Posted tagged ‘middle school girls’

The Threat of Pink Hair

March 31, 2020

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                           March 31, 2020

                                

Two months ago the middle school girl’s basketball season ended. The eighth-grade girls I coached had done well enough to be the #2 seed for the league tournament in our 9 team league.

The entire tournament was played on a Friday and Saturday…double-elimination…otherwise translated as doubly-exhausted!

After winning our first game on Friday, we lost our 8:00 semi-final game on Saturday morning to the #3 seed, a team we had beaten in a close game during the regular season. Two more wins put us in the loser bracket final against the same team. BUT it was also our fourth game of the day! 

My girls were dead tired, heavy legs and erratic shooting. There was no spring in their jump, a half-step slow on defense. At halftime, we were behind 18-0.

Let me type that again. 18-0! No points in the first two quarters. Zippo!

But it wasn’t because they weren’t trying. They were just tired. So I said to them at halftime, “Hey! If we come back and win this game I’ll shave my head!”

They looked at me and smiled, and then one of them said, “No, Coach! If we win you’ll dye your hair pink!” Twelve heads bobbed up and down in glee-filled agreement.

“Okay! If we win I’ll dye my hair pink!”

It looked like a safe bet, no points the whole first half…down by 18…we couldn’t throw it in the ocean! So the second half began and we score the first basket…and then the next basket…and then the next seven points after that. Each time one of my players scored the girls on the bench would giggle and smile at me, probably envisioning how I would look with pink hair.

The other team scored and I breathed a sigh of relief, but then we scored a three-pointer. The lead had shrunk to six and I was beginning to ponder what hat I’d be wearing for the next several weeks.

Dead legs had come alive, shots were falling, and I was pondering coaching strategy. Would it look bad if I took my leading scorer out of the game for about the next ten minutes? Would it be okay to have my post player try to dribble the ball up the court? 

But then I thought I could live with pink hair if I had to. If my girls could come back from 18 points down and two big zeroes to summarize their scoring for the first two quarters, then I could look like a 65-year-old pink-haired rock star for a little while.

Right about the time I was trying to envision how I would look, the other team scored and then scored again. They held us off. We had scored 28 points in the second half, but they had scored 34 for the game. 

The team was disappointed, but also proud of their effort, their comeback from forever to come close. 

Me? I plead the fifth!

Missing Pieces…in My Classroom

February 16, 2020

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                       February 16, 2020

                             

There is a designated area in our middle school that is over-populated most of the time. It’s the school’s version of the Goodwill drop-off container, located in the parking lot of our supermarket, always overflowing with whatever people want to discard.

At our middle school, however, our crowded area is called “Lost and Found”. The name is mis-leading because rarely does the loser go to find their lost items there. Coats get left in classrooms on twenty degree temperature days and never retrieved. There are so many water bottles at the Lost and Found that the student council should consider opening a hydration supplies store. 

T-shirts, mittens, stuffed animals, notebooks, eyeglasses and eyeglass cases, backpacks, shoes, sandals, pens and pencils, lunch containers, wristbands, headbands, and on and on.

At the end of one of my classes this week I noticed a jar of Vaseline under one of the tables. The top part of the jar lid had been cut out so that the opening was uncovered. I’m not sure if I want to know why a 7th grader has a jar of Vaseline in class. I put the jar on my desk and waited to see if anyone would claim it the next day. When I saw Sherri, our evening custodian, I brought her into my classroom and explained to her that the Vaseline was not mine so she wouldn’t think I was weird…well, maybe just weirder!

No one owned up to losing the jar so I tossed it. Even the Lost and Found shouldn’t have open Vaseline jars in it!

One thing that students don’t lose in my classroom: Candy! I have yet to find a Snickers bar left behind, or a half eaten bag of Cheetos. What they do leave behind are the wrappers. A couple of classes will lose their eating privileges next week because of a couple of students who consumed rolls of Smarties but weren’t smart enough to dispose of the wrappers. 

