Posted tagged ‘learning’

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!

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!