Posted tagged ‘middle school students’

Smile, Students!

November 24, 2020

Since I’m a fill-in teacher this year, kinda a fake instructor, I do some things that are a little bizarre and lacking in academic seriousness. Like last week when I started adding stuffed animals to flank the Cabbage Patch doll that was neatly arranged at the desk close to my classroom desk. I refer to the troupe as my fill-in students, since in-person students won’t be in the classroom until January.

On my back wall I had the word “Laugh” for a couple of weeks, the letters formed by Far Side cartoons. Last week I rearranged the letters, inserted some new Far Sides, and spelled out “SMILE”. Unfortunately, our school went to remote learning before my students had a chance to see it, but I’ll keep it pinned to the wall until they come back.

It’s difficult for them to smile much these days, being partially in class and partially virtual until now, and now they are totally remote. My teaching teammates and I started doing virtual lunches with them to help keep the connection. As they sit and eat their PB&J, they can log into one of our communication channels and converse with other classmates and teachers. It’s like an online cafeteria.

I want them to know that it’s okay to say they aren’t okay, to say they don’t enjoy this distant educational experience. If, in the midst of that, I can bring a smile or a chuckle I’ll have led them toward a moment of normalcy. If I can make comments about their on-screen backdrop or mention that they’re looking awesome that day, perhaps they will let their defenses and reservations down for a few moments.

This year education is more about instilling a calmness in the midst of the pandemic storm. It’s about getting these adolescents to trust in the belief that it’s going to turn out okay.

It’s getting them to rediscover their ability to smile.

Redefining 7th Grade Deadlines

November 8, 2020

Since we’re living in a time when some seem comfortable in the rewriting of history, it makes sense that other parts of our culture are also being redefined.

Like at Starbucks this morning where my tall Pike Place coffee is really the small, or the email I’ve received for fifteen days that says “this is absolutely the last day for this mega-sale.”

Many of my seventh-grade language arts students have decided that the term “deadline” now has a new definition. In the middle school urban dictionary it is rendered like this:

Deadline: An estimate; a suggestion; in academia, the stated time when a student should begin thinking about working on the assignment; an approximation.

Last week- the third week of the new school quarter- I received five different assignments that were part of the first quarter. That is, they were part of the grade that had already been punched in…four weeks ago! Sorry, Charlie!

I’ll receive the glazed over looks again this coming week. “Answer the discussion question and submit it. I’ll give you the next five minutes to complete it.”

What some of the students hear: “Would you consider giving a response to this discussion question and, if it’s not too much of a bother, submit it in the next couple of weeks so that I might have the privilege of granting you a score?”

I must say this! There are plenty of students who are responsible, on-task, committed to the old definition of deadline, and in pursuit of excellence. They give me hope that my hair will not fall out in the midst of instructional agitation.

It’s interesting that the “deadline-redefines” become irritated if the school food service didn’t plan accurately and run out of chicken nuggets, or their video game doesn’t load quickly enough. So, they do show some reaction to slowness.

I’m wondering if in a few years when they become taxpayers if the IRS will understand that they might not get their tax returns completed by April 15? I’m envisioning their 2030 tax return being submitted in 2032…but only halfway done!

Being Coach Wolfe

October 17, 2020

A teacher, and friend of mine, told me a story last week that brought an ongoing chuckle to my soul. His daughter is a sixth-grader at Timberview Middle School and run cross country this fall- a sport that I head up for the school.

Timberview’s mascot is a timberwolf…the Timberview Timberwolves. Yes, and I’m Coach Wolfe of the Timberwolves!

One day the confused sixth-grader revealed her mental ponderings to her dad and asked the question.

“Why is he called Coach Wolfe?”

It brought a moment of Jeopardy music hesitation to her dad and he realized the roots of her question.

“Well, because that’s his name.”

“It is?” she replied, eyebrows raising. “His name is Coach Wolfe?”

“Yes, dear. That’s his name.”