I suppose losing items in middle school is one thing that hasn’t changed since I roamed the halls fifty years ago. I left jackets behind but, as I remember, I was more concerned about the wrath of my parents than I was with actually looking for the missing garment. I simply tried to avoid detection, sprinting out the door in the morning when Mom wasn’t looking. Discovery Day, however, would come at some point and I’d be asked the feared question: Where’s your jacket…your new jacket that we spent our hard-earned money to provide for you?

I can’t remember if I had used the time between lostness and being found out to come up with an excuse, like someone stole it or cafeteria catsup was dumped on it and it became unbearable, but the bottom line is that keeping track of my possessions was not a skill that I possessed. 

Parental guilt didn’t make it better. Putting my name on everything from shirts to underwear didn’t seem to help either. At some point, I just became more responsible, or at least there were glimpses of responsibility. 

This past Friday there were a few items left behind at the end of classes that were not lost. A few students had placed candy on my desk…Valentine’s Day candy! 

What a treat!

The Weirdness of Being Energized

February 1, 2020

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                    February 1, 2020

                                 

I looked at the class, my eyes wide open and fully caffeinated. The 29 students, most of whom have some distinctive characteristic (hair style, short and tall, reserved and animated) or possession they always have with them (Think smart phone, air pods), stare back at me.

“I know you’ll have a hard time believing this,” I begin, “but I look forward to coming here each morning and being your teacher.”

The confession causes eyebrows of each student to lower, like they’ve just been told by their parents that their family is going to move to a remote area of outer Mongolia. 

“I know, I know, that sounds weird to you. You’re wondering what is wrong with Mr. Wolfe. Is my life so lame that I need the company of 115 seventh graders each day?”

Heads nod in agreement to my statement of lunacy.

“But, believe it or not, I get excited to come to school each day. It energizes me!”

For eight weeks I’ve been given the opportunity to teach these 12 and 13 year olds, while their teacher takes care of a family member. Perhaps in these two months or so I’ll be able to convince them that someone can be energized in a way that doesn’t have to include a can of Red Bull. Perhaps they can catch some of my passion for young people and discover what they’re passionate about.

This week they’ve learned that I’m funny, use sarcastic humor like I’m doing standup comedy, and that I have high expectations.

They’ve also discovered that I can be like a military sergeant. If class is to begin at 8:04, I tell them, they are to be there at 8:04…or earlier! Not 8:04:15. The four that came waltzing in 30 seconds late owed me the first minute of their lunch period that day.

For most of them, I realize I expect more than they expect from themselves. Perhaps it’s my penance for the sins of my 7th Grade Language Arts year with Mrs. Blauvelt back in Williamstown, West Virginia. I still clearly remember doing an oral book report for her on the book Swiss Family Robinson and being “found out”. That is, I had seen the Disney movie version of the book, which is nothing like the book, and tried to make Mrs. Blauvelt believe I had read the book. 

Perhaps my expectations for these 7th Graders is to atone for my sins and to allow Mrs. Blauvelt to rest in a more comfortable eternal peace.

I’ve learned so much this week. As my teaching teammates have welcomed me, they’ve also welcomed my many questions. Most of those questions deal with technology. “How do you do this thingy right here?” “Why do they call it power point when I feel so helpless trying to do it?” “Where did MY SCREEN GO?”

As we say, “We’re no longer in Kansas, Dorothy!” I’ve learned there’s a new state I’ve been blown to called Discovery. 

Last Day of School Before Christmas Break

December 21, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                   December 21, 2019

                            

I agreed to it. It wasn’t like I was entering a dark unknown cave unaware of the dangers and unexpected holes sending me into the great abyss. I knew I was agreeing to substitute teacher on the last day before the school’s Christmas break. Some of the students had requested me. I’m still trying to decide whether that is a good thing or a warning sign, kinda’ like the army recruiter who smiles at the young buck standing in front of him and making him believe the next four years of his life will be simply a more mature version of Disney World. 

The last day of December school is frequented with sudden fits of stupidity as young adolescents all sugared up feel compelled to commit head-shaking acts of frenzied unintelligence because of their excess consumption of candy bars, peppermint candy sticks, and Starbucks Frappuccinos.

