Posted tagged ‘middle school girls’

Too Quiet To Think

October 13, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                   October 13, 2018

                                         

   My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry…”   (James 1:19, NIV)

Yesterday I substitute taught for a 7th Grade Language Arts teacher. The lesson plan for each class consisted of taking attendance and then taking the class to the school library (now called the LMC, which stands for Learning Media Center). The school librarian would then tell the students about a few new books the LMC has and they would spend the rest of the class period silently reading. 

Tough day! What did I do? Read some and did some rewriting on my book manuscript…plus, made sure the students were reading, not goofing around- a task that required considerable energy!

Libraries are not the same as they were…45 years ago. When I went to the Briggs Public Library in Ironton, Ohio you could hear a pin drop…and that pin better not drop again! It was quiet, studious, a fine place to locate one of the back wrenching volumes of the Encyclopedia Brittanica and do research on such interesting subjects as the Hoover Dam, mollusks, and the North Pole. 

Libraries today are gathering places, social settings in the midst of books and magazines, and gaming rooms. A place in Colorado Springs where I do much of my book writing is called Library 21C. It’s a great place…as long as you have earbuds! A few weeks ago I was sitting in one of the seats at the long window counter on the lower level. A man three seats away was doing a job interview on his cell phone. Good Lord! The librarian at Briggs Public would have grabbed him by his ear lobe and marched him to the door.

Things are different! Silence is no longer golden! It’s been devalued!

One of the 7th Grade girls, who is energized by the social aspect of life, didn’t seem to be reading the book in front of her yesterday. 

I’d scan the room and when my radar caught sight of her she would suddenly look down at her book. Thirty minutes into the class’s silent reading and she was on page 2. I walked over to her and said, “Hey! Let’s get busy!”

“What?”

I glanced at her book. “You’re on page 2!”

“No, page 3!”

“Okay! Page 3 and we’ve been here so long you should have read the book and written a book report on it already!”

Her eyes opened wide. “We have to do a book report!”

“No, no, no! I was exaggerating, but if you had really been reading you’d be further along than page 3.”

“I can’t think!”

“Why?”

“It’s too quiet in here!”

“What?”

“It’s too quiet! I can’t concentrate when it’s too quiet!”

“Are you serious?”

She nodded, and I realized that we were realizing- Okay, maybe I was realizing!- one of our generational differences. I read while I’m sitting in the swing on our back deck, or in my study, or at bedtime…all places where quiet and peace can follow me. This young lady operates in a world of chatter, instant communication that could better be named instant distraction, and noise. 

Noise has replaced silence as the new golden. Silence is now an indication that something’s wrong. Silence also indicates that we’re listening, and in a noisy world we no longer listen very well. 

And so what do I do in the midst of a culture that now values loudness and multiple mouths speaking at the same time? What do I do? I put my earbuds in and listen to the rhythmic noise of music to block out the noise of the other voices. I’ve resigned myself to the fact that it is my new silence.

The Hang Arounders

October 10, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                   October 10, 2018

                                     

At the middle school where I coach and substitute teach there are a few students who are like fertilizer. When you have them in class you can feel the gray hair growing in abundance!

They are the students who don’t function well in a structured classroom situation, or relate well to teachers and authority figures. They are the ones that consume 90% of a teacher’s attention during a class period, but refuse to do more than 50% of the assigned work. 

It’s not that they’re bad kids and prepping to be juvenile delinquents. They just don’t have a problem with being the problems!

When I substitute teach in a class where there is a student who falls into this category I don’t go easy on him or her. I’ve sent a few to the office or had them join me for lunch that day away from their peer group. BUT…I always seek to greet them in the hallway in a welcoming manner. In other words, no matter what their transgression has been they’re still kids to be valued. The educational journey with some students just has a few more bends and curves in it than the rest! Some students don’t slide easily from A all the way to Z!

In the last few weeks I’ve noticed some of these students who scowl each morning as they arrive at school…hanging around after school! When the 80% of the student body who aren’t involved in after-school activities has exited the building and headed quickly away as soon as that dismissal bell sounds, these few students DON’T leave! An hour after school, if they can avoid notice, they’re still roaming the hallways or hanging out somewhere on the building perimeter. For kids who dread entering the building at 7:30 in the morning they seem to have a hard time exiting by 3:00.

They hang around. 

