Posted tagged ‘middle school boys’

Middle School Track Practice

April 7, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                               April 7, 2018

                               

Track practice started this past Monday…middle school track practice. An assortment of short and tall adolescents gathered for the uncertainty of what would happen on the outside oval.

Questions abounded…would the coaches run them so much they would fall down and throw up? Would they astound the world with their performance? Would people be looking at them as they trudged around the track? Would the one of the opposite sex, whose attention they desire, notice them? Would their uniform fit? Did they have the moxy to stay with it?

One hundred and twenty seventh and eighth grade students…wondering about what was ahead!

Coach McKinney gathered them together and shared his excitement about having all of them there. Some of them were grizzled one year veterans, having run as seventh graders. Others had the “deer in headlights” look about them.

“Coach Wolfe, what are we going to do today?” asked a paranoid seventh grade girl who I know.

“I think we’re going to warm up with a five mile run around the neighborhood and then do an interval ladder series, and then probably cool down with a two mile jog.”

Eyes as wide as the Grand Canyon, as she reconsiders whether she can switch from track to intramural golf.

“Just kidding! Actually, I’m not sure, so we’ll find out together!”

Exhale of relief!

Coach McKinney forewarns them that Colorado weather is unpredictable and emphasizes the importance of making sure they have the needed clothing. He makes the point that some days they may need to have layers of clothing. On Friday the temperature drops to 25 degrees with a few snow flurries. The seventh grade girls, who I am the coach for, run to me as soon as I enter the gym.

“Coach Wolfe, we aren’t going outside today, are we?”

“Yes!”

“But it’s cold!” whines the young lady wearing athletic shorts and a tee shirt.

“Yes…yes, it is! So, make sure you put your hoodie on and sweat pants also!”

“But I didn’t bring anything! I didn’t think we’d be going OUTSIDE!” (Emphasize whiny voice!)

“We will ALWAYS go outside unless the school administration says we can’t.”

WHINE: “Coach Wolfe!”

I smile at her and she gets the hint that whining will not change the location of our practice. At the end of practice we pass out team uniforms and sweats. The students welcome the sweats like they are Christmas presents!

As the week has gone on certain runners have impressed. Others have needed encouragement and words that instill confidence in them. Two new students- one from California and one from Florida- have used the week to get used to the 6,000 feet altitude, after coming from sea level. Pained facial expressions bring words of empathy from the coaches.

The coaches time everyone on different days during the week on the 100, 200, 400, 800, and a run around the high school and middle school campus that is close to a mile. Everyone finishes every race!

At the end of Friday’s practice a hundred and twenty students are still smiling. No one has asked for a transfer to golf, but everyone is praying for a warm Monday afternoon!

Don’t Do Stupid!

April 7, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                    April 6, 2018

                           

In my adventures as a middle school substitute teacher and coach I have experienced a number of students who have strayed into that strange land known as “Stupidity”! It is a place whose only borders are common sense and reasoning.

Sometimes students stray into this dark territory like lambs who have lost their way. A few seconds of their life that dumbfounds everyone around them suddenly finds them standing at a point where the question comes too late: What was I thinking?

And so I tell the students that I coach at the beginning of the season the three words:

“Don’t do stupid!”

I explain to them that my incorrect verb usage is on purpose, because “stupid” is not who a person is, stupid is a choice! Someone chooses to do stupid!

Most middle school students do not have the ability yet to think of long term consequences when it comes to crossing over the Stupid boundaries. I remember one of my basketball players years ago who “de-pantsed” another boy at the beginning of one of our practices. He did it in the middle of the gym and, unfortunately for him, he did it right as the assistant principal was coming into the gym. It was funny for a few seconds…and then he received a five day suspension!

I’ve noticed trends in the treks to Stupidity. Eighth grade boys tend to be tempted the most to cross over. For some it’s the thrill of the ridiculous, the stories that they will tell years later at class reunion gatherings. They are reincarnations of “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off”!

Eighth grade girls are a bit more hesitant, or, optimistically speaking, wiser. They think about it longer, but, as a result of that, are also a bit more devious when they sneak into the forbidden zone. Their head-shaking exploits often involve a cell phone that they look at more often than the world around them.

Seventh grade boys follow closely behind, swayed by stories of their predecessors. Their exploits are usually void of creativity. They’re things like throwing a pencil at someone or pulling a chair out from another student who is just about to sit down. Some seventh grade boys, however, are building reputations for being citizens of the land of Stupid. Ask any seventh grade teacher about two months into the school year who the “suspects” are and they  know the ones who have applied for citizenship status in Stupidity.

