Posted tagged ‘middle school students’

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!

Middle School Track Practice

April 7, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                               April 7, 2018

                               

Track practice started this past Monday…middle school track practice. An assortment of short and tall adolescents gathered for the uncertainty of what would happen on the outside oval.

Questions abounded…would the coaches run them so much they would fall down and throw up? Would they astound the world with their performance? Would people be looking at them as they trudged around the track? Would the one of the opposite sex, whose attention they desire, notice them? Would their uniform fit? Did they have the moxy to stay with it?

One hundred and twenty seventh and eighth grade students…wondering about what was ahead!

Coach McKinney gathered them together and shared his excitement about having all of them there. Some of them were grizzled one year veterans, having run as seventh graders. Others had the “deer in headlights” look about them.

“Coach Wolfe, what are we going to do today?” asked a paranoid seventh grade girl who I know.

“I think we’re going to warm up with a five mile run around the neighborhood and then do an interval ladder series, and then probably cool down with a two mile jog.”

Eyes as wide as the Grand Canyon, as she reconsiders whether she can switch from track to intramural golf.

“Just kidding! Actually, I’m not sure, so we’ll find out together!”

Exhale of relief!

Coach McKinney forewarns them that Colorado weather is unpredictable and emphasizes the importance of making sure they have the needed clothing. He makes the point that some days they may need to have layers of clothing. On Friday the temperature drops to 25 degrees with a few snow flurries. The seventh grade girls, who I am the coach for, run to me as soon as I enter the gym.

“Coach Wolfe, we aren’t going outside today, are we?”

“Yes!”

“But it’s cold!” whines the young lady wearing athletic shorts and a tee shirt.

“Yes…yes, it is! So, make sure you put your hoodie on and sweat pants also!”

“But I didn’t bring anything! I didn’t think we’d be going OUTSIDE!” (Emphasize whiny voice!)

“We will ALWAYS go outside unless the school administration says we can’t.”

WHINE: “Coach Wolfe!”

I smile at her and she gets the hint that whining will not change the location of our practice. At the end of practice we pass out team uniforms and sweats. The students welcome the sweats like they are Christmas presents!

As the week has gone on certain runners have impressed. Others have needed encouragement and words that instill confidence in them. Two new students- one from California and one from Florida- have used the week to get used to the 6,000 feet altitude, after coming from sea level. Pained facial expressions bring words of empathy from the coaches.

The coaches time everyone on different days during the week on the 100, 200, 400, 800, and a run around the high school and middle school campus that is close to a mile. Everyone finishes every race!

At the end of Friday’s practice a hundred and twenty students are still smiling. No one has asked for a transfer to golf, but everyone is praying for a warm Monday afternoon!

Don’t Do Stupid!

April 7, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                    April 6, 2018

                           

In my adventures as a middle school substitute teacher and coach I have experienced a number of students who have strayed into that strange land known as “Stupidity”! It is a place whose only borders are common sense and reasoning.

Sometimes students stray into this dark territory like lambs who have lost their way. A few seconds of their life that dumbfounds everyone around them suddenly finds them standing at a point where the question comes too late: What was I thinking?

And so I tell the students that I coach at the beginning of the season the three words:

“Don’t do stupid!”

I explain to them that my incorrect verb usage is on purpose, because “stupid” is not who a person is, stupid is a choice! Someone chooses to do stupid!

Most middle school students do not have the ability yet to think of long term consequences when it comes to crossing over the Stupid boundaries. I remember one of my basketball players years ago who “de-pantsed” another boy at the beginning of one of our practices. He did it in the middle of the gym and, unfortunately for him, he did it right as the assistant principal was coming into the gym. It was funny for a few seconds…and then he received a five day suspension!

I’ve noticed trends in the treks to Stupidity. Eighth grade boys tend to be tempted the most to cross over. For some it’s the thrill of the ridiculous, the stories that they will tell years later at class reunion gatherings. They are reincarnations of “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off”!