I’ve gotten to know some of them, their histories and stories. The story is never the same. It would make for a good read if all of the personal episodes were combined together. There are students from single-parent families and students who would be going home to an empty house. There are students who live in two different households, one week with dad and one week with mom; and there are students whose parents would prefer that they stay at school for as long as they are allowed so that the parent doesn’t have to deal with them at home. 

School has become their safe place and their place of consistency. In a good way it doesn’t change. It can be counted on when the rest of their lives are in chaos. 

The teachers that they seem to enjoy terrorizing during class periods after 3:00 become the trusted adults that they gravitate to. A teacher that one of the “hang arounders” wouldn’t add two plus two for in class suddenly becomes the teacher the student is willing to run errands for, wipe down classroom tables, and share a snack with.

I don’t have any substantiated research data for this statement, just a feeling…an inkling…that school is where they feel valued and safe, that school is the place they can count on in their worlds where they’ve been disappointed and discarded too many times. 

And so they hang around for an hour, an hour and a half, not wanting to leave and, oddly enough, in a few hours not wanting to come back. 

Well…come back for class, that is! There’s work to do, new gray hairs to create!

Why Would You Put Gum In Your Armpit?

September 22, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                    September 22, 2018

                             

Middle school is a time of discovery as eleven, twelve, and thirteen year olds enter a new land of educational challenges, physical awkwardness, and unwise decisions. Like the frightened character in the horror movie who decides to open the door to the room where the strange sounds are coming from (and the theatre audience is yelling “Don’t do it!”), middle school kids do things and say things that make us shake our heads in dismay.

Like the boy last year who told his teacher, “I’m getting tired of looking at your face!” It did not go well for him!

Or the eighth grader who thought it would be cool to body surf down the concrete wall in the stairwell! He got about five feet into his journey and then fell over the side, landing on the steps in the lower half of the stairway! 

Ands then there was yesterday when a boy decided to put his chewing gum into his armpit…underneath his shirt! Just as gum gets stuck on the underside of desks for eternity this boy’s armpit was stuck with some Dubble Bubble!

As with the actions of many middle school students the first question that comes to an adult’s mind is “Why?” Why would a student who can understand algebra put bubble gum in his armpit? Was he trying to keep it moist? Did he not know where else to store it and his armpit wasn’t doing anything anyway? Was it a class where the teacher doesn’t allow gum and he thought he could sneak a few chews in from time to time?

And what did this boy, who by the way did have some armpit hair to help create a situation that gives new meaning to the term “bubblicious”, tell his parents? Where did he get the idea that putting gum in his armpit was a good idea? Did he see his dad do it once in the midst of an elk hunting trip?

Is an armpit gum crisis a disciplinary problem that requires the security guard to be called; or a medical situation for the school nurse to handle; or a custodial situation with some stain remover; or a wood shop problem solved with a little bit of sawing…kind of like cutting some small trees down!

It happened on Friday afternoon. For some middle schoolers Friday afternoon is when they get a distorted understanding of American freedom and think anything is okay. For teachers and school administrators Friday afternoon is like the end of a marathon race. Energy is low, muscles are cramping, their cardio system in at its max, but the finish line is in sight! They are stretching for the tape just about to break it and throw their arms up in triumph…and someone comes into the room or office and says “Jimmy wanted to see if he could fit in his locker and now he’s stuck inside it!”

There is the urge to respond with “Well…he will still be there on Monday when we come back!”, but…then the teacher or administrator remembers that their job description includes something like “rescues students from themselves!”

Substitute Teacher Day Off

September 18, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                     September 18, 2018

                                    

I did not get a too-early call this morning from Timberview Middle School. No phone ringing at 5:30 with urgency! I get did four phone calls from another school, but I ignored them. It’s gotten to the point where I rarely substitute at any other school besides Timberview. I’m like Andy Griffith in the midst of middle school Mayberry. Everybody knows me there! I coach three sports there, with this being my 18th year of coaching boy’s basketball.

So today is a day off! Yesterday I corralled 7th Grade language arts students the whole day, keeping them focused on verbs, mis-spellings, and the green grass of literature. I’ll giddy up the same herd two days from now. 

Today, however, I’m relaxing…kinda’! When I leave Starbucks this morning I’m going up to the school to take care of a couple of details and surprise a coaching teammate with a cup of Americano with a little bit of cream. She deserves it for having to teach 8th Grade math all day.

Since retiring from being a church pastor close to three years ago (Doesn’t seem possible!) my understanding of “a day off” has been altered. It used to be that Monday was the designated day off after the hyper-speed pace of Sunday. Now it’s whatever day I’m not substitute teaching. 