Seventh grade girls infrequently come close to the border. The ones who venture across usually are verbal in their transgressions, saying words that are hateful and demeaning. Rarely do they stray over in ways that are physically dangerous or do the stuff that legends are built on.

Stupidity lurks in the midst of each school day. It’s sweet aroma draws in its prey at a moment’s notice. Some students do things at school that would curl the toes of their parents if they knew about them. There should be billboard pictures of mom and dad all along the border into Stupidity. For most students, parental fear is a good deterrent!

If pictures of my mom and dad had been plastered on my school desk I would not have made some of my journeys across the border when I was a middle schooler. Since they weren’t staring me in the face, however, I ventured into Stupidity every once in a while. Fortunately I was always “just visiting!”

Why Teachers Deserve More

March 10, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                            March 10, 2018

                                 

When the teachers in the state of West Virginia went on strike for a pay increase I found myself conflicted. I agreed…some, but also was uncomfortable with it. So I had to ask myself why I was uncomfortable with the idea of teachers holding picket signs and demanding more?

The answer I found spoke to the images I held in my own mind of who teachers are and what they are about. When I think of teachers- the teachers I had in my growing up years back in the 1960’s, and the teachers I know today- I seldom think of how much they are paid. I think of sacrifice, impact, dedication, influencers, passionate people, shapers, leaders, and guides to help students discover

I don’t think about compensation and pension plans…and that’s part of the problem! When I look at the whole picture of teaching, compensation is just one of the many colors that are used to paint the portrait. We rely on teachers to do so much that we often forget that they deserve more.

Most of us have heard the arguments. “Well, they only work nine months out of the year! I wish I had a job like that!” Right!!! As a pastor I heard the same jab at my calling. “Must be nice to only work one day a week!” I wanted to reply “If I didn’t have a congregation filled with messed up people I COULD just work on Sundays!” People who are stuck in a time warp of the belief that teachers only work nine months out of the year are as clueless as a first grader in trigonometry class! Summers are now filled with preparation for the next year, reviewing textbooks, continuing education, interview committees, team meetings, getting the classroom ready, strategizing, etc.

Meanwhile, I could almost justify what teachers are compensated…if all they had to do is teach! But, guess what? Now their job description has been compounded and multiplied (I substitute taught 6th Grade math yesterday!). They are now classroom counselors, social workers, expected to straighten out the mess of the increasing number of students who come to school from dysfunctional families, caregivers, educators of students with attention spans resembling hyper puppies, and judges giving rulings about misbehaving students whose parents still think they are angels in disguise.

As a substitute teacher this year I’ve encountered a student who continually fell asleep in the first class of the school day because he’d stay up until one o’clock in the morning playing video games; a student who did not come to school regulated four out of the five school days that week because he, evidently, was not taking his medication; a student who was disruptive numerous times in a class period and, literally, could not help it; and numerous students who came to school without having anything to eat and became more sluggish as the school day went on.

Teachers are expected to be the problem solvers of the messes that many parents drop off at school at 7:30 in the morning. For many parents, teachers and school are seen as cheap child care. Thus, when school gets canceled because of the weather, or even has a two hour delay, the number of irate parents goes off the charts. What are they expected to do with little Johnny on a Tuesday work day?

When I think of my school days growing up I can remember, and see the faces, of my teachers. I remember Mrs. Riley, Mrs. Nuzum, Mr. Cooper, Mrs. Waybright, Mr. Jenkins, Ms. Lewis, Mr. Trent, Ms. Gruber, and Mr. Burcham…fifty years later! I can not remember the names of my banker, doctor, pharmacist, tailor, and others. I can remember the name of my elementary principal, Mr. Morton, but not the name of the town’s mayor or police chief.

Teachers have been taken for granted and taken advantage of. They deserve more, and when I say they deserve more I’m not just talking about compensation!

6:30 A.M. 7th Grade Basketball Practice

February 28, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                           February 28, 2018

                                     

There usually are loud moans and groans when I make the announcement, but I expect it. The pained expressions on the faces of my 7th Grade basketball team are the result of finding out that most of our practices will be held before school at 6:30 in the morning.

The eyes get big and the mouths drop open. There is a momentary weeping and gnashing of teeth…and then they accept it for what it is.