Eighth grade girls are a bit more hesitant, or, optimistically speaking, wiser. They think about it longer, but, as a result of that, are also a bit more devious when they sneak into the forbidden zone. Their head-shaking exploits often involve a cell phone that they look at more often than the world around them.

Seventh grade boys follow closely behind, swayed by stories of their predecessors. Their exploits are usually void of creativity. They’re things like throwing a pencil at someone or pulling a chair out from another student who is just about to sit down. Some seventh grade boys, however, are building reputations for being citizens of the land of Stupid. Ask any seventh grade teacher about two months into the school year who the “suspects” are and they  know the ones who have applied for citizenship status in Stupidity.

Seventh grade girls infrequently come close to the border. The ones who venture across usually are verbal in their transgressions, saying words that are hateful and demeaning. Rarely do they stray over in ways that are physically dangerous or do the stuff that legends are built on.

Stupidity lurks in the midst of each school day. It’s sweet aroma draws in its prey at a moment’s notice. Some students do things at school that would curl the toes of their parents if they knew about them. There should be billboard pictures of mom and dad all along the border into Stupidity. For most students, parental fear is a good deterrent!

If pictures of my mom and dad had been plastered on my school desk I would not have made some of my journeys across the border when I was a middle schooler. Since they weren’t staring me in the face, however, I ventured into Stupidity every once in a while. Fortunately I was always “just visiting!”

Teacher-Parent Conference

March 26, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                           March 26, 2018

                                 

Dear Mrs. Jones,

It was very considerate of you to offer to have a conference with our teaching teammates, but we have decided not to take you up on your offer. Meeting us at the fitness club at the conclusion of your workout before you even have a chance to go for your spa treatment and shower was a strong indication of your desire to fit us into your schedule.

But then to offer a second possibility of a conference at your favorite Starbucks sometime between two and four o’clock so you can get double your Starbuck’s rewards…well, that was taking self-sacrifice to a new level!

I know you have concerns about how we have been teaching Johnny Junior the essential knowledge and skills necessary for him to be successful next year when he enters 8th Grade. Believe me, we understand that pre-algebra is a challenging subject to master, but most students need to pass it before they take algebra. We understand the difficulty of that task, especially when Johnny Junior has missed so many days of school because of the two different five-day suspensions and your family’s twelve day vacation to Disney World during the two school weeks preceding the week-long Thanksgiving break.

We understand your opinion that the first five-day suspension because of the sexually explicit remarks and inappropriate physical contact he made on several occasions to a female student was excessive, but it followed school policy and guidelines. I’m sure it was comforting to find out the family decided not to press charges.

And the second suspension also followed school discipline guidelines. It’s unfortunate that the bottle of whiskey was mistakenly placed in Johnny Junior’s backpack. I’m sure his father felt terrible when he realized that he had accidentally placed it in the backpack as opposed to his suitcase for the business trip he was about to embark on.

We recognize, as Johnny Junior’s teachers, what a burden such events and family vacations have placed upon him. We apologize for being underachieving teachers. We really do want Johnny Junior to be successful, and we will try to adjust to the challenges ahead. We know you’re seeking to accommodate us as much as you can, letting us know ahead of time of Johnny Junior’s absence the week after Spring Break because he will be at the NCAA Hockey Frozen Four games in Minneapolis.

We will try to do our best. With his suspensions, vacations, and also sick days he’s been out of school almost forty days so far. We’ll try to step it up as his educators and overcome that challenge. After all, being in class sometimes get overrated. If you do the homework assignments you’ll get the jest of things.

Speaking of homework, we’re missing a number of Johnny Junior’s assignments. We know you suggested that he turned them in and that we were not very responsible teachers in losing them, but our team of teachers has talked about it. Ms. Morton, his social studies teacher, distinctly remembers when one day she asked for the homework assignment to be handed in, gathered them up, and Johnny Junior looked at her and said he hadn’t done it. Could it be that there were other occasions when he didn’t do the assignment also? We know that’s an assumption on our part, but we were just asking.

