Posted tagged ‘middle school girls’

Middle School Cool

April 23, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                      April 23, 2019

                                   

I was never one of the cool kids in school. It’s hard being cool when you’re a 4 foot 8 inch eighth grader with nerdy looking glasses. I was a cute kid, but eighth grade girls had moved past cute and had started looking for handsome, manly, and hints of voices that had suddenly started getting lower. I was a high-pitched, miniature, buzzcut boy who always wore clothes from the J.C. Penney’s store my mom worked at. Randy McDaniels was cool! He was 6 foot one inch, a great athlete, and the dream of most of the females in our class. Of course, when Randy entered his senior year he was still six foot one! He had just received an advance on his masculinity that the rest of his classmates wouldn’t catch up on for a couple of years.

As I walk down the hallways of Timberview Middle School nowadays I notice cool and uncool. That is, what students perceive as cool! 

For instance, having a cell phone in your hand is a prerequisite to even being considered cool. To be talking to Joey and without hesitation look at your cell phone and text Charley that you’ll see him at lunch…that’s in the preface of the book on cool. 

In fact, up-to-date technology is the first chapter in the book How to Be Cool In Middle School In Ten Easy Diagrammed With Pictures Steps. Cool students walk down the hallways with Apple AirPods in their ears. They are an indication that overpriced merchandise is not an obstacle for them…or their parents’ credit card. Having an Apple Watch is an even greater advance in the Kingdom of Coolness! In saying those things I have to admit that I pull out my gold MacBook at Starbucks with an air of prideful arrogance!

Middle school cool kids stand in the middle of the hallway at the height of student traffic moments and expect everyone else to detour around them. It’s their position of royalty with the feel of their subjects keeping their distance from them. If uncool students did that they would be trampled by the stampeding herd!

Uncool kids wear things like hair headbands with cat ears attached. Cool kids wear hair apparel with a Nike swoosh prominently displayed!

Cool kids have their parents deliver Chick-Fil-A to them for lunch. Uncool kids bring Lunchables or sandwiches made with white bread. 

Cool kids go to school athletic contests and sit in the upper corner of the bleachers with their cell phones and make inappropriate remarks about uncool classmates. Actually watching the game that is being played is not cool, unless someone they are infatuated with is playing.

Cool kids moan and groan about going to Language Arts and Math. Depending on whether the teacher is considered cool or not, it may be acceptable to seem interested in the Science and Social Studies classes. 

Cool kids ask to go to the restroom at least twice a day and take their time in the venture. Cool kids have cool looking water bottles, also. 

Cool kids run for student council and get elected even though they have no interest in making any decisions or planning any initiatives. Uncool kids, who would be awesome in getting some things done, never get elected! 

Cool kids show up in the morning with their Starbucks Frappuccinos. Uncool kids have juice boxes.

Middle school coolness is the predecessor to high school cockiness. It’s like the incubator for developing distorted perspectives on what’s important in life. Into the mash of that heated setting teachers try to lead students to deeper life understandings and principles. 

And, you know something? Bottom line, middle school teachers are the ones who are really the cool ones! 

Middle School Passing Period

April 13, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                   April 13, 2019

                             

It’s like an 8:00 A.M. corridor in an O’Hare International Airport terminal…many people rushing and others in no hurry at all…people on a mission and others who look like they’ve been beaten into submission…people all put together and others who are frantic as they seem to be coming apart.

Instead of an airport terminal, however, it’s a  middle school hallway…between class periods. It’s the four minutes of bedlam where a thousand students are required to navigate slimmed down hallways to get from one classroom to the next. 

I stand with two of the awesome sixth grade teachers, Dan Ferrante and Stephanie Wilcox, against a railing watching the mixture of personalities and temperaments pass us by. 

Some use it to ask one of their teachers a quick question or to plead their case for grace.