Yesterday, my 7th Grade Language Arts class met in the school library for each of its sessions. The sixth-grader was also at another table in the library doing her classwork. I noticed that she kept looking at me. I’m not sure if she was trying to discern if there were pointy ears underneath my graying hair and fangs inside my mouth. Perhaps the Little Red Riding Hood story was coming back to her, as I drew each group of seventh-graders into my den.

Names are sometimes puzzling. What may dumbfound her even more is when another teacher from the school goes by me who greets me with a cheerful “Wolfie”, and I return the greeting by saying her married last name.

“Fish!”

Truth be told, some days it feels kind of like a zoo!

Trying to Remember My Virtual Students

September 19, 2020

For the past four and a half weeks I’ve been teaching 7th Grade Language Arts virtually and now in-person. Half of my students stare at me from a computer screen and the other half stare at me from their seats in the classroom.

I am very much an in-person teacher, comfortable talking to the live bodies in front of me. Obviously that comes from 36 years as a church pastor preaching to the live people in front of me…and a few who could be evaluated as dead!

There is multi-tasking, which I’m not that good at (except walking and chewing gum at the same time), and now there’s multi-audiencing, which I’m really, really not good at.

This week I paused my last class of the day to take 3-4 minute “mask break” outside. By the last class of the day they are squirrelly and doing unintentional impersonifications of the Tasmanian Devil cartoon character. They whined enough that our 4 minute break grew into 7, before we went back inside. As I came around to my desk I saw 12 faces staring at me- the 12 virtual students!

Let kids at Disney World who had gotten separated from their parents, they had the deer in headlights looks.

“My bad!” I apologized. “I totally forgot about you all!”

They looked slightly hurt by it, but extended grace to me. Some of them were probably feeling guilty about missing assignments that I keep asking about, or the video game controllers they have hidden in their laps. Others may have taken the opportunity to get a “power nap.”

Most of the in-person students thought it was hilarious. After all, they had lured me into the squirrel trap of extra down-time and discovered one of my weaknesses. Mr. Wolfe loses track of the virtual students. It brought back memories of a high school teacher who could have played the leading role of an absentminded professor. When he wasn’t looking, students would escape from his class out one of the classroom windows. Others would even enter through the windows when he was distracted. I don’t remember learning much in that class, although his name is burned into my memory.

And now it hits me! Maybe I’m the new absentminded virtual teacher! Maybe 30 years from now the students I have now will talk about the pranks they pulled on me and how clueless I was.

And then, horror of horrors, I consider the possibility that they will remember nothing that I have taught them…just my name!

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.

Having a Teacher’s Third Eye

December 7, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                     December 7, 2019

               

In many ways I’m clueless.

Don’t ask me about who is singing what song. I can recognize Bing Crosby singing “White Christmas”, but I’m a loser in identifying Crosby, Stills, and Nash. Same goes for the whole gaming area. If you ask me about “Fortnite”, I’ll look as lost as a child in the Chicago Futures Exchange.

But one thing I’m pretty good at is figuring out who to keep an eye on in any middle school classroom. My third eye, that is! I don’t have to actually keep my first two eyes on the student, it’s the invisible eye that knows and sees. 

Most of us who have been around the block a few times can still remember teachers we had in school who we couldn’t fool, and others who seemed to be oblivious. One of my high school teachers was so clueless that when he’d leave the classroom for a moment, students would climb out the first floor window and leave, while other students would climb into the classroom. 

Having that third eye is essential for classroom survival and control. Recently I was sitting in on a class who’s teacher I would be subbing for a few days later. The teacher told me that the class was made up of great kids, but there was one student who I’d have to keep an eye on. She said to me, “See if you can figure out who it is.” Even before the class had officially started I knew who the suspect was. She looked at me and I motioned with a slight nod of my head in the direction of the young man. She smiled and nodded back to indicate the accuracy of my choice.

Yesterday I had two classes of sixth graders in the afternoon. Same thing, my third eye knew who I had to be aware of. 