For the past several years I’ve made that unpopular decision for a few reasons, which none of the players think are good are to begin with. When we practice after school we have to share the gym with the 8th Grade team. Our middle school has two gyms, one a full-size court and the other a small gym that resembles an elementary school facility. When both teams practice at the same time we get 30-45 minutes in the larger gym and 30-45 minutes in the small gym.

6:30 A.M. practice…problem solved! And it helps the 8th Grade team, also!

Some of them come dragging to the front doors of the school looking a bit disheveled. I greet each one of them with words like “Good morning, handsome!” and “Looking good this morning!” Some snap out of their weariness and smile. Others are not yet to the conversational level of their day.

As they’ve gotten used to the the fact that practice is that early most of them have adjusted. There’s more spring in their step and a few more smiles as they head to school long before anyone else does.

The blood gets flowing and by 6:40 they are at full speed and wide awake. Last week I asked them if they would rather practice before school or after school. All but one said before!

Amazing! Thirteen players and five others who are designated the practice squad, and seventeen of the eighteen said 6:30 rules!

A couple of teachers have commented to me that they’ve noticed how my players are wide awake and ready for class on days we practice early. I’m sure that when the season ends in a couple of weeks that they’ll revert back to their usual school wake-up schedule, but for a few weeks they are learning what it means to be early risers.

It’s one way that I make sure they are committed to what we’re about. It’s one way to make sure they know I have higher expectations for them, and it’s one way I emphasize discipline. I wait at the front doors for each of the boys to arrive, but at 6:30 I head to the gym. You arrive late…too bad!

Tomorrow we have a game. It’s tie day. I’ve told each one of them to dress up for school tomorrow…shirt and tie. I’ll wear one for the game, also! When I told them that the teachers would be impressed they just stared at me, but when I said the young ladies would suddenly see how handsome they were…they grinned!

Cutting Kids

February 11, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                       February 9, 2018

                                            

Yesterday I posted “the list”! The list is the 13 seventh grade boys who have been invited to be a part of the Timberview Middle School interscholastic basketball team. It’s a list of celebration that had 13 signs of relief breathed upon it.

Not on the list are the 28 others who I had to say “Sorry!” to. Telling seventy percent of the boys that they were cut is worse than a couple of hemorrhoids living side by side…okay, maybe not that bad!

“Cutting kids” is also a life lesson. In every aspect of life there are those who are left off the list. Last spring I applied for a head coaching position for basketball at a local high school. About a week later I received an email informing me that I was not one of the finalists. There was a moment of indignation, but I got over it. Two weeks later I interviewed for another position and was a finalist, but was still not the final pick. In both cases I was not the one. It’s how life works.

For each of the students who tried out for the seventh grade team I did an evaluation that I will willingly share with any of them who ask me. I made the point to those who were not chosen that if they work on specific skills their chances of making next year’s team will improve. Some will make attempts, and others will find other things that may be more of a passion than basketball.

Parents don’t like kids to be cut. In fact, we use softer language as I did in the first paragraph. We “invite” a few students to be on the interscholastic team. If you hear the students talk, however, they will usually use one of two terms. They “made the team”, or they “got cut.”

Some day these same kids will apply for college or submit a resume for a job. When they are rejected I wonder if their parents will correct them and say, “No, honey! You just weren’t invited to take the position!”

Pain and disappointment lead to self-discovery. “I’m sorry to inform you” letters cause adolescents to realize that the world does not spin on their personal axis. If someone is never disappointed he/she will seldom reach for something that is still beyond their reach.

One boy came to me Friday afternoon. He’s a good-sized kid, who I thought would be one of the 13, but his skill deficiencies rose to the surface in the four days of tryouts. “Coach, I was really disappointed when I saw that I didn’t make the team, but I’m okay with it now.” He’s a good kid who I will have in class Monday and Tuesday for the teacher I’ll be subbing for. I told him I’d share my evaluation with him so he can work on a few things. He appreciated that. In the course of a few hours he went from taking it personally to knowing that I care about him. In regards to him, disappointment will make him stronger and cause him to work even harder.

Cutting kids is the hardest thing I do as a coach, and yet one of the most important things I do.

On Monday morning I’ll convince 13 other seventh grade boys that the world does not revolve around them either!

Temporary Disfigurement

February 5, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                 February 5, 2018

                              

My wife and I went to see the movie Wonder a few weeks ago. We found ourselves shedding a few tears during the film, which followed the story of a fifth grade boy named “Auggie” who had Treacher Collins syndrome. Because of his condition Auggie would wear an astronaut’s helmet around whenever he was in public. He dreamed of being an astronaut because in space no one sees the faces of others.