“Ms. Wilcox!” whines one girl, as she sticks her lower lip out and speaks in a tone that conveys the world is coming to an end, “I didn’t get all of my math homework done…but it wasn’t my fault! My little brother was sick and I had to do his jobs around the house, PLUS my own!” She punctuates the agony of injustice in being the overworked child of the family with a deep sigh.

Ms. Wilcox is very understanding of the inconvenience and tells her that she will send an email to the mom to express her concern for the illness of the brother and her understanding of the daughter’s inability to complete her math assignment.

Eyes wide open greet the teacher’s response. “Oh, you don’t have to do that! He’s…he’s fine today! Our…ahhh…internet is down anyway!”

Ms. Wilcox knows the talent this student has for avoiding work. She’s heard it all before. As the student walks away she enjoys a giggle of satisfaction over the terror she has created in someone who’s been prone to be the terror!

Several eighth graders walk down the crowded hallway with their noses in their cell phones, oblivious to the mass of bodies around them. 

A couple of sixth grade boys with an obsession for looking cool walk by with AirPods in their ears, as if their social status has been elevated. AirPods are the middle school version of a high school student driving a Maserati GT Convertible to school. They think people notice! They overestimate their peer group. Little Tommy, who has so many papers sticking out of his folder that it resembles the aftermath of a tornado, notices only the obstacles in his path to science class. His coat, which he never takes off, flaps in the hallway breeze and one shoelace is untied and so loose the tongue of the shoe looks thirsty! AirPods mean as much to him as hominy grits!

A small herd of seventh grade girls roam down the way in unison. Their conversation is so fast-paced they sound like Alvin and the Chipmunks. Never once do they acknowledge the three teachers. We are obstacles in the midst of their verbal jabber.

The boy I sent to the office last week passes by and I sense a scowl. He may have just spit on me…in his mind! His preference is to have the inmates run the asylum. Teachers are like prison guards. Someday he may find out from first-hand knowledge that prison guards are different!

“Mr. Wolfe, who are you subbing for today?” asks a cute sixth grade girl who still isn’t tall enough to ride the carousel merry-go-round by herself. 

“No one! I just decided to come and hang out in the hallway for a while.”

She giggles and goes on to her Language Arts classroom, not sure if I’m serious or trying to fool her. 

Another sixth grade girl. “Mr. Ferrante, do you want to read my speech?”

“Sure, but maybe at the beginning of our lunch period…unless I can read it in 15 seconds!”

There are the few who seek to take five minutes to get to their destination. They are in no hurry…with the exception of the 2:45 bell at the end of the school day. Jet propulsion empowers their feet at that point!

The crowds lessen and the teachers turn towards their classrooms. For the next 57 minutes the terminals will be quiet until the next class period’s flights begin boarding. 

Middle School Food Intake

April 10, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                 April 10, 2019

                              

“Sam, what’s this?” I pointed to the food and drink he had taken out of his backpack and placed on the desk in front of him.

“Breakfast!”

“An Arizona Ice Tea, a fruit roll-up, and a bag of cookies?” I reply with confusion etched across my face.

He nodded his head and looked at me, searching for some reason why I seemed unreasonable. I was substitute teaching in a 6th Grade class and what I didn’t realize was that the treasures now in full display mode on Sam’s desk happened to be what he had every morning in this class. Sometimes a sleeve of Ritz Crackers or chocolate-covered mini-donuts were on the menu instead of cookies, and Gummy Bears instead of a fruit roll-up, but that’s it!

“You didn’t have time to eat at home?”

“No! I never do!”

“Nutritious breakfast there, big guy!”

He smiled back at me as a Chips Ahoy disappeared into his mouth. 

Being around middle schoolers these past few years has brought back the memories of what I would consume at school when I ran the halls of Williamstown Junior High/Senior High School as a 7th grader. Back in those days, before technology took over, my parents would give me money to buy “lunch tickets”. In the school cafeteria a student handed in a lunch ticket and proceeded to have unappetizing food plopped on the tray by scowling ladies wearing hairnets. Lunch was an ordeal. There were no chefs serving fine cuisine there. In fact, the weekly menu came out ahead of time so students would know what unrecognizable food items had been placed on their trays. 

