Posted tagged ‘middle school students’

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!

Dear Mr. Substitute Teacher, I’m Sorry!

September 29, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                    September 29, 2018

                        

Dear Mr. Substitute Teacher,

I am sorry for how I acted in the class you were our substitute for yesterday. I did not act right. It may have been because I had two Hershey’s bars for breakfast. That chocolate sometimes makes me do things I don’t usually do. Like putting Vaseline on the top of your desk that caused your hand to slip, resulting in your chin hitting the edge of the desk. I don’t usually do things like that. That second chocolate bar put me over the edge!

After you got the bleeding stopped you somehow figured out that it was me who had done it. I probably would have ‘fessed’ up even if you haven’t figured it out. I shouldn’t have used my right hand in spreading it. I couldn’t hold a pencil for the first two class periods!

I apologize for that! 

And the constant chatter! You probably should have sent me to the office after the Vaseline thing, but you gave me a second chance, and I wouldn’t shut up. I don’t understand what came over me! Is there caffeine in a Hershey bar? 

It could also be the class subject matter. I’m a history buff, you know. I play Fortnite everyday! Coming to Social Studies class just seems to bring all of that knowledge to the surface that I need to share. I just get all excited and out of control. I apologize for my inappropriate loud bursts.

You are a great teacher that I hope will sub for my class again. I promise I will be perfect next time. If you let me know you’re coming to my class I will make sure NOT to have chocolate bars for breakfast, maybe just do some fruit and yogurt that day!

AND I’ll help you with the other students who may be problems for you! I know who they are, and am willing to give you some intel on each one of them. That’s the least I could do for you!

Oh, and you’re probably wondering about the picture of George Washington on the wall. Yes, I was the one who dotted his face with spit wads…one on each cheek and a direct shot right on the tip of his nose. They were great shots!…but probably not appropriate. You’ll be glad to know that I cleaned up his complexion after school yesterday, although I thought the spit wad on his right cheek improved his appearance a little bit. I can’t help it if I’m a crack shot with a plastic straw. You should see me spitting watermelon seeds into a bucket twenty feet away!

Once again, I wanted to apologize for my behavior. I need to do better. My goal for the year is to only get suspended from school once and I know if I don’t improve my ways I could meet and surpass that total by the time Parent-Teacher Conferences happen in mid-October. You’ll be happy to know that my mom says I won’t be allowed to play Fortnite during my suspension! 

Thank you for being nice!

Your Friend,

Johnathan Lee Davis, III

Be Kind or Be Kinda’ Kind

September 25, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                   September 25, 2018

                            

At our middle school, as any other middle school, there has been a lot of information and discussion about bullying- what it is and what to do if you are the person who is being bullied? 

This school year there has been an initiative to have students and teachers think about doing the polar opposite of bullying. It’s the idea of being kind. Teachers and administrators wear t-shirts that say “Be Kind” on the front. (I’ve got one of the t-shirts!) Since school is only into its seventh week it’s hard to make any “kind” of determination on the effect or non-effect of the initiative yet. 

Students ARE influenced by slogans and sayings, images and symbols, but I’m not sure how well a school can teach kindness. It’s on a different plane than learning algebra, what the functions are of the three branches of government, or the different body parts of a grasshopper are. 

From my Christian faith, kindness is one of the results that emerges in the life of a Christ-follower as he/she allows the Holy Spirit to take up residence in his/her life. Kindness, along with other characteristics like perseverance, self-control, and peace are called “fruit of the Spirit.” That’s not to say that someone who isn’t a follower of Jesus can’t be kind, but I’m more comfortable with the belief that the Spirit can develop it within my life than in the idea that it can be taught to be a part of our human nature. 

Middle school students are a bizarre community of many things- kind and thoughtful, self-centered and obnoxious, unorganized and wrinkled, understanding and supportive. Perhaps teaching and emphasizing kindness will cause a number of them to think about what they say and do before they do it,  but I’m hesitant to believe it will change them for a lifetime. It may simply make this school year a little more tolerable!

