Posted tagged ‘middle school students’

Middle School Brainiacs and Maniacs

April 20, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                            April 20, 2019

                      

I approached the desk of the assistant principal’s secretary, who also handles athletics.

“Kristen, sometime today would you be able to print me off track rosters so we can have a copy for the bus ride today?”

“Sure! It may be a while, though. I’m behind because of all of these discipline referrals I need to type up.” To the left side of her computer a stack of papers position themselves like pancakes.

“The maniacs are alive and well!”

It happens each school year around this time. Students start thinking they’re either invincible or uncatchable. This past week a student, who I love dearly, received after-school detention for stuffing another student into a garbage can. I asked him who reported it, as in which teacher or administrator. “No one,” he replied. “It was on one of the security cameras.”

Ahhh, yes! The cameras see all! Last year…about this time!…I broke up a fight before it really started between two 7th grade boys, both muscular deficient and evidently on some kind of supplement that is able to raise their level of annoyance. One of them made a comment about the girl walking with the other boy being his girlfriend. He said it with ridicule in his voice so the other boy responded, “You wish you could even get a girlfriend!” That was it! The pocket protectors were cast to the side and they were ready to further embarrass each other, but I stepped in. And it was all on camera!

A couple of years ago…about this time…an 8th grade boy thought he would pretend to be one of the Avengers, blessed with super human gifts, and slide down the stone barrier of the staircase that separated the first flight of stairs from the second. He overcompensated too much to the right and went over the edge, dropping about six feet onto the lower steps. He wasn’t seriously injured, but paramedics had to be called to treat him for possible injuries.

My number one rule, “Don’t do stupid!” needs to be put on a banner and displayed at each of the entrances of the middle school about this time of the year. Teachers are thankful that the security cameras can’t capture the essence of their thoughts around the end of April!

Thank God there’s also the brainiacs in the midst of the student population- the kids that are guided by intelligent decisions and the quest for knowledge. I heard one young man talking to his father, a math whiz himself, and the content of their conversation…er, that is, what I heard of their conversation sounded something like this:

“But if Q is taken to the tenth power and square rooted with the negative feature of X, wouldn’t that make it supportive of the equation Y divided by Z cooked in butter and multiplied by the baking temperature of Q on the second Thursday of the month?”

“Yes, but what if X ends up being the anthesis of Y? Would that effect the judgment of Z when taking into consideration the altitude of the cake mix minus brown sugar?”

Something like that!

Brainiacs are the saviors of teachers the last six weeks or so of the school year. In a sea of “Fortnite” addicted adolescents, the brainiacs are the life raft of hope. They are the ones that teachers don’t have to worry about, the ones who still ponder the why’s and “what if’s” because they want to know, not just because they desire an “A” in the class. 

This time of year they stand out. The Office for Stupid Decisions is overpopulated! Kristen is just trying to keep up with the paperwork!

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! 

8th Grade Genetics

March 21, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                          March 21, 2019

                               

I didn’t quite get science back in school…ever! I understood Spelling and Physical Education, but Science was almost as foreign to me as Algebra…or as I referred to it, math with letters!

Language Arts I was okay at, but didn’t really feel any attachment to dangling participles or have much interest in reading War and Peace. Why didn’t Tolstoy stop after War, and make Peace the sequel? A Tale of Two Cities! Dickens could have just made it A Story of One City and saved me a few hours!

Social Studies at that time didn’t interest me, maybe because it was right after lunch and the eyelids seemed to get heavy!

But back to science. 

I substitute taught in 8th Grade Science class yesterday. They’re studying Genetics right now. You know…what do you get when you cross a dachshund with a pig? Answer: a creature who lays beside you on the couch that you keep wanting to barbecue.

Ahhh….that sounds right, but is wrong in more ways than one!

This Genetics lesson was focused on recessive and dominant. What are the probabilities that if one parent can roll his tongue, and the other parent can’t, that their offspring will be able to do some tongue rolls? Important questions like that!

When the lesson plan went to “Dihybrid and Two-Trait Crosses” I tried to look like I had a clue about it, but even confused 8th Graders were perceptive enough to figure out that I would flunk the test if I had to take one.

In Science I’m great at taking roll and filling out the attendance slip. I can even figure out how to show an on-line video clip, but put scientific terms and theories in front of me and I’m like that first kid who gets eliminated in the spelling bee. 

“Mr. Wolfe, I need help!”

“Yes, you do!”

“Can you help me?”

“Depends on whether it requires me to be intelligent or not!”

