Posted tagged ‘learning’

A Personal Update

May 26, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                             May 26, 2018

                                   

Permit me to devote my blog post today to my experience at the Colorado Christian Writer’s Conference I attended last week in Estes Park, Colorado. A number of people have asked me what came out of it so I’ll summarize as best I can.

At the conference each attendee is given the opportunity to meet with several literary agents and editors. Those very quick 15 minute appointments are designed to give the writer a chance to pitch his/her book or idea for a book. If there is interest the agent has the option to tell the person that he can send his first few chapters or the whole manuscript for further inspection…or not! 

I had six appointments and was invited to submit my manuscript by five of the people I met with. That was good news on the bottom line. On the other hand, I didn’t feel comfortable with the perspective of a couple of them about what young adult fiction is. 

The best part of the conference for me was the Fiction Intensive Clinic. Those who applied had to submit the first 12-14 pages of their manuscript and a book synopsis. From the submitted materials six people were accepted to be a part of the clinic. The group met for six hours together, plus a 30 minute one-on-one appointment with our instructor, Tim Shoemaker. He has written about a dozen books. Several of them are young adult fiction. Before the conference he had spent about 4 hours of critiquing of each of our group participants’ submissions. He pointed out little details that occurred in our writing that can be easily corrected, made the point that our writing is already good, but it can be made better. Tim is awesome and I bought his three book series that begins with the novel Code of Silence. 

When I told him a few of the other remarks that had been shared with me about youth and young adult fiction that seemed a little bizarre he told me to discount their importance. He encouraged me to press on, which I am!

Because of Tim I’m doing a book rewrite before I send it to any of the literary agents. Although I believe it’s already good I want it to be great. I want it to be the best it can be. It is a very competitive and tough market, especially if you are an unknown. If I’m going to be turned down I don’t want the refusal to be because it’s not good enough, but rather that it doesn’t fit with what the literary agents and publishers are looking for. 

Writing is risky. Words have the power to stir emotions, but they also have the potential to be written in certain ways that cause the reader to become disinterested, to see them as just words that lie lifeless on a page. I think about that each time I sit down to write. Will I write words that can make a difference? 

I can tell a story, but can I write it even better? Yes!

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!

Getting Scorched!

March 11, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                       March 11, 2017

                                     

I’ve coached basketball at Timberview Middle School In Colorado Springs for sixteen years. I feel very blessed to be able to do it. Once in a while my team has gotten scorched! This past Thursday we forgot to put our “hoops sun block” on. The result was a severe ego burn! Thanks to a three point shot at the buzzer we only lost by 29!

It was the third time this season my boys had played Mountain Ridge Middle School. The first time we were blitzed on their court by 30! The second time was in the championship game of our local tournament, and we closed the gap to 12! The third time was probably the worst because we are playing in our gym.

To their credit, this group of Mountain Ridge players has not lost a game in two years. To our credit four of the five games we’ve lost these past two years have been to Mountain Ridge.

What do you say to boys who are accustomed to strutting down the hallway on the next school day after a victory with a hint of cockiness in their steps?

Welcome to reality! As someone used to say “Sometimes you’re the windshield, sometimes you’re the bug, and sometimes you’re the bug smashed on the windshield!” Life is filled with conquering moments and crushing defeats!

BUT…but we live in a culture that thinks their is always a villain in a defeat! People look for scapegoats in losses. This past week the same Mountain Ridge team had played a different school that they also defeated. The next day the person who assigns officials to middle school games got a call from the school’s athletic director complaining about the officials. They had called four fouls on the school’s best player in the first quarter! It was unfair! They were obviously biased! There was no recognition of the coach’s or player’s responsibilities in the situation. Why did the coach leave him in, not only after his third foul, but after his second foul in the first quarter? What about the player’s responsibility to NOT FOUL?

As a coach I’ve been exalted and also vilified! Some have seen me as the best thing since sliced bread and others have wanted to slice me up like bread!

