Posted tagged ‘learning’

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!

Getting Taught By First Graders

April 29, 2016

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                      April 28, 2016

                                   

First Graders are simply adults in little bodies. They can also teach a substitute teacher a few things! And they did!

I arrived at their classroom in the late morning to fill in for their wonderful teacher for the next day and a half. As I talked through a few things with their teacher before she left, a couple of the girls entered the classroom…and seemed a little startled to see me there.

“Are you going to be our teacher?”

“No way!” I said in jest before then saying, “Yes, I am.”

They looked at one another and I heard one of them whisper to the other, “We usually have girls for subs, but he’s a boy!” That uniqueness, all because of my gender, gave me an “in!”

A couple of minutes later the rest of the class entered their domain and gazed upon the new face in front. I wrote my name on the white board. “I’m Mr. Wolfe…with an “e”…not the Big Bad Wolf,  but the good Wolfe!”

They told me their names one by one. They were ready to teach me. One boy in the back row raised three fingers in the air on his right hand. “Yes, Andy!”

“No, that means I need to go to the restroom.”

“If you raise your hand up?”

“No, if I raise three fingers on my hand.”

“Okay! Is there a restroom pass that you take?”

“No, we sign our name by “restroom” on the backboard.”

Another three-fingered hand shot up!”

“Yes, Gabriel, you can go to the restroom.”

“No, I can’t until Andy comes back.”
“Oh, okay!” My first lesson was being taught to me about restroom usage.

“Mr. Wolfe!” said the voice of a little girl named Jill.

“Yes, Jill.”

“If you have an emergency and you need to go to the restroom you raise your hand and make this kind of sign.” She cupped her hand in a “C” shape.

“Oh, okay! That’s good to know. Well, boys and girls, I’m going to be your substitute teacher for the next day and half while Ms. Brown gets some needed rest with the cold she has. So is there anything else I need to know before we begin math?”

There was TONS I needed to know, and they were very gentle with me. The math lesson was on an overhead transparency. One boy sitting in the front row informed me that it was his job, not mine, to turn the projector on. Another student pulled the screen down, and I began the lesson…on the fringe of cluelessness!

Several times the class reigned me back in to how things are done. Like a horse about to gallop, I was slowed down by a classroom full of riders. “Whoa, Mr. Wolfe!”

I fumbled through math, but they was gracious. Without saying so they let me know that it was okay. “Good try! You’ll do better next time!”

Time for Science! I read to them from a book about Neil Armstrong and the Apollo space shuttle launch to the moon. When I informed them that I remember watching the moon walk when it happened on July 20, 1969 they looked at me with puzzled faces. One of them raised his hand and asked the question that the whole class was thinking.

“How old are you?”

“Older than when Neil Armstrong walked on the moon.”

They looked at me with sympathetic faces that said “We’re sorry that you’re so old!” And yet, they were also fascinated that I had actually watched first-hand what they were now studying about. In their eyes it gave me a sense of worth and value.

“Mr. Wolfe, what is the surface of the moon like?”

“Well, Marcus, it is kind of like a mixture of sand and dirt.” I was guessing, but they thought it sounded plausible.

Recess thankfully arrived! They taught me how to play a game that is somehow a mixture of Jurrasic Park and Star Wars. I was to choose a kind of dinosaur and also a character from Star Wars and run around the playground making “character sounds.” I was a playground rookie, ignorant of rules and procedures, but none of the students scolded me about my lack of recess experience. In fact, I gave them four extra minutes and suddenly I was the cat’s meow! I would have won a popularity contest against Hans Solo!

After recess we read. I started to read a book about a girl named Felicity, but was halted before beginning. “Mr. Wolfe, we sit on the carpet square over there and you sit in the rocking chair.”

“Oh, thank you!” The carpet got populated and Felicity made her appearance. They were drawn into the story…and then it was time to go home.

“Mr. Wolfe, can we do some dancing with the lights off?”

“Excuse me!”

“Can we turn the lights off and dance?”

“Is that okay?” (I went to a Baptist college where the “D word” was prohibited on campus. Everyone knew that the “D word” would lead to the “S word!”)

“Yes, it’s okay!” The lights got turned off and for two minutes a class of first graders did “creative dancing” between desks, down rows, with beaming faces and giggling voices. I halted it after a couple of minutes and they lined up.

“Okay! I will see you all tomorrow!”

“Mr. Wolfe!”

“Yes, Susie!”

“This has been the best day ever!”

I smiled at the compliment and realized that I could probably say something close to that myself.

The Fifth Grade Congregation

April 22, 2016

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                        April 22, 2016

                            

I substitute taught in a fifth grade class this week. It was really an awesome experience, and I’m not just whistling Dixie! I found myself liking these kids! They didn’t try to tell me that their teacher gives them an hour for recess, or lead me down the wrong stairway, or shoot spit wads at me with their luncheon drinking straws…as some of us did a few decades ago to our substitute! (Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned!)

I also found myself connecting dots! A fifth grade class is a lot like a typical congregation.

First of all, there was “the system”. Every church has a system, sometimes written down in documents, but most of the time unwritten but known by the members. When someone veers away from “the system” there is much consternation. Special meetings get called. Phone calls get made. Side conversations become more frequent. In many churches “the system” is sacred!

In the midst of the fifth grade math class that was dealing with something called “line plots” I foolishly veered away from “the system.” It was as if a dark family secret just got revealed on Jerry Springer. There were a couple of gasps, several confused looks, but then one “rescuer” brought me back under control before I drifted too far into math curriculum heresy.

Close call!