Teachers hold up surrender flags in the form of “Home Alone” and “Home Alone 2”. In reality, by 9:30 they’re wishing they were home alone and wondering why they didn’t take a sick day? 

The sound of shoes sprinting down hallways is common. Students wearing red Santa hats and adorned with tinsel is the norm. Ugly Christmas sweaters and students in Santa suits pass by almost unnoticed. 

In a couple of classes a few students suddenly broke out in song…off key, but still festive. One student blessed me with a candy cane and another with a container of baked goods that were meant for the teacher I was subbing for. When he saw that the teacher was gone he said, with great disappointment, “I guess you can have them!”

The political correctness of our culture leads some students into some degree of uncertainty as to what the right greeting/blessing is. Do they say “Merry Christmas!”, “Happy Hanukkah”, “Have a great break!”, “Happy Holidays!”, or “See ya’ next year!” I wanted to say “May the coming celebrated birth of the Christ-child be experienced in a deep way by you and yours!”, but I knew the typical middle schooler’s attention span wasn’t that long so I shortened my greeting to “Merry Christmas!”

The teaching staff did hallway countdowns as the day went on…”Three classes to go!” “Down to two!”, and words of encouragement “You can do it!”

When the final bell rang the walls of the school expanded as the entire staff exhaled in the realization that survival had been accomplished. 

Timberview Middle School, where I hang out, is a great school, great staff, mostly great students with a few warts thrown in that grab most of the attention. I almost always enjoy my days there, but Christmas break is longed for by everyone. It’s like the  opposite of the college student who comes home on Christmas break. Coming back and living with the parents is okay for the first couple of days, but then everyone is looking forward for the second semester to begin so Junior can leave again.

Middle School Speeders and Laggers

November 9, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                      November 9, 2019

                             

I’ve noticed something about middle school students. Most of them have gotten their speed controls confused. They speed when going slow is the wise decision and they go slow when speed is better suited for the moment. 

Somewhere along the line wires got crossed. Rewiring doesn’t seem to be an option now. Instead, teachers monitor the hallway speed zones and take note of slow-moving students taking their time to get back to the math or language arts class. 

For example, I substitute taught in a seventh grade science class yesterday. They were taking a test. Before handing out the three page exam, I emphasized that they should take their time and recheck their answers when they were done. Some listened, others didn’t. Fifteen minutes into test time several students rushed their papers to me like they were trying to be the first to buzz in on Jeopardy. 

On the other hand, I’ve noticed one student who seems to have to go to the restroom every class period. When he goes…to go…his classroom absence more resembles the Israelites’ 40 years of wandering in the wilderness. He never seems in a rush to “cross the Jordan” back into the classroom.

At lunchtime several students remind me of Joey Chestnut eating hot dogs at the Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest on July 4th. They throw their lunch items into their mouths without a need to taste what they’re eating. Their objective is to be one of the first ones to get to the GaGa ball pit outside. There should be a mandatory serving of peas and carrots for every middle school lunch. It would act as a dietary speed bump.

On the other hand, rarely will there be a student who is quick to pick up a piece of trash under or on their cafeteria table, especially if it wasn’t put there by him/her. The same student who is quick to grab a Cheeto from someone else’s bag treats a chip bag wrapper like the source for the Bubonic Plague.   

At 2:45 when the final bell rings to signal the end of the school day the scene is similar to a Walmart 5:00 A.M. Black Friday sale. Kids fire up their turbos and battle the hallways in a human sorta’ Dodge-Em Cars. Teachers stay to the sides for their own safety. To cross the hallway during these few moments is a recipe for becoming roadkill.

On the positive side I’ve seen several students in non-academic settings, such as Target or the supermarket or an Air Force Academy basketball game and they are quick to acknowledge me with a greeting. I was glad to see one of them because I couldn’t remember if he had ever returned from his restroom wilderness journey or not. 

Middle School Weirdness

October 26, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                              October 26, 2019

                           

When I walk down the halls of Timberview Middle School each day I’m taken back by the weirdness. The weirdness is a strange recipe mixture of cluelessness, pseudo-coolness, and a special spice of individuality. It goes like this:

“Mr. Wolfe, I can’t get my locker open and I’ve tried ten times.”