Could be Monday, could be Thursday, but it’s almost never Friday! 

And what do I do on whatever day it is that I’m off? I think about what’s going on at the school, wondering which students will make unwise decisions and which teachers will be ready to pull their hair out. I’ll wonder what new color of hair will appear in a classroom that day and what 8th Grade girls will look like their jeans were vacuum sealed around them. I’ve noticed- and maybe you have also- that my middle school experiences are filtering more and more into my writing. In the first month of the school year I wrote 7 blog posts related to middle school. Today I’ll write 1,000 to 2,000 words in the third fiction book I’m writing and the story will have been influenced by my recent middle school experiences. One of the two main characters is a 7th Grade boy! That’s what I do on my day off! I write about middle schoolers.

I’ll also eat a more substantial lunch today, maybe a luncheon date with Carol. I won’t need to “wolfe down” a Tupperware bowl containing cottage cheese and cucumber, or a PB&J sandwich while gulping a bottle of water. Today I won’t even have to use a plastic fork!

I’ll be able to talk in a normal voice, use the bathroom when I want to, wear a pair of shorts and a tee shirt, and sit in the swing on our back deck and read Vince Flynn. I’ll be able to enjoy a third cup of coffee on my writing stool- the last stool on the right looking out at Pike’s Peak! I can stop at the supermarket and check out the “day old food” discounted rack and play Words with Friends. I may even run by Penney’s and see if they have underwear on sale!

And in the midst of all those opportunities and “down time” I’ll be thinking about Timberview, like a kid wondering what might happen in the next episode of my favorite action TV series. 

Crazy, I know, but it brings a smile to my face! And I’ll ask myself “Was I that dorky when I was in middle school?” 

Absolutely!

Why I Substitute Teach

August 18, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                    August 18, 2018

                                     

School began again this past Wednesday in our area! At Timberview Middle School four hundred or so sixth graders waited outside the doors that first day. Seventh and eighth graders came back on Thursday.

The school staff waited inside the doors and cheered them on as they entered the building for their first middle school experience.

And I was one of the cheering high five-ing staff members!

I’m a substitute teacher, but had been asked to teach the first three days of school by a teacher back in April because of a family wedding she would be attending out-of-state.

Other staff members asked the question: “Mr. Wolfe, subbing already?” Yes, in fact, out of 13 August school days I’m scheduled to sub 10 of them for 7 different teachers. 

I often have people ask me why I substitute teach? Am I a masochist? Is it the appropriate level for how mature I act? Will no one else hire me? Am I reliving my junior high days?

Truthfully, I substitute teach because I enjoy it! I’m serious! One of the best months of my life was when I was asked to do a long-term 7th Grade Social Studies teaching position. I had to work like crazy that month preparing for each day of instruction and interaction, but I was a bit sad when the new teacher was hired. She’s a great teacher (who I have subbed for several times since!), but I missed the kids who I was privileged enough to teach, challenge, and converse with each day. 

That experience has probably influenced my feelings on substitute teaching more than anything else. It imparted confidence in me and brought me to the point where each school day was seen as being an opportunity to influence and educate, as opposed to enduring and dreading.

I don’t substitute teach because we need the income. We’re okay regardless of whether I decide to take the month off or appear in a classroom every school day of that month. The pay, in my mind, is simply a side benefit for doing something I enjoy doing. 

I substitute teach because of the relationships with staff, parents, and students. A few of my best friends are now teachers, who are on staff at Timberview. One of them has been on two mission trips with me. I officiated at the funeral service for another teacher friend who succumbed to cancer two years ago. 

I substitute teach at middle school because it’s an impressionable time for the children who enter there and three years later exit as teenagers. It’s an uncertain and confusing part of their life journeys. I remember my junior high days. They were not that pleasant. I was the smallest kid in my whole class. Other boys in my eighth grade class were beginning to sport facial hair and armpit hair that was dense and long enough to take a weed whacker to. I didn’t even have peach fuzz! I was still like a facial hair desert, void of signs of adolescence!

As a sub I have the opportunity to give a word of encouragement, bring a class to laughter, and grace students with nicknames. I have the opportunity to make a school day more than just books and study sheets. I’m able to make it an experience.

It’s a bit flattering to hear good things being said about me. I’m scheduled to teach 8th Grade social studies for two weeks at the end of October and beginning of November. The teacher came up to me on Thursday and told me she had shared with her classes that I’d be subbing for her during that time. 