Williamstown also had candy machines in its hallways and I remember selling my lunch tickets at a discount for hard cash…er, coins to jam into the candy machine. PayDays were my lunch of choice!

When I was in high school in Ironton, Ohio we’d walk a block down the street to Smitty’s and consume Hostess Fruit Pies and Little Debbie’s.

So Sam’s breakfast of non-champions smelled of past memories and choices. What I’ve noticed is that he’s not unusual. In various classes students bring out snacks of Cheetos, Fritos, Oreos, and once in a while…a granola bar! They “snack” their way through the school day. I don’t see too many apples emerging from backpacks!

As I’m eating my salad during the lunch period a few students come into the classroom to chat and razz me. One has a fudgesicle, another ramen noodles, and the third munches from a bag of potato chips. 

“You all don’t eat lunch in the cafeteria?” I ask.

Three faces of disbelief greet the question. The cafeteria is too stressful, too confining. Bringing a bag of chips means the student doesn’t have to stand in line, and can use the 30 minutes to socialize and do whatever, ALTHOUGH I wasn’t quite sure where the fudgesicle had come from!

Cafeteria food offerings are much better than when I was a 7th grader, but many students need that high dose of sugar to satisfy their cravings. I can’t tell you how many Starbucks Frappuccino drinks I see being consumed in the first two hours of a school day. Also, there’s never a school day that goes by where a few parents don’t arrive at lunchtime with a bag from Arby’s, Chick-fil-a, or Jimmy John’s because they promised the Johnny Jim’s they’d bring them lunch that day.

The interesting thing for me is that I’ve noticed that I EAT HEALTHIER when I substitute teach. It’s usually a salad, or cottage cheese and cucumber. Don’t think too highly of me, though! I eat a light lunch so I don’t fall asleep in the afternoon classes…like I used to do in American History class back in high school! The teacher had a soothing monotone voice and the heavy non-nutritious lunch made my eyelids heavy with sleep. My understanding back in those days of our nation’s story was distorted by only catching the first 20 minutes of each class period lecture!

Perhaps the diet of many middle schoolers could explain the irrational decisions that they are prone to make…like the boy who was dared to walk into the girl’s locker room…and he did! For the next five school days after that he could eat what he wanted to…at home! Perhaps that was because of his poor eating decisions!

No…no, that’s just because he was a middle schooler! 

Lunch Detention

February 6, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                           February 6, 2019

                             

Ughh! It happens! Jimmy decides to be extra annoying in class, perhaps because I’m a substitute teacher for the day or because it’s one of his dominant characteristics…either way I have to use the dreaded two words.

Lunch detention!

It means that the next day he will be spending time with me in the classroom where I’ll be consuming my cottage cheese and cucumber. It may be more painful for me than it it for him. It means he won’t get to hang out with his buddies for 30 minutes. For me it means I’ll be restricted to my classroom, unable to make a restroom visit, and sitting in uncomfortable silence with 8th Grade boys who think I’m unreasonable and the devil incarnate!

They don’t connect their actions with consequences. After all, should they be expected to do their part in promoting an environment where students learn? Shouldn’t they be allowed to muddy the waters of knowledge and make things challenging for their teacher? Isn’t that their right, their God-given privilege?

Oops! I’m starting to sound bitter! 

Okay! I am a little bit! I’m spending another 30 minutes with two students who already have antagonized me for 57 minutes! It’s like having a root canal and then asking if the dentist can do another one right after that!

And so we sit in the classroom together trying to make believe that the others aren’t really present. Each bite of my cottage cheese feels lumpy and unappetizing in my mouth. I might as well be eating grits with no hint of seasoning or butter.