“Okay, let’s have a look.” We walk a few feet to a locker. “I see the problem.”

“What?”

“Your two inch thick backpack strap is hanging out like a human hand trying to escape jail.”

“Oh! So, you think that’s the problem?”

Then there’s the boys who take a clump of their hair and stand it up like a corn stalk with a rubber band or small scrunchie. If a boy wears a scrunchie around his wrist, evidently it means that he is “taken”! That is, a girl gives it to him because she likes him and he wears it to tell her he likes her back. Weird! The corn stalk hair, however, that just looks stupid.

The awesome kids who bring flavor to each of their teachers are offset by the few students who are committed to being bitter herbs in the midst of a great school day. They are the bite of “raw horseradish” in the midst of an apple pie. They come to school seeking to destroy class momentum and the grasp of concepts and ideas. One boy who makes me break out in hives has strengths in the areas of annoyance, immaturity, and inappropriate comments. He works well in a classroom all by himself, but in a classroom of 30 students he is determined to lead the Titanic into an iceberg. I have nightmares of a futuristic scene where he’s been cloned.

Then there’s the new fashion of jeans with rips and holes in them. Yesterday one girl had more holes than Swiss cheese in her pants. I remember the old days when my mom would iron on a patch over a hole in the knee of my jeans. A pair of jeans that needed a third patch ironed on meant it was time to go to J.C. Penney’s and buy a new pair. 

Weird! 

Yesterday a 7th Grade boy stood in front of his locker with an empty Dorito’s chip bag balanced on top of his head. I didn’t understand it, and I don’t think he did either.

There’s students who seem to have bathroom issues. That is, their need to go to the restroom happens about once every class period, but never during lunch and the few free minutes at the end of their lunch period. Put a mathematics calculation before them and they suddenly have irritable bowel syndrome. 

Every passing period there are a few students who walk down the hallway entirely focused on their cell phones. If the school hallway suddenly had a sinkhole they would be swallowed up…still looking at their cell phones until they hit the bottom. 

And in the midst of this climate of strange emerging adolescents are the teachers who seek to lead them to a brighter future through the jungles of their present. 

Middle School Sub Teacher: Episode XXVI

September 14, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                    September 14, 2019

                             

It was a week!

I was in a middle school classroom five days this past week. The last four days were for 8th Grade Social Studies, a class I had also subbed in the week before another four days. In essence, I shepherded this flock for the past two weeks.

Some of the adolescent lambs needed some encouragement, some needed a watchful eye to keep them from falling into the chasm of complicating life. A few were identified as wolves in sheep’s clothing, seeking to lead the class to destruction. And then there were the sheep, gentle in nature and smart beyond their years.

There were statements like this: 

            “Rhode Island isn’t a state, is it?” 

           And “Mr. Wolfe, this doesn’t make any sense.” “What’s that?” “It says the Quakers believed in the s______________ of c____________ and s______________. What’s that mean?” “You mean right here in the reading where it says ‘the separation of church and state’?” “Oh!”

A couple of students put a ‘c’ in Quaker and made them Quackers. Puritans became “puritains”, a rare form of plantains. Spell check doesn’t work when you write it out longhand.

One student brought me his essay to read. I encouraged him to try reading it out loud to himself. “When I read it, it’s worded like a dialogue line for Tonto, saying something to the Lone Ranger.” 

I received a few questions such as this: “Mr. Wolfe, how many sentences do we have to write for the essay question?”

“So what you’re really asking is what is the minimum I have to do?”

            Pause before the confession. “Ahhh…yes.”

But then there were the ones who went beyond the expected. Like, “Mr. Wolfe, if I run out of room with my essay can I continue writing on another piece of paper?” I fight back the tears of appreciation. “Thank you for helping me to believe again in the possibility that 8th Grade students can be awesome!”

Talking to two girls who did minimal work on an in-class assignment about 9/11: “Hey, I’m a bit disappointed in the lack of effort. I’ll give you the opportunity to come in during lunch tomorrow and bring a little more effort to the assignment.”

