sitting on the bench waiting for my 8th Grade boy’s basketball team to begin their game. The 7th Grade team had played right before us, and, after a post-game meeting with her team, the coach came out of the girl’s locker room, where the boys had been assigned to dress, and sat down beside me. She was laughing…one of those “I can’t believe I heard that” laughs.

“What’s going on, Coach?” I asked her, wanting to be clued in on the humor behind the chuckling.

“I just heard one of the boys say to one of his teammates as they stood in front of a machine anchored to the locker room wall, “Twenty-five cents! Who would pay twenty-five cents for a napkin?”

Sometimes middle school kids bless us with their cluelessness. The head librarian at the middle school where I coach told me a story about another 7th Grader who was reading an article about the Easter Island’s famous stone statues. He called across the library to her and asked her, “What does defecation mean?” She let him know that it means to poop. A strange look came over his face as he stared at the picture in the article. She watched for a few moments and his expression of confusion did not change. It was as if he was trying to figure out a math problem, so she walked over to see what was puzzling him. There was a man in the picture standing in front of the statues showing their massive size in comparison to him. Then she saw what the wording was underneath the picture. It said, “Easter Island stone statues are thought to be the result of deification.” The librarian chuckled as she realized the student’s confused look was because he was trying to figure out how the man in the picture had been able to poop out the statues?

Cluelessness leads us to moments of humored blessing!

One of the reasons I love teaching and coaching seventh graders is the heightened level of cluelessness that appears in their midst. I was the same way growing up! Perhaps my enjoyment has some connection to some of those past personal experiences. I see myself in the rear mirror of some of the seventh graders I’m walking by.

We often limit our understanding of blessing to the serene, the peaceful, the surprise gift in the mail, but some of the pimply cluelessness of adolescent life also falls into that category as well.

In fact, last week as I was substitute teaching seventh grade a couple of students were updating me on some of the middle school lingo that I was clueless about. They taught me what a couple of words meant and challenged me to use them in some way in my next class. When I did they burst out laughing! There’s something refreshing to students to be able to view cluelessness in their instructors.

God blesses us through wisdom and revelation, but he also touches the tickle side of our spirit through the innocent moments of cluelessness.

Adventures of a Substitute Teacher: Keeping Control the Last Day of School

May 25, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                             May 25, 2017

       

Today is the last day of another school year. Well, actually…most of the eighth graders’ last day was a couple of weeks ago! They checked out about the time “May” appeared on the calendar.

Today I’m substituting in the afternoon for a teacher friend of mine who is attending her daughter’s fifth grade graduation ceremony. So…what would be practical bits of wisdom to have written on my hand for the last day of school. Here’s what I’ve come up with!

1) Don’t let anyone get killed! Keep an eye on the school roof. Don’t let anyone jump from there just because they wore their Superman t-shirt. Also, if someone has been noticeably uncoordinated the whole school year playing “Frogger” across the street in front of the school most likely will end up badly!

2) Use your common sense. If something that is being done may very well end up with a police report being filed…that’s probably not good! Remember! “Common Sense” is a middle school elective that most students choose not to take. They prefer woodworking with sharp objects and piercing tools instead.

3) Stay with at least two other teachers during the last hour when most of the school is outside. Like packs of wolves, students will look for “lone teachers” to pick on. It’s their nature! In case you as a teacher get separated make sure you have plenty of candy in your pockets. Throw the candy away from you while shouting “Candy!”…and run in the opposite direction!

4) When the final bell sounds…get to the side of the hallway or into a classroom. The running of the bulls is about to happen. If you feel brave run in front of them, but just remember…another stampede is coming from the opposite direction and you most likely will be the meat in the bun!

5) Expect the emotional! There will be the students who will say that they will miss you greatly…wish that you could come to high school with them…want to visit you this summer…tell you that you’re the best teacher they’ve ever had…that you have inspired them to become teachers…and all kinds of other nice comments. Simply nod your head in acknowledgement and give high fives. The students you truthfully inspired have been known to you for a long time. They are the ones who never have to look at their cell phones the whole class period.

6) Understand that some of these students will be sitting across the table from you in less than twenty years as the parents at parent-teacher conferences! As your body shudders uncontrollably…remember the same thing was true for you…back in the day! Miracles still happen, just as they did long ago with you!

7) When you get in your car immediately lock the doors! Students like to pretend they are zombies!

Going Back To Class…as The Teacher

January 14, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                          January 14, 2017

                                  

My Great Aunt Lizzie took art classes at her local community college when she was 96. I still have one of the canvas paintings that she created- a picture of the log cabin she lived in when she was a child!

I went back to school this week, also…at the age of 62 years and 8 months! The difference is that I was the teacher in classrooms full of 7th Graders who took the huge task upon themselves of teaching the teacher.

I did not realize that “7th Grade” qualifies as a foreign language. This week I gave them an assignment that involved making a brief presentation in front of the class about who each of them is…interests, background, hobbies, etc. Most 7th Graders are wired! They are into gaming, YouTube, social media, and their friends. After each presentation I allowed the class to ask some clarifying questions about the insights the presenter had given about their life.