We hate to bring this up at this time, but Johnny Junior may be facing another suspension, although this could just be a three day instead of a five day! The assistant principal will probably be calling you today to give you the details and consequences. Johnny Junior was having a bad morning probably as a result of skipping breakfast and relying on the nutritional value of a Venti Vanilla Bean Frappuccino from Starbucks to get him through the tough grind of Science class followed by Language Arts. He probably didn’t mean it, but he called Mrs. Case a couple of derogatory names. More specifically, “a big fat pig”, followed closely by a comment heard by the whole class about the size of her back side. Since everyone heard at least the second derogatory remark Mrs. Case really had no choice but to send him to the office. The good news is that the office staff knows Johnny Junior well so they don’t have to fill out a lot of personal information sheets all over again. His is on file…right in the front so that it’s easily accessible.

Thanks for your understanding about not being able to meet with you at your request. Sometimes Johnny Junior will have teachers who just aren’t with it. Between the four of us on our teaching team we’re now at seventy-four years of classroom teaching. That means a lot of things, but one of the downsides is that we just don’t seem to adjust that well to special cases like Johnny Junior. Perhaps in another ten years or so we can acquire those extra needed skills and quantity of patience to be able to handle things better.

If, by chance, you would like to meet with us during the two days of parent-teacher conferences provided for parents please let us know. There are still several open slots available and it would only require twenty minutes of your time here in one of the actual classrooms that Johnny Junior comes to.

Channeling Dr. Ryder

February 1, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                      February 1, 2018

                                    

Dr. Stuart Ryder was an institution at Judson College (now Judson University). A professor in the English Department for “centuries”, in his later years he also assumed the role of Athletic Trainer for the school’s sports teams.

Dr. Ryder was also a master of puns. His sharp wit would rise to the surface suddenly with a humorous line that caused occasional laughter and, more frequently, groans.

For example, before a cross-country meet one of the runners was walking around barefoot, and Doc Ryder voiced, “I guess we must be smelling ‘da’ feet!”

Now, decades later I find myself using puns in the middle school classrooms where I’m teaching to the groans of the seventh grade students. It is as if I’m channeling Doc in my attempts at witty humor. It emerged again this morning at Starbucks when one of the baristas was fixing a cup of tea as I walked up to the counter. “Just a minute, Bill! I’ve got to fix the tea before the customer gets here.”

I quickly channeled Stuart Ryder. “I guess it wouldn’t be good for the cup to be ‘emp-ty!’”

She chuckled and said “Good one!” Seven A.M. humor at Starbucks is greatly appreciated in the midst of bleary-eyed customers who are waiting  with heightened irritation for their first cup of java.

In the classroom “pun humor” keeps the middle school students alert. Some of it is too deep for them, but that’s okay! I don’t understand the math they’re doing either!

Dr. Ryder used to say a pun and then give a personal chuckle that involved some rapid and short inhaling and exhaling. When I utter a pun I just smile and look for understanding.

“Mr. Wolfe, see my baggie! I think someone stepped on my cookie that’s in it!”

“Well, I guess you could say that’s how the cookie crumbled!”

“Mr. Wolfe!”

Another situation while we were outside.

“Mr. Wolfe, I had my bag of chips sitting here on the rock and the wind came and blew the bag off. The chips went everywhere!”

“Gee, that’s too bad! I guess you might call that an example of ‘being chips off the old rock!’” (Loud groan in the midst of chip grieving!)

It’s Doc Ryder’s seeds from the past rising again in new life.

Our lives are cultivated by different people in a multitude of ways. Dr. Stuart Ryder planted, watered, and helped students grow.

Every time I find myself beginning a sentence with the words “I guess you could say…” I can hear the rumble of his laughter within me!