“Why do you want us to do that, Mr. Wolfe?”

“Because I’m concerned about the educational pursuit of excellence in your life.”

“You’re what?” (Confused looks on the two who seem to reside in the land of confusion).

“I’m concerned about the educational pursuit of excellence in your life.”

No comments, just confusion that awkwardly turns into grins.

“Mr. Wolfe, can I come and have lunch with you and talk about strategy for GaGa Ball?” (GaGa ball has become a popular outdoor game that’s kind of like mass dodgeball in a octagon ring).

“Ahhh…okay!”

“Mr. Wolfe, am I one of your favorite students?”

            “Yes, you are! You’re in the top 200!”

 

“Mr. Wolfe, don’t you wish you could teach us again next week?”

“I break out in hives just thinking about it!”

Back to the two girls mentioned above.

“We have homework again!!!” Pained facial expressions.

“Yes, I’m-“

“We know, we know! You’re concerned about the educational something in our lives!”

I smile. I think I’m getting through to them.

Middle School Cell Phone Addiction

September 1, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                     September 1, 2019

                                    

A few days ago NBC Nightly News ran a story about San Mateo High School, just down the road from Google headquarters. The school has instituted a ban on cell phones during the hours of the school day. Students put their phones in a locking pouch when they arrive at school and go to a staff member with the unlocking device at the end of the school day. There are exceptions for medical reasons and special circumstances.

The reason for the “lockup”, according to one of the administrators, is because the phones were having a negative effect on the educational environment of the school. One student also made the comment that at lunchtime “now students actually talk to one another!”

I see the addiction taking over the lives of adolescents, but also adults. I’m always amazed when I tune into a baseball game on TV at the number of people right behind home plate focused on their cell phones instead of the game that they paid several hundred dollars to attend. Or foru adults sitting at a restaurant table for dinner, each staring at their cell phone. 

Middle school students mimic what they see their older peers doing. They’ve even learned how to be sneaky about it. Most of the classrooms I substitute teach in have cell phone policies that stipulate that they can be used for educational purposes. Students use them to go online for sites such as Schoology and Google Classroom. The problem is that a number of them will be using them for gaming or social media and then quickly switch to Google Classroom when they see the instructor heading their way. 

At my school the consequence for being discovered is to have the student take their phone to the office where it will be kept until the end of the school day. Last year I had a student playing video games on his phone when the rest of the class was ten minutes into doing an assignment. I had him take the device to the office…but he didn’t come back! We discovered from security video that he had gone into the school library, found an isolated corner, and continued to play his video game. 

Some teachers have a “cell phone parking lot”, a bin that phones are put in when students enter the classroom and “unpark” at the end of the class period. Some teachers have become so frustrated that they don’t allow cell phones to even be seen.

San Mateo may pioneer a movement in the opposite direction from technology. My guess is that there are a multitude of teachers who wished they could be in San Mateo’s shoes. 

At the church camp this past summer where I was middle school camp pastor, we limited cell phone use to a couple of short time blocks each day, a half-hour in the afternoon and a half hour at the end of the day. It was amazing to see how the young teens connected with one another when their “cell buddy” was not holding hands with them.

BUT many of them ran to their phones like kids to free candy being thrown in a parade when they had permission!

Cell phone wisdom is needed. Proverbs 3:13 says “Blessed are those who find wisdom, those who gain understanding.” The word ‘wisdom’ is used 54 other times in Solomon’s sayings of that Old Testament book. Anytime a word in the Bible is used a multitude of times it means it’s a need, not just a want! It’s an essential, not a luxury!

Perhaps a class called “Device Wisdom” could help!

Nah! Students would probably learn the information, but not take it to heart. It would be like learning the state capitals- impressive, but not useful for figuring out the consequences of bad decisions. 

The Messiness of Being Heard

July 26, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                    July 26, 2019

                          

I’m coming to the end of a week of middle school church camp, six days of weirdness, laughter, and tears. Once again, I’ve been in the role of camp pastor. It’s been my privilege and plight for several years now. Call me a “strange-o”, but I enjoy it!

To be given the opportunity to talk to emerging adolescents about what it means to have a walk with Jesus is awesome.