“Well, what about this problem? In the video it said to use the F-O-I-L method as you figure out the probablities, so taking into account Mendel’s Law of Independent Assortment for this one, would I-“

“Sure! Why not?”

“But I didn’t say what I would put there yet!”

“Well, I want you to think about it and just know that I have confidence in your answer.”

I run away to the shelter of my desk and pretend to be doing something vitally important for the new few moments.

8th Grade Genetics! I don’t remember studying that in 8th Grade. Okay, I don’t remember studying ANYTHING in 8th Grade, except a couple of girls when they weren’t looking!

When the final bell sounded at 2:45 and my last class filtered out the door, I was just starting to understand the whole F-O-I-L thing. I had watched the video four times! Another four to six times and I might have understood it enough to actually answer a question…if I had the master answer sheet in hand!

Teaching Sixth Graders Manners

February 22, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                         February 22, 2019

  

“Mr. Wolfe, can I use the restroom?”

“I’m assuming you can. I mean, you’ve got some real issues if you aren’t able to use it!”

“What?” he whispered with confusion.

“If you aren’t able to use the restroom there could be some serious repercussions.”

I point to the white board that explains the difference between asking questions that begin with “Can” versus “May”. On the board I’ve written examples:

         CAN= Am I able to…

-“Am I able to eat healthy?”

-Am I able to do the Incline?”

  

         MAY= Do I have permission to…

– “Do I have permission to get a drink of water?”

Understanding invades the inner space of the sixth grader’s mind. “Ohhh!” he exclaims as his eyebrows elevate. “May I use the restroom?”

“Yes, you may!”

Teaching sixth graders good manners and the proper way to act has become a passion of mine…sorta’! Let’s be honest! Good manners to a lot of people is as relevant as my cassette tape collection. Right before I wrote this a girl’s notebook fell off her desk and scattered papers across the classroom floor. A boy who had just returned from the restroom (“Can I go to the…I mean, may I go to the restroom?”) stepped over the papers as if they were wet paint as he returned to his desk…right next to the girl’s!

I saw the empty stares of a few others around her, blind to her plight, so I went to help. “I noticed your neighbor here just stepped over and didn’t attempt to help.”

He knew I was referring to him. “I didn’t see it!” he exclaimed as his defense.

“You stepped over it, like it was a mud puddle on the sidewalk.”

Back to honesty, however, there are a number of adults- kids in grown up bodies- who either never learned manners, or don’t really give a crap! Politeness got stuffed in a box and put in the basement about the time reality TV made its entrance.

A few days ago I was standing in the school hallway talking to two teachers as a student- actually a 7th grader!- walked right between us.

“Excuse me!” I bellowed after him.

“Huh, what?” He looked stunned and frightened, although it could have been the lighting.

“You walked right between us as we were having a conversation.”

“Huh?”

“When people are having a conversation it’s not polite to walk right between them.”

“Ohhh!” This was new information for this kid, a new kind of education and the opening bell hadn’t even sounded.

Perhaps my generation was raised by parents who placed a higher value on good manners. They seemed to make learning good manners an essential part of developing good character and keeping order in the universe.

My mom would say, “Keep your mouth closed as you’re chewing!” I’m not sure why, but she made it seem like the right thing to do. Open-mouthed chewers probably didn’t get good jobs and had to go to night school, so we kept the lips tight as we ground up the pork chop between our teeth.

“Don’t interrupt me when I’m talking to you dad! Be patient!”

Having patience seemed to be tied to politeness and we struggled with that growing up. In today’s world patience gets buddied up with whining and irritation. Most sixth graders think having patience means not being able to eat their fruit roll-up until they take the wrapper off. It’s like the sixth grade student last year whose shoes were untied. “Tie your shoes!” I commanded him.

“Why? They’re just going to come untied again!”

I wanted to say “Well, why zip your pants up? You’re just going to unzip them again next time to need to take a whiz!”

BUT… he was wearing sweat pants! 

Probably hadn’t learned the word “May” either!

Sixth Grade Trivia

February 21, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                    February 21, 2019

                                   

Sixth graders have a warped understanding of a variety of things. Like the kid who is concerned about his hair looking awesome, but unaware that the hoodie jacket he’s been wearing for the last month smells putrid! That kind of warped!

Also, most of them would not do well in a game of Trivial Pursuit. If you asked a class of sixth graders what kind of cheese you would find on the moon a few of them would say “Swiss! Because of all of those craters!”