Ten and eleven year old kids can be cruel, but they can also be compassionate. Auggie experiences both ends of the pendulum as it swung from classmate to classmate.

I was deeply moved by watching the film and pondering its messages. Weeks later I’m still thinking about it!

And then Saturday morning I woke up with a rash on the side of my face that made me want to put on an astronaut’s helmet…or paper bag. By Saturday afternoon I looked like I had a huge chaw of chewing tobacco between my left cheek and gum (Not that I’ve ever done that, but I was born in Kentucky! Half the barns in the state used to have “Chew Mail Pouch” painted on one side!).

The past two days I’ve had a few “Auggie moments”. That is, I’m very self-conscious of my face and I assume that everyone I see is looking at me. There’s a sense of embarrassment tied into it. I don’t feel normal, and normal is what all of us want to be unless we’re doing something that our culture thinks is extraordinary.

Lessons are learned in the abnormal moments of life.

This afternoon middle school boy’s basketball tryouts begin. It’s my seventeenth season coaching at Timberview Middle School, and it’s the seventeenth time I will see the uncertainty of seventh and eighth grade boys as they deal with the uncomfortableness of being watched by coaches and other boys who they feel inferior to. Perhaps God gave me this rash to help me empathize with the pressures of being a twelve year old.

Actually, there’s that hint of uncertainty and inadequacy in any middle school child. With some it just might be a little deeper below the surface, but it’s there. Much of the time he or she simply stays out of situations where it has the potential to rise to the surface.

I can relate. In my few trips out in public the last three days I’ve tried to stay to the left so the left side of my face is away from people. Three months from today I’ll turn 64 and I’m still sensitive to my insufficiencies!

I’m simply a self-conscious adolescent in an elderly shell!

The Button-Pushing Middle School Student

November 4, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                          November 4, 2017

                         

I’m becoming experienced as a substitute teacher. Everyday I experience new things, am dismayed in new ways, and face intriguing situations that would make good fodder for reality TV.

I’ve come to realize that there is a certain category, a distinct species amongst students that causes a few to stand out like peacocks. It’s not a very large group of students, and they don’t usually cluster together like geese.

They are the button-pushers, the students who would give Jesus a hard time for walking on water. They look for the seeds of distraction and chaos to infect good discussions and teachable moments.

Recently, I had a week with the same 125 students, grouped into four classes and another class period for specialized study. Out of 125 students I discovered “the button-pusher”. Everyday he pushed my buttons in some annoying way. On Day One he asked belittling questions to another student after she gave a report on a current event in front of the whole class. His questions, which I squashed after the first couple, were asked in a way to make her look stupid. Hear the button being pushed and held down! On Day Two he kept bothering the student sitting beside him, saying things under his breath to her, touching her arm with his pencil. I was clueless of what was going on until she finally erupted…which is what he was going for!

On Day Three we had a confrontation. When I asked him to stop making a noise with his ruler, slapping the desk with it, he pushed his button with “What about him?” “I’m not talking about him. I’m talking to you!” He gave me the button-pusher look of defiance. “Don’t give me that look!”

On Day Four he started early and I attacked early. “We aren’t going to repeat yesterday. You either get with the program or take a nice vacation to the assistant principal’s office and stare at his wall posters.”

On Day Five his dad came and picked him up for some kind of appointment five minutes into class. God does answer prayer!

Button-pushers gain reputations amongst teachers. This button-pusher had done a couple of things to other students that were just plain mean, but when the teacher talked to his mom the response was that the teacher must be mistaken. It couldn’t be her son!

Conspiracy theorists believe button-pushers have been inserted into middle school classrooms to sabotage the education of the masses, but, even more than that, to become detriments to the preparatory process for the state assessment tests. There’s rumors that they have taken summer training in “argumentative classroom behavior” and “creating crying teachers who start mumbling to themselves”. Like the four celebrity judges on The Voice they have learned how to recognize opportunity and hit the button at a moment’s notice.

Oh, that button-pushers would be a dying breed heading towards extinction, but unfortunately they seem to be repopulating every year. Perhaps it has something to do with the growing number of helicopter parents, absentee parents, clueless parents, and the natural order of disorder. THEY would have you believe that! And if you do you’ve just had another button pushed called “gullible!”