We talk about their offenses. They have a different view of things. I’m the problem. They believe I have a vendetta against them. It’s kinda’ like the driver saying, “Yes, I switched lanes. It’s not my fault that a car was already there!”

One of the lunch detainees has a hint of repentance. The other remains defiant, convinced that a great injustice has been done. I have a feeling that his grades are an indication that not much has been done…for a few weeks!

8th graders are on the verge of high school, which means most of them are on the verge of irrational behavior as well! As their  middle school days weird down they seem to get more wound up! Teachers leave each school day shaking their heads and chewing their fingernails. It is the circle of life…middle school life that is!

Lunch ends and Abbott and Costello leave without smiling. Their comedy act has been interrupted and they are not happy. But, after all, 8th grade has just as much drama to it as humor and, in their opinion, I have no sense of humor whatsoever!

Dictionary Education

November 3, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                     November 3, 2018

                          

It has been a full week of substitute teaching- one day of 7th Grade Language Arts and then the last four days in 8th Grade Social Studies. I love teaching in a class for a number of days in a row. Next week I’ll have the same 8th Grade Social Studies for four more days.

8th Graders crack me up! They are as diverse as “Jelly Belly” jelly beans, but also with many similarities. They want to be liked and kinda’ cool without having to announce to everyone that they ARE cool! Most come to class not expecting to receive anything but homework and in-class assignments. So I like to do the unexpected with them!

For the 8th Graders on one day we closed class with a quest to find who could create the most stupid question with the answer being “Cream Cheese”. Call it “Dumbed-Down Jeopardy!” The winning stupidest question received a roll of Smarties! 

On another day this week a few students were finishing their classroom work early. 

“Mr. Wolfe, I’m done. What can I do now?”

“You can study for the test you’ll be taking next Wednesday.” (To tell an 8th Grader that he can study for a test that is a week away is like telling him that he can start preparing for the Graduate Record Exam to get accepted into Grad School.)

A non-verbal facial expression communicates that my idea is lame! 

“Or you could read a book.”

“I don’t have a book with me.”

“I’ll take care of that!” Twenty seconds later I come back to his table and put a dictionary in front of him. “Here.”

Confused eyes dart back and forth. “It’s a dictionary!”
“Yes, it is! A mind is a terrible thing to waste…especially the mind of an intelligent 8th grade student like you. Here’s what I want you to do! Start with the “J’s”! I think we may be “J-deficient” in our vocabulary, so expand your understanding for the next few minutes and tell me one word that is like a new discovery for you…okay?” I help him find “J” just in case!

His mouth is wide open and nothing is coming out of it. The other two students at his table who are still working on the classroom assignment are snickering.

Two minutes later another student falsely believes that he’s going to camp-out for the rest of the class period and pop Sweet Tarts as he does nothing. 

“All done?”
“Yes, Mr. Wolfe.”

“Okay, well…you can study for the test or read a book that you have.”
“Ahhh, I don’t have a book and I’ve done all the studying I need.”

“Well, that is awesome about the studying aspect of things, but since you’re so advanced I have something else for you to read.”

“Ahhh!”

“I’ll be right back!” A few seconds later I return with the Geographical Dictionary. “Here you go! Start with the ‘K’s’! I don’t think there are many places that we’re familiar with that begin with the letter ‘K’!”

“Huh?”

“An 8th Grade mind is a terrible thing to waste!”

Later on in the day a couple of other students discovered the treasures in “Q” and “X”. 

“Mr. Wolfe!” says the boy who is immersed in the letter ‘X’.

“Yes!”
“The word ‘xylo’ indicates something made of wood.”

“Really!”

“Yes! Like xylophone has the different keys made of wood.”

“Wow! I didn’t know that!” He seemed excited by the fact that he shared something with an old guy that wasn’t known.”

The next day another student asked if she could READ the dictionary! And I stood there with my mouth wide open!

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!