“They were so excited!”

Wow! Putting the pressure on me! But, you know something? I’m also excited! I am a blessed man!

First Day of Cross-Country Practice

August 14, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                     August 14, 2018

                            

It was an optional practice day so the other coaches and I were a bit surprised that about 25 middle school students showed up for it. “I thought there would be four or five!” exclaimed Coach Barry.

But here they were! About 25 sixth, seventh, and eighth graders wondering what the next hour and a half would hold for them, their lungs, and their legs!

“I’m Coach Wolfe, and it’s great to see all of you here this afternoon!” 

Some smiled back at me.  Others looked down at the ground like they feared a sudden sinkhole would open up and swallow them down into the depths. One girl with shaking knees was hoping for a sinkhole!

A hand shot up. 

“Coach Wolfe, what will we be doing in our cross-country practices?”

“Well, let’s see! We’ll watch some Justin Bieber Youtube videos, have Fudgesicle eating contests, and finish each day with some tug-of-war competitions.”

He looked at me in disbelief.

“No, that’s a different sport I’m thinking of! In cross-country we’ll…RUN! We’ll run long, we’ll run fast, we’ll run easy and hard, up hills and down hills, on paths through the woods and sidewalks around the neighborhoods. We’ll run down to 7-11 and get Slurpies and to Boriello Brothers and get pizza…okay, strike the pizza idea! Basically, we’ll run in a variety of ways!

“Coach Wolfe!” This time the girl hoping for a sinkhole had her hand up.

“Yes.”

“How far will we run?”

“Some days further than others. Roughly three miles a day.” Her eyes opened as wide as the sinkholes she hoped for.

“Just three miles?” asked a new sixth grader. “I’ve been on a running team that competes in the nationals each year and we usually do six to seven miles a day.”

“Go for it! When we get done with our practice you can do a Forrest Gump and just keep running!”

A young man with blonde hair and a heavy dose of anxiety raised his hand halfway and looked at me.

“Yes, sir!”

“I just moved here from Texas. Do you think I’ll have a hard time with the altitude change?”

“Yes.”

“Oh!” he replied with a facial expression that resembled when the time his mom told him Santa Claus doesn’t ride in a sleigh.

“It will take you a while, but you’ll get used to it.”

“Thank you,” he said as he bit his lower lip.

“Each of you is at a different point than everybody else. Some of you have been running since you were about the size of a ladybug and others are brand new. Your coaches will seek to help each of you get better as a runner and also understand how to run. We’ll expect you to work hard, but we also want you to have fun!”

At the mention of having fun a few eyebrows went up, like I was saying that it was fun to go to the doctor and get a flu shot, or it was fun to wear underwear inside-out and backwards! 

But it will be fun! In fact, today…Day 2 and another optional practice before the first official practice on Wednesday…I’m getting popsicles for the end of practice. For a popsicle I bet the one young lady would even jump over a sinkhole! 

And I’ll high five each of them and joke with them and then send them all home thinking, “This is going to be awesome!”

A 64 Year Old Church Camper

July 7, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                          July 7, 2018

                                  

This afternoon I leave for church camp, a 64 year old hanging out for a week with a bunch of kids bordering either side of the age of thirteen or smack dab on it. During this week, which will occur at an altitude of 8,500, I’ll probably be a target for shaving cream, dumped buckets of ice water, and the “ice cream” in the human sundae, complete with all the applicable toppings.

My role is to pastor this mass of hyperactivity, talk to them about Jesus, and listen for the hidden pain just as much as the easily heard laughter. 

The first day will be about breaking the ice…without getting hurt in the process! Having coached middle school sports since I was in my forties (WHAT!!) I know there will be the energetic campers, the quiet campers, campers who were there last year and looking forward to seeing kids they haven’t seen since last July, and campers who have never been to a camp and are terrified of their own shadows. 

And the old guy will attempt to lead them alongside Jesus! Camp can be an emotional experience, but emotions can sometimes can be their own god. They can be like the air that is blubbering out of a balloon that takes you in one direction and suddenly the other way.

I love middle school kids. You can laugh with them, discover their individual talents and how each kid is unique. You can use their gullibility and their boldness to forge lasting friendships. The painful memories and the hilarious happenings can both strengthen the sense of care and concern.

This week a life could be changed, redirected, or even saved. This week a kid who doesn’t believe in himself can have someone tell him he’s awesome, he’s loved, and his life will make a difference. 

And if that means I get smeared with shaving cream everyday, so be it!