Posted tagged ‘learning something new’

The Specialness of Special Needs Students

September 28, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                   September 28, 2019

                         

I’ve been looking forward to bedtime these past few days. By 7:30 I’m being challenged to stay upright until 9:00. I’ve been teaching special needs students at Timberview Middle School. Let’s just say that I’m getting my steps in during the school day.

It’s a three week assignment that they asked to take on while the teacher is away. One week is done and I’m down three pounds!

It’s been amazing, amusing, intriguing, and educational. Each of the students has their challenges and their awesome characteristics. Each is unique in some way and just like any other middle school kid in other ways.

For example, yesterday I was teaching a lesson to a group of 8th graders about the American Revolution. I mentioned the Declaration of Independence that was signed on July 4, 1776, and then strayed off with the question about whether any of them have watched fireworks. One girl shook her head yes and then said “Katy Perry, Fireworks.”

Being the old guy who is immersed in the middle school culture and yet totally clueless, I asked what “Katy Perry, Fireworks” meant. That led to us pulling up the song on a cell phone and singing it together. The young lady wants me to work on it and sing it solo-style on Monday. 

And then there’s the 7th grade boy who I do math work sheets with. Each time he gets a problem correct he becomes a drummer with his pencil and the edge of the table. His pencils literally take a beating each day. One 6th grade boy calls everyone “Dude”, even the school principal, but has added “Mr. Wolfe” to his vocabulary now. 

The para professionals who work with the students, go to the regular classrooms with them, help them to the bathroom, and do special feeding for the ones who require it…are incredible! I’m like a fish out of water that is being saved numerous times each day. They appreciate the consistency of my presence and my willingness to help, my conversation with the students and communication with classroom teachers about assignments and daily topics, but they know I’m a green rookie. 

It’s a new kind of education. I’ve discovered the specialness of their personalities, the challenges of keeping their attention, the variety of “paces”…from the young lady that required 28 minutes just to get to the physical education class outside, to the 8th grade boy who I can’t keep up with as he runs to give his mom a hug at the end of the school day.

I see the strain on the paras, who must constantly be alert to the sudden changes in their students’ movements and decisions- the chance of a sudden fall, shift in direction, changes in mood, and need to go to the restroom. There is no down time. A couple of them are often bruised by the unintentional blows that they receive.

And yet the work is rewarding. It is a reminder that the most rewarding moments of life are usually uncomplicated expressions of delight and discovery. Understanding algebra is one thing, but having a challenged student consistently being able to correctly add another number to an “8” is another. 

I see other students trudging through their school days uninspired and uninterested. Most of the special needs students look forward to their school days. It is their daily adventure into a place of discovery and relationships. They walk to class with their peer partners and engage in conversations about life. It’s the place where they are challenged, but also cheered.

For the adults that walk along beside them, it’s an opportunity to see life from a totally different perspective. 

And for me? Well…come Monday I’d better be ready with “Fireworks”!

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!

Mentors For the Journey

January 4, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                      January 4, 2019

                                      

I’ve been blessed to have a number of mentors in my life that have allowed me to try and fail, hone certain skills, and pointed out my strengths and weaknesses. 

Dr. James Payson Martin, senior pastor of Arlington Heights (IL) First Presbyterian Church was my first mentor when I joined a church staff. He was gentle but firm. Grace-filled, but demanding. I was between my second and third years of seminary, looking for a summer ministry experience that would stretch me…and it did. Loved it and learned from it! Grew as I groaned! 

Jim Martin was the catalyst for my growth. His daughter, Cyndi, remains a long distance friend of mine (She still lives in the Chicago area). I get choked up thinking about her and her dad. Jim passed away suddenly the week of Easter about 30 years ago. 

And then there is Chuck Landon, my first mentor in a church ministry after I was ordained and on a church staff full-time. I had been on the staff of another church for about 15 months after seminary graduation and it did not go well. I was defeated and discouraged, wondering if I was really called to ministry. The senior pastor was rarely around to guide me. The rumor was that he spent more time on the golf course, which had one of its fairways rolling right behind his backyard. This “Wolfe” often felt like he was being fed to the wolves!

Lansing First Baptist Church rescued me from leaving ministry, and Chuck Landon taught me more about being a pastor than anyone else I have known. His work ethic flowed out of his passion for Christ, pursuit for excellence, and love for the people he pastored and community he served in. When I was willing to settle for less he let me know it was unacceptable. When I did something well he affirmed the excellence and effectiveness of it. When I wore my softball cleats (They were rubber cleats, okay!) to a Diaconate meeting in the pristine church parlor, he read me the riot act the next day! He taught me responsibility, and he taught me that perception, no matter whether it is accurate or not, is the reality.

Those two men mentored me to become a good pastor. They prepared me to mentor others to be good pastors, and hopefully those people will mentor others.

I’ve had other mentors through the years also in other areas of life. Don Fackler mentored me to a good basketball coach. When I assisted him in coaching the Mason (Michigan) High School Girl’s JV team, he laid the foundations in my life on how to coach. Now, more than 20 years later, I still find myself using some of those same learnings, and speak some of the same terms that he spoke. 

As I write more these days there have been a few mentors to bring my writing quality up. God has blessed me to have my life path converge with Ed and Diana Stucky. They’ve pressed me to not settle for less, to reach for quality and to be a wordsmith in conveying ideas. 