Questions like:

“What’s your favorite video game? What level are you on at before mentioned video game?”

    “Who are your favorite YouTubers?” 

    “Who is your favorite character in Harry Potter?

    “What’s your favorite Drake song?”

    The education came in the answers. On the chalk board at the front of the classroom I had put two headings: Don’t Know! and Know. Under each heading I had drawn lines. To begin the week I had two lines underneath the “Know” column. It was to let the students know that there was very little that I knew. Worded another way, I was pretty much clueless about this teaching thing! Under the “Don’t Know” heading I had two columns of about a dozen lines each. As the presentations took place the students noticed that once in a while I would take the two steps to the board and add another line of something new that I had just discovered that I didn’t know.

Those discovered unknowns usually were new language terms of the “Seventh-ish” language. I’m just glad I won’t be tested on it next week!

I need to go to Best Buy and browse the video game section. I’m still more familiar with “Baywatch” than I am with “Overwatch”. “Titan Fall”…ahhh, clueless! I’ve heard of Madden 17, but I haven’t played it. I’m from the generation of kids who played Electric Football, that unusual game where you lined up the players on a tabletop football field, turned the power on and watched them scatter all over the place like out-of-control ants. It was a game that was tortuous to play, and after a couple of months got crammed into the back of the closet.

I was also taught this week by this squadron of 120 students that there are a number of 7th Graders who are dealing with some deep hurts and pains. There’s a lot of uncertainty about what is and what will be. Gaming systems, music interests, and YouTube are safe topics to dwell on, as opposed to split families, parents being deployed, and depression. In that respect, 7th Graders haven’t changed. Forty years ago when I was their age I was dealing with the confusion of adolescence, the stigma of being the shortest student in my whole grade, and being the new kid in a school where just about everyone already had their set of friends. I’m thankful to this day for Terry Kopchak and Mike Bowman who saw me as the new kid who needed some friends. My education this week taught me that in a world of rapid change and new terminology some things don’t change.

The good news is that we (the 7th Grade squadron and me) journeyed together well this week. Being a retired pastor I’ve always been the shepherd, but this week I was more like the sheep with 120 guiding shepherds keeping me under control and pointed in the right direction.

Riding A Bus With 7th Grade Boys

November 1, 2016

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                         October 31, 2016

                            

During the course of this school year I will have coached three middle school athletic teams- a 7th Grade football team and two 8th Grade basketball teams. Some who may be reading this might be thinking I’m crazy, but my response is…what a hoot! I receive so much writing material from coaching middle school kids. They never cease to amaze me…and, ironic as it may sound, teach me!

Last week our 7th and 8th Grade basketball teams had about a 30 minute bus ride to an away game. The 8th Grade boys take control over the back few rows of the bus. It is their domain, their clubhouse! There is an invisible “Do Not Enter!” sign at about Row 10. The 7th Grade boys therefore take up residence in the front and middle sections, a safe two seats back from the coach, but close enough for me to hear their conversation.

I learned things!

First of all, 7th Grade boys jump from topic to topic like a game piece in a checker’s match. Here’s a snippet (Names have been changed):

“I hate math!

“Mr. _________ is mean!”

“He sends people to the office for just breathing!”

“Dude, I got a whiff of Emily Johnson breath after lunch. I got ill!”

“What did she have for lunch?”

“I think those garlic bread sticks and crap!”

“Dude, she said hi to me in the cafeteria and it was like her butt was saying hello!” (Chuckling and laughter. Butt and farting language is considered cool and 7th Grade boys feel obligated to laugh even if they don’t think it is that funny!)

“Dude, I can not eat the food they serve in the cafeteria!”

“I can’t wait for the new Chick-fil-a to open.”

“It won’t make any difference to us! We can’t leave school for lunch until we’re like 18!”

“I can’t wait until I’m 18 to have different food for lunch!”

“Dude, suck it up!”

“I’m getting a new puupy!”

“Sweet!”

“Dude, you’ll have to pick up all the poop!”

Laughter and chuckling!

With that conversation in mind, the second thing I learned is that 7th graders begin sentences with “Dude!” if they are about to make a statement that requires a hearing. “Dude” is the emphasizer! It signals to the gathered cluster that what the boy is about to say is important to listen to…even if it isn’t!

“Dude, did you hear about Amy doing a face plant coming down the stairs today?”

“Dude, that was awesome!”

“Dude!”

“Dude!”

Sentiment is not a big thing with 7th Grade boys, especially if it is related to klutziness or the unexpected.

The third thing I learned is that 7th Grade boys have lost all understanding of “inside voice, outside voice.” You know what I’m talking about? Volume control! The conversation will be going along in a normal way and someone will erupt like a Hawaiian volcano in jet engine level volume. They have no concept of how their voices can enter the radar screen of annoying.

And yet their youthfulness is their gift, their stress reliever. I’m sitting in row two thinking about the game that is looming on the horizon, getting my mind right, thinking about player rotations and offensive principles…and they are thinking about how does the chocolate chewy part get  inside a grape-flavored Tootsie Roll Pop?

There’s something…pure and simple about that, something that I probably need to lean towards.

Dude!