A different team I coached recently got off to a really bad start against a team that ended up winning our league that season. I called time out three times in the first quarter trying to escape the tsunami! Why hold on to them? If you are getting beat by twenty in the first quarter those timeouts aren’t going to do you a bit of good at the end of the game!

Sometimes we’re just the smashed bug on the windshield! My players probably get tired of me saying it, but after a loss I talk about what we can learn from the experience. When you get scorched there are plenty of teachable moments to refer back to.

The team I coach this season has a number of very talented players who haven’t learned how to play well with each other. That’s been my challenge. They hear me harping on them about offensive possessions where there has been just one pass and then someone launches a three point attempt. They hear me spout off “the lesson of the moment” about “If you can get that shot after one pass you can probably get the same shot after five passes.” They are a good team that makes one great play, but then forgets what they’re suppose to do on the next in-bounds play.

They make me look at what I need to do to be a better coach! They are a team that isn’t used to losing, but taking a loss is sometimes the best thing that can happen to you for the long journey!

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!”

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!

Guest Teacher Orientation

August 10, 2016

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                            August 10, 2016

                                

I took my seat on the left side of the long conference table. Ten of us looked expectantly towards the front of the conference room. The presenter was getting his materials organized and about to start.

I was about to get oriented! I was about to find out how to be a guest teacher. Let me emphasize GUEST TEACHER! Not substitute teacher! Somewhere over the last forty years somebody decided that the term “substitute teacher” was like attaching a sticky note to the back of a person’s shirt with the words “Kick Me!” written on it in large bold letters.

Time to confess! I remember the number of times I took advantage of whoever it was that was substitute teaching in my classroom. I remember asking Ms. Roth, who also happened to be a member of the my church, if I could go to the restroom. I feigned illness from eating lunch in the cafeteria that day…a logical conclusion! She gave me permission as I grimaced in front of her, and then I went down to the gym and shot basketball for the rest of the class period. Now… she would probably not remember that, but I do!

Perhaps my transgressions were part of the soil that produced a new name growing out of it, the name “Guest Teacher!”

The orientation began. The presenter stressed a couple of points to help us survive…or that is, be successful! One was “Use your common sense!”  He gave us several examples of what BAD guest teachers have done! At the end of it all of us had the same thought: What were they thinking? Perhaps being around middle school students rubs off on the substitute…er, guest teacher, and they start doing stupid things that result in them getting called in to talk to the school administrators.

I started to make a mental list of all the things I couldn’t bring with me to school: handcuffs, a pocket knife attached to my car keys, peanut products, Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue, words with too many syllables, taser gun, transistor radio, pillow, iPad, sense of humor, bull whip, duct tape, and all political commentary. If I left all those things at home my chances of being a successful guest teacher would be greatly increased. The storyline of guest teaching has been littered with examples of people who “did stupid”, were asked not to come back again, and now are making more money working on a fast-food drive-thru lane.

But then came the second point of the orientation to realize. That students will try to take advantage of guest teachers! Wait a minute! That’s how it was back in 1972 at Ironton High School, in Ironton, Ohio! That means…that means…that nothing has really changed! Well, one thing has…the title. because I am a “Guest Teacher!” Hear me roar!

We were brought back to the reality of the situation; that students are by nature the same as they were back in the day…that they will try to get away with whatever they can!

This is where leaving my sense of humor at home becomes important, for I will look at them like a drill sergeant facing his green recruits and with no expression say “I don’t think so!” It’s also where it is important that I have left my taser gun at home, because I would be tempted to use it a few times.

So now I am ready for battle…I mean, to teach! I’m ready to impart my pearls of wisdom to a new generation of young learners. I’m ready to experience the new chef creations of school cafeterias, students ready and eager to learn, the latest adolescent language terms. and spending the whole day in the gym!

I am oriented! I am a Guest Teacher!