Mentors are essential for our development and success. If we learn in isolation we will experience the storms of being isolated. If we realize that we are “not all that!” and allow others to speak truth into the rough edges of our lives we will be better, and we will be better prepared to be vessels that flow with purpose!

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!

Becoming the Student Again…as the Teacher

January 8, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                        January 8, 2017

                             

    Tomorrow I begin a long-term substitute teaching position, traveling with a pack of seventh grade adventurers through Sub-Saharan Africa for the next couple of weeks. In preparation I went to the public library and checked out a bunch of books, including Fodor’s The Complete Guide to African Safaris! Of all the continents Africa is the one I know the least about…and thus, I will be the “lead student” amongst a roomful of students in the discovery process.

I grew up in a time of black-and-white box TV sets on which I watched two Saturday morning shows each week: “Tarzan” and “Jungle Jim.” Those adventure shows gave me a very distorted view of the Dark Continent. I thought most of the male inhabitants ran around in loincloths. I had a roommate in my years of seminary training who frequently walked around campus in a loincloth. He even performed our wedding ceremony in 1979…in a suit though!

So I enter the jungle of a new classroom Monday morning on a learning safari!

I’m thinking of making a trip to Barnes and Noble today to see if they have a CliffsNotes book on Long-Term Substitute Teaching! I can just envision how it might begin: 1) Be on time! 2) Make sure you’re zipped! 3) Don’t pick your nose! 4) Don’t be afraid! They won’t eat you!

I’m looking forward to my new education. I’m replacing a great teacher. The worst thing I could do would be to make social studies bland and a daily torture. I remember the history class I had my junior year of high school. We were arranged alphabetically in rows and Betsy Wolfe was in front of me. I can’t tell you how many days I got a few snooze moments as I hid behind Betsy. I was totally bored by American History at that point!

And then when I was a sophomore in college I took an American History class one term, taught by a professor named Richard Jennison. It was the only class I ever took that he taught, but he made history come alive. Wherever that spark of interest was within me, he ignited it for U.S. History. The next year I switched majors and become a history major. I look back at that and realize that Professor Jennison was the change agent in my life.

As I begin this new adventure I’m hoping I’ll come alongside kids in an adventure of learning, but, most of all, I don’t want any students to be like I was in that high school history class…hiding behind Betsy Wolfe with my eyes closed!

Being An Old Rookie

February 3, 2016

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                       February 3, 2016

                                         

    I’m thirty-four days into my retirement after thirty-six and a half years in pastoral ministry. People have asked me several hundred times what I’m going to do? The answer to that is still being filled in, but I’m beginning some new endeavors.

Last week I was asked if I would be interested in being the interim pastor at a church a good drive away from where we live. My answer: “Not yet!”

What I have done so far in the first thirty-four days is spend a good deal of time with my ten month old granddaughter, learning how to change a diaper again, how to feed a baby, how to carry a baby in one of those baby carriers you wear, and finding out that going to the bathroom for someone who is watching a baby can only happen at certain times…so shake a leg quickly!

I’ve also officiated several basketball games for youth leagues. That experience has brought me into contact with some good coaches, and other coaches that I wouldn’t let my grandkids get close to. Last Sunday afternoon a minute and a half into one of the games I officiated I stopped the game and had a little “Come to Jesus” session with one of the coaches. He got the message that the fear of God was close at hand, and didn’t say another word to me for that game except to call time-out.

I’ve visited four different churches on Sundays and enjoyed the different experiences. More than that, I’ve had four Saturday nights where I’m not thinking about what I’m going to say in the Sunday sermon.

But perhaps my most adventurous new exploration is that I’m beginning a new career as a substitute teacher. What!!!!

Tomorrow I’ll go to observe in a classroom for the second time. The first time I observed in a couple of high school classes. Tomorrow I will observe in a couple of middle school math classes. One of them is Algebra. Maybe I’ll learn something, because it really didn’t stick the first time around when I took it…46 years ago!

In essence, I am a sixty one year old rookie. I face the unknown with excitement and hesitation. I remember how we treated substitute teachers back in the day. I’m sure we drove some of them to positions of employment with the elderly! We were insensitive brats trying to get anyway with anything we could. My fear is that I’ll encounter the great-great grandchildren of a couple of those teachers who know the criminal history of my high school days with their ancestors.

In my defense…I have no defense. It is just what we did.

My hope that the sins of my past school behavior will not come back to haunt be is rooted in the fact that I am already a coach at the two schools I will substitute at. But I also recognize that I am an old rookie who may be a bit gullible. When that first student says that “a + b= z”, I’ll say “Sounds good to me!” When that first spit wad zings past my head I’m not sure how I will react. When chalk dust is put on my chair and I sit down in it with my dark pants on I may become disoriented and bright red in the face.

You may be saying, “Those things will never happen!” I hope you’re right, because those are things that I did to substitute teachers when I was in school. The sins of the past…

I just want to get past the first day. Last week at a basketball game I was coaching, my wife heard someone from the other team say “Their coach is chill!” I’m not sure what that means, but she said it was a compliment.

I hope I am chill in the classroom the day when I get the 5:45 A.M. call. I can hear it now, “You have a substitute position today in…middle school Latin.”

Oh great! I’m going to teach a subject I flunked!