Towards the end of our week we have an hour that is labeled “Messy Games” on the master schedule. There’s a reason why it gets positioned towards the end of the journey. Going back to Young Life youth ministry philosophy, as a youth leader we “earned the right to be heard.”

In middle camp camp philosophy you earn the right to get messy. Shaving cream, egg yolks, chocolate syrup, maple syrup, flour, water balloons and canons…you earn the right to be the target that brings joy and accomplishment to the lives of middle schoolers.

I knew I had been heard for the previous five days when several kids plastered me to the point of being unrecognizable. 

I had talked about faith and they felt free to “foam me up.”

I had talked about showing extravagant love towards Jesus and they felt free enough to lighten my hair up with a few extravagant touches of caramel syrup.

I talked about believing that just a touch of the fringe of Jesus cloak, like the woman longing for healing in Luke 8, can change things…and they felt free to touch me up with streams of chocolate syrup.

Getting “messed up” is the middle school signature upon your acceptance letter. It’s their validation of your ministry and indication that you talked with them not to them.

Saturday morning means that it’s time to load up and head down the mountain, final embraces and goodbyes, the retelling of the funny experiences of the week and tears for what has been. 

I finally got the shaving cream washed out of my shorts last night. My ears have lost the sweetness of the maple syrup, and I know that I’ve been blessed.

Yearbook Signings

May 31, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                       May 30, 2019

                              

Today was my last day of substitute teaching for this school year. Tomorrow I’m having a root canal. Some of the middle school teachers were willing to trade places with me if I took their classes.

I said no!

Today, however, I had several students come to me with their yearbooks and ask me to sign them. I can’t just sign my name like a doofus! I HAVE to write something, a few words of wisdom, or some inspirational jargon with a personal spin to it.

One 8th grade girl begged me to come and sub in high school next year. I let her have some hope that I would consider it, but I think I’d rather gargle with spoiled milk!

End-of-the-school year emotions run the whole spectrum. At one end are students who are crying their eyes out and at the other are students counting down the minutes like a NASA rocket launch just waiting for the final bell to ring.

“Mr. Wolfe, would you sign my yearbook?”

“Sure!” I take it in hand and glance at the words already written by others, hoping someone wrote this young lady’s name in their greeting. If not, I create a nickname on the spot, like “K-Factor”, “Brainiac”, and “Groovy Girl!” (No, just kidding on that last one!).

“K-Factor! What an awesome young lady you are! Every time I see a Snicker’s bar next year I’ll think of you!”

“Steady Freddy! You brought a smile to my face every time I had you in class this year. You are something else! Have a great summer!”

“Jill! Keep being as awesome as you are and the sky’s the limit!”

“Judy! Eat your veggies!”

The yearbook signings are diverse in message, some funny and some serious, some meaningless and others with words that will bring back a smile years from now. I didn’t have yearbooks from my middle school days. My first yearbook, still on my shelf, is from my freshman year at Maysville High School in Zanesville, Ohio. I was 4’10” with eyeglasses that kept sliding down my nose. In fact, I was runner-up in the school chess tournament that year. There is a picture in the yearbook where I am shaking the hand of the champion, a junior, and my glasses look like they’re about to fall off my face. I look at that picture now, 50 years later, and cringe but also chuckle. Some of these students will have the same reactions when they look at their pictures sometime in the future.

“Good Lord, what was I doing with my hair back then?”

“Look at my facial expression! Was I constipated that day?”

“Thank God, I stopped wearing that stupid headband by the time I got out of high school!”

And the signings. They will look at what Johnny wrote and laugh, or what Andrew wrote that makes no sense, or what Kyle wrote that a handwriting interpreter wouldn’t be able to figure out.

Students who have caused my underwear to get into a wad suddenly want me to sign their yearbook. I am honored that they value my signature so much. Some of the students who have caused me to run screaming to my car after school are the ones who want me to plant a few “Words from WW” in the center of their page. In 2039 when they pull their copies off their shelves many of them will get perplexed looks on their faces as they try to remember who Mr. Wolfe was…and that’s okay!