Systems are important to help the congregation know there will be order in the midst of the journey. It’s kind of like serving the salad and main dish before you can get to the dessert. There’s an accepted order, a process for getting things done, and…processes that “we don’t do around here!” As a pastor there were a few times I didn’t follow the system, didn’t follow the order, and those were the most gut-wrenching, stressful times of ministry.

Clarification! There are times to go outside the system, but the “trailblazer” better have a well thought out plan before that path gets taken. If the congregational road has become a rut it is a sign that the system has become a detriment to movement.

The school system I was a part of this week included “parts” of math, science, and literature. Since it was a state testing day I didn’t get to have a part on “social studies.” Each part had its advocates and opponents. That is, there were those who were excited and focused, and those who just wanted to get through it. The purpose behind all the parts was for them to work together to provide a well-rounded education.

In any congregation there are also a number of parts in the system. There is worship, education/discipleship, fellowship, missions, serving ministries, and a number of other parts. People get excited in and invested in different parts, and, just as in the fifth grade classroom, there are other parts that they just want to get through. The passion comes out as the focus comes to the part they are excited about. The disinterest surfaces when the other parts are emphasized. I remember a man from a congregation I pastored who would get up and walk out when praise music was being sung, but sing with passion when a hymn was happening. Interestingly enough, in my experience there were very few people who loved praise music but had a disdain towards hymns. They were the much more flexible group when it came to the “music sub-parts” of the worship part.

In part two of “The Fifth Grade Classroom” I’ll focus on “personalities and pecking orders”.

Known and New

January 2, 2015

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                           January 1, 2015

                                               

I don’t know when it was that I discovered that stovetop burners can be hot, or how to tie a neck tie, or cars only run on “E” for so long. What I do know is that at some point in my life journey the status of each of those situations went from unknown to known. Each went from confused to clear.

Much of life is learned from experiencing it. We become wiser, often as the result of really dumb decisions.

If you stick your finger in the light socket bad things happen!”

     -Never call your fifth grade teacher “an old bag!”

     -Never tell a young lady you are trying to impress that her body proportions are full in one place and small in another. When she switches which part of the body you’re inferring is small and which part is plentiful… it will be your last date with her.”

     -The airlines doesn’t care that you were held up in traffic. No matter what your situation, they ain’t waiting for you!”

      -Don’t say ain’t when you think you might be meeting your future in-laws!”

These are just a few of the things that I now know. Experience is sometimes a teacher with a snap to it.

I enter a new year with a volumes of knowns that I no longer need to question. I know I have three great kids, each with unique talents and characteristics that I’m thankful for. I know I love and am loved my a wonderful woman who joined me on a marriage journey thirty-five years ago. I know that I have great friends in various locations around the country, and I know that friendship, unlike NBA basketball, is never over-rated.

I know that I am loved by God and made free to be by the cross of Christ.

I know that the Body of Christ gets trash-talked and cast aside by as many cynical self-absorbed Christians as non-Christians; and that very few believers understand what it means to be a community of faith. Perhaps these last “knowns” are the result of pastoring for a few decades, and are now known as I gaze upon the wounds of leading sheep.

January 1 is about about new. It marks that beginning point of another leg of the journey. It’s a dividing point between what was and what may come. As I look at “new”, I’m pondering what new knowledge I’ll encounter this year, what new developments will dot my life that cause the picture to become clearer? What new revelations will God bring forth that leave me with my mouth wide open? What new glimpses of his hand of mercy and grace will cross my path? What new understandings of scripture will I marvel at as it meshes with my personal experiences of life?

It is always important for the student to approach a new chapter with a sense of expectancy and excitement. Like a child opening Christmas presents there will be those gifts that cause our hearts to giggle with glee, and there will be the present that holds a new pair of jeans…essential, and yet about as exciting as a new cooked spinach recipe.

I walk ahead knowing that I’m never alone, and that He knows me intimately.

Being The Student As You Are Teaching Others

June 19, 2013

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                      June 19, 2013

 

Everyone of us learn in different ways. Some are audio learners; they simply have to hear it. Others are visual; there has to be a picture for them to see. Still others have to be hands-on, they have to be touching something for it to click in their heads.

On Saturday I head to Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, as a part of a sixteen person mission team that will be conducting basketball camps and doing construction projects at Grace School in Herrera, and inner city area of city. I go to teach and preach, to help children discover new things, to speak about the love of God and hope of Christ.

But I go as a student who will be teaching others!

How often does that happen? For me, quite often. I learn as I lead. I go as the “expert” who will end up being taught more than he imparts. It demands a sense of “teachability.” How often did Jesus meet with the teachers of the law who were going to teach him a thing or two? There were a few moments where the teacher was taught by the Teacher, but most of the time it seems that the teachers got angered at the idea that Jesus either knew more than them, or that he didn’t agree with them.

Teachers need to be taught. If not they become hardened opinionated “sticks-in-the-mud!”

I’ll be going into a completely different culture where life happens each day in a different kind of normal than I’m used to. Not normal for me is a Starbucks shop that is empty. This is going to challenge my understanding of not-normal.

Different language! I barely passed Spanish in high school, and that happened only because I could cheat off Betsy Wolfe’s paper in front of me. (No relation!) I’ll be learning every day. The excitement of learning will be tempered with a fear that I inadvertently say something that “You mama’s breath smells like cow dung!” I wonder how that would go over?

Lord, help me know when to just nod my head! Help me to communicate non-verbally in ways that speak the love of Christ! Lord, help me to learn things that I never knew; and experience things that will transform me as a follower of Jesus!”

It’s going to be awesome, and I hear they have good coffee there as well!