After all, it was a European cow that jumped over the moon!

Today at the end of each class I asked a trivia question and gave out a prize to the answer that was closest to being correct. Cell phones were required to be facedown!

Q. What is the distance in miles from Anchorage, Alaska to Key West, Florida?

A few hands shoot up instantly! Usually the first ones to provide an answer are not candidates for the school quiz bowl team.

I motion for a boy, whose hand is waving back and forth like Kansas wheat ready to be picked.

“Two miles!”

The girl beside him giggles, so I call on her next.

“A million miles!”

“It’s somewhere between those two,” I clarify. Several faces are transformed from genius to confused when I say that.

The answers keep coming. “Two hundred miles”, “a thousand”, “twenty-five thousand.” Finally, a young lady, who has been hanging back patiently, raises her hand and I call on her.

“Five thousand?”

“Close enough! The answer is 5,019!” I throw her a snack sized bag of Skittles.

I hear the whines of unfairness echoing as they exit the classroom. “I was going to say that!!”

On to the next class.

Q. How many words are in Webster’s International Dictionary?

“Call on me first!” urges a blonde-haired boy who usually causes his teachers to grind their teeth. I give him the okay and he opens the bidding.

“5,000!”

A clueless young lady counters with “6,000!”

Another. “7,000!”

I say, “Is this The Price Is Right or something?”

One self-assured young man offers an answer with boldness, like he’s buying a Honus Wagner baseball card. “25,000!” He looks around as if a camera is about to take his picture for the Society page in Sunday’s newspaper.

           The guesses continue and range from 1,000 to 95,000. The class is dumbfounded when I tell them the answer is 476,000, an unfathomable figure for a few of them who haven’t progressed that far past their first grade primer book! 

“The average adult knows between 20 and 30 thousand words,” I inform them.

One boy replies, “Mine’s at least that!”, and he might be right. He looks like someone who takes the vocabulary quiz in each issue of Reader’s Digest.

Most sixth graders know more about video games, Harry Potter, and electronic devices than I will ever know. Trivia, however…no!

Of course, if I was asked a trivia question on any one of those three things my answer would be about as close as Key West is to Anchorage!

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!

Dysfunctional 7th Graders

January 26, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                      January 26, 2019

                                   

The definition of the word “dysfunctional” is “7th Grade!” 

Okay! Actually, the definition is “not operating normally or properly.” Otherwise known as “7th Grade!”

Just view a class of 7th graders. About 40% of them are dealing with a mouth full of metal. Several of them got in line twice when height was being handed out, while a few overslept and missed the gift of inches. There are a few who are on task with whatever is assigned to them, while others’ focus can simply be distracted by air! Some are physically changing from kids into adults, bypassing adolescence completely, while others seem to still be passengers on a Frontier Airlines maturity flight, grounded in the land of childhood!

I’m never bored as I view 7th graders. There is always something going on. Maybe that’s why one of the main characters in my first novel is a 7th grader with thick glasses and a lack of friends. I see him multiple times each time I substitute teach.

Yesterday I had a 7th grader who walked around with a facial tissue sticking out of one of his nostrils. Weird, huh? Not for him! Goes with his personality! I finally informed him that it was kind of gross for others to look at and he apologized. He’s the kind of 7th grader who often forgets that there is a zipper on the front of his pants. On Thursday he asked to go to the restroom and then didn’t come back for half an hour. Not because he was doing anything bad, just because he had some constipation issues. He apologized to me when he came back and started to go into detail! I put the stop sign up!

I tried to rationalize with one student who lacks motivation. He didn’t want to complete an assignment and I asked him if he walks home after school? “Yes!” 

“So do you ever get halfway home and say ‘I don’t want to walk the rest of the way!’?”

“No! That’d be stupid!”

“Think of this assignment as kinda’ being like that.”

“It’s not!”

A girl and a boy were having a disagreement about something like how much white board markers cost and I bring a chuckle to their neighboring classmates when I say to the girl, “You’re like Drama!” and to the boy “And you’re the sequel!”

A couple of students talk to me non-stop like a fire hydrant that has been opened up. I appreciate the conversation, although I don’t need to know the veterinarian experiences of her 12 year old Tabby!

There’s seventh graders who didn’t get the memo that they’re in seventh grade…three grades either way. Some who are still living the world of fourth graders and others who think they deserve to be escorted to the high school prom.

BUT, whereas there are folks who take the “fun” out of the dysfunction, seventh graders put it back in…in triplicate! It’s how they are and who they are!