I’m not so naive as to believe that if someone is a Christian he/she is automatically kind. I know a lot of people who identify themselves as Christians who are simply jerks! I wouldn’t let them date my granddaughter or walk my cat (if I still had a cat)! 

Jesus modeled kindness for his disciples. His disciples were a bit clumsy in how they showed such a practice, but it finally sunk in. Early followers of Christ were known for their kindness. It grew out of their spiritual relationships and from the life of their community. 

Can schools teach kindness that has sanitized from anything resembling Jesus? Time will tell, but it may end up being more like a “kinda’ kind!”

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!”

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!”

Middle School Track Knowledge and Reluctance

April 28, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                          April 28, 2018

                      

One week from today our middle school track season culminates with our big league meet that draws 12 schools together.

Let me say this: I love coaching middle school track! Every day is a story that’s about to be created and lived. Each of our coaches is in charge of a certain group. This year I have 7th Grade girls…38 bundles of confusion and giggles! I also am in charge of training all of the distance runners, a Dairy Queen Blizzard of personalities and varying levels of talent…and non-talent! One boy still wears his sweat pants underneath his uniform shorts…in the meets, even when it’s seventy degrees!

Last week one of the 7th Grade girls came up to me in the midst of our home meet and said, “Coach Wolfe, where do I get a ‘bonette’?” I asked her to say the word again. “The bonette.”

“Do you mean the baton?”

“Oh, yes, the baton!”

It is an example of the unpredictable. As the coach, I am never quite sure what is going to be asked and what direction the question is seeking to lead me in.

“Coach Wolfe, we aren’t going outside for practice today, are we?”
“Sure, why wouldn’t we?”
“It’s cold!”

“That’s why we gave you a pair of sweats.”
“But I forgot mine.”

“Wow! That’s too bad! Okay, let’s go!”

Coaching tip: In middle school track it’s important to know when to look void of any hint of empathy and when to be extremely sympathetic. If someone is having a hard time breathing it’s essential to make sure the runner is okay, but when someone is just being “middle school-ish irresponsible” keep a facial expression that communicates disbelief in their decision-making.

Second coaching tip: Raise the bar of expectations!

“Hey! I’ve charted out your 1600 race and if you stay on this pace you’ll run this time.”

Dismay running across her face! “I can’t do that!”

“Oh, yes you can! And I’ll help you.”

“But-“

“Would you like to run this time?”

“Yes!”

“Then you’re going to!”

And she did! There are some middle schoolers who got in line twice when confidence was being handed out, and there are others who forgot to get in that line! They have to be spoon-fed the confidence to do what they don’t think they will ever be able do. At our next meet I’ll lower her time once again, get the same look of dismay, and help her achieve her “impossible” once again!

Coaching tip #3: Treat each athlete equally and coach every athlete to succeed no matter their talent level.

Seventh Grade girls want to relate to the coach. They want to know you care and are willing to hear their goofiness and forgive their goofs. From the girl who will win you four events to the girl who may throw a negative distance in the discus they are all important, and when my #38th most talented athlete runs up to me and says that although she still finished last she beat her personal best the coach gives her a high five and a “whoot whoot!”

Middle school track is more about conquering mountains and easing fears than it is about times and distances. It’s more about the laughter of thirteen year olds than the yelling of their parents.

It’s more about teaching them about track than winning medals and ribbons. Case in point, at the beginning of each track practice I ask my seventh grade girls a track trivia question. The winning answer gets a roll of “Smarties!” Last week I asked them what event in the Olympic track and field competition includes water. The answer is the steeplechase, but that event was like a foreign concept for the girls. The first girl who thought she knew the answer raised her hand and I called on her.

“Is it water polo?”

“No, they play water polo at…water polo!”

Bonettes, water polo, personal bests…it’s all good!