On the other end of the spectrum, a teacher can usually figure out who the students are who will help him steer the class in the right direction. It’s almost like having teammates who are on the mission with you. Whereas some kids will lead the herd to the edge of the cliff, the students who you praise God for will help the teacher in the pursuit of knowledge and understanding.

There are the kids who seem to think the world revolves around them and there are the students who have a desire to help make the world right. 

Oh, there’s been a few times where someone has gone undiscovered in their antics…like the boy a couple of years ago who was handing out Flamin’ Hot Cheetos that he had also doused with a hot sauce called “The Devil’s Blood”. I didn’t catch on for a few minutes. When  the fifth student came to me and asked if he could get a drink of water, as tears ran down his cheeks, I finally figured out something was up. 

Most of the time, however, I’m like a wise ole’ cat fully aware of the mouse trying to get a nibble of the cheese nearby. In each of the sixth grade classes yesterday I knew who had the potential to some day be on the FBI Most Wanted list before I had even finished taking attendance…and they lived up to their potential!

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. 

The Specialness of Special Needs Students

September 28, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                   September 28, 2019

                         

I’ve been looking forward to bedtime these past few days. By 7:30 I’m being challenged to stay upright until 9:00. I’ve been teaching special needs students at Timberview Middle School. Let’s just say that I’m getting my steps in during the school day.

It’s a three week assignment that they asked to take on while the teacher is away. One week is done and I’m down three pounds!

It’s been amazing, amusing, intriguing, and educational. Each of the students has their challenges and their awesome characteristics. Each is unique in some way and just like any other middle school kid in other ways.

For example, yesterday I was teaching a lesson to a group of 8th graders about the American Revolution. I mentioned the Declaration of Independence that was signed on July 4, 1776, and then strayed off with the question about whether any of them have watched fireworks. One girl shook her head yes and then said “Katy Perry, Fireworks.”

Being the old guy who is immersed in the middle school culture and yet totally clueless, I asked what “Katy Perry, Fireworks” meant. That led to us pulling up the song on a cell phone and singing it together. The young lady wants me to work on it and sing it solo-style on Monday. 

And then there’s the 7th grade boy who I do math work sheets with. Each time he gets a problem correct he becomes a drummer with his pencil and the edge of the table. His pencils literally take a beating each day. One 6th grade boy calls everyone “Dude”, even the school principal, but has added “Mr. Wolfe” to his vocabulary now. 

The para professionals who work with the students, go to the regular classrooms with them, help them to the bathroom, and do special feeding for the ones who require it…are incredible! I’m like a fish out of water that is being saved numerous times each day. They appreciate the consistency of my presence and my willingness to help, my conversation with the students and communication with classroom teachers about assignments and daily topics, but they know I’m a green rookie. 

It’s a new kind of education. I’ve discovered the specialness of their personalities, the challenges of keeping their attention, the variety of “paces”…from the young lady that required 28 minutes just to get to the physical education class outside, to the 8th grade boy who I can’t keep up with as he runs to give his mom a hug at the end of the school day.

I see the strain on the paras, who must constantly be alert to the sudden changes in their students’ movements and decisions- the chance of a sudden fall, shift in direction, changes in mood, and need to go to the restroom. There is no down time. A couple of them are often bruised by the unintentional blows that they receive.

And yet the work is rewarding. It is a reminder that the most rewarding moments of life are usually uncomplicated expressions of delight and discovery. Understanding algebra is one thing, but having a challenged student consistently being able to correctly add another number to an “8” is another. 

I see other students trudging through their school days uninspired and uninterested. Most of the special needs students look forward to their school days. It is their daily adventure into a place of discovery and relationships. They walk to class with their peer partners and engage in conversations about life. It’s the place where they are challenged, but also cheered.

For the adults that walk along beside them, it’s an opportunity to see life from a totally different perspective. 

And for me? Well…come Monday I’d better be ready with “Fireworks”!