Posted tagged ‘middle school teachers’

Sixth Grade Little Brothers and Sisters

December 1, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                      December 1, 2018

                           

It’s been a week!

A week of sixth graders, that is! One of the sixth grade social studies teachers asked me to teach the full week for him as he recovered from a procedure done on one of his knees. Five days of teaching the future Einsteins, Feinsteins, and Non-Steins; smart ones and smart alecks!

Some names stood out to me after each 57 minute class period. They were the warts in the midst of a beautiful experience; the ones that the teacher can’t trust with a pair of scissors because they may cut the hair of the young lady sitting beside them…without her knowing! They are the ones who in hearing the words “You may work with a partner on this!” view it as giving permission to cause chaos, the ones who intimately know what the inside of their assistant principal’s office looks like!

So…I remember THEIR names! If I had an acronym of the phrase “Problem Child” I could put a name with almost every letter…Pete, Robert, Octavius, Bubba, etc.

The interesting thing is that I COULDN’T remember the names of younger brothers and sisters of students I’ve had in classes the last two years. After five days of having them I still can’t think of their first names. I’d ask a question and a hand would pop up from a boy with dark hair.

“Jill’s little brother!” I’d say, acknowledging him. He looked hurt and befuddled, as if his eighth grade sister had a more prominent place in life than him.

Question: “What does longitude measure?” Up comes the hand of a girl with a never-ending smile.

“Little Smith!” I bellow as I look at her. Her smile continues because she sees it as a badge of honor. Her sister, now a high school freshman, had told her stories about Mr. Wolfe. In fact, she was the one who made my last name sound French by pronouncing it “Wolf-ay”!

There were four or five other younger brothers and sisters whose first names escaped my memory. Of course, when I was growing up some of my older brother’s friends called me “Little Charlie” or, after being immersed in their high school Spanish class, “Carlos Pequeno!”

It was the first Spanish word I learned! I guess I’m a bit partial towards younger siblings. I’m the youngest of three, the one who got the hand-me-downs, like my brother’s bicycle all beaten and battered and shirts with mustard stains dotting the fabric. 

If I have these sixth graders again I’ll graduate to calling them by their last name. That would be progress towards knowing their whole personality. The disturbing thing is that I only know the first names of the problem children, and I’ll make sure my youngest daughter (Our “Little”) has a list of names NOT to give any future grandchildren. 

As one boy asked me, “Mr. Wolfe, do you remember my name?” 

“Yes!” I respond, pausing for effect. “Starts with an ‘A’ and ends with a ‘G’!” He looks at me ready to correct my thinking, but I break in before he can say it. 

“Annoying!” 

He smiles, and, although he began the week filling out one of the letters on my acronym, we kinda’ like each other! I wonder if he has any younger siblings?

Dictionary Education

November 3, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                     November 3, 2018

                          

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Or you could read a book.”

“I don’t have a book with me.”

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

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

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

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

“All done?”
“Yes, Mr. Wolfe.”

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

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

“Ahhh!”

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

“Huh?”

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

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

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

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

“Really!”

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

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

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

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!”

Substitute Teacher Day Off

September 18, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                     September 18, 2018

                                    

I did not get a too-early call this morning from Timberview Middle School. No phone ringing at 5:30 with urgency! I get did four phone calls from another school, but I ignored them. It’s gotten to the point where I rarely substitute at any other school besides Timberview. I’m like Andy Griffith in the midst of middle school Mayberry. Everybody knows me there! I coach three sports there, with this being my 18th year of coaching boy’s basketball.

So today is a day off! Yesterday I corralled 7th Grade language arts students the whole day, keeping them focused on verbs, mis-spellings, and the green grass of literature. I’ll giddy up the same herd two days from now. 

Today, however, I’m relaxing…kinda’! When I leave Starbucks this morning I’m going up to the school to take care of a couple of details and surprise a coaching teammate with a cup of Americano with a little bit of cream. She deserves it for having to teach 8th Grade math all day.

Since retiring from being a church pastor close to three years ago (Doesn’t seem possible!) my understanding of “a day off” has been altered. It used to be that Monday was the designated day off after the hyper-speed pace of Sunday. Now it’s whatever day I’m not substitute teaching. 

Could be Monday, could be Thursday, but it’s almost never Friday! 

And what do I do on whatever day it is that I’m off? I think about what’s going on at the school, wondering which students will make unwise decisions and which teachers will be ready to pull their hair out. I’ll wonder what new color of hair will appear in a classroom that day and what 8th Grade girls will look like their jeans were vacuum sealed around them. I’ve noticed- and maybe you have also- that my middle school experiences are filtering more and more into my writing. In the first month of the school year I wrote 7 blog posts related to middle school. Today I’ll write 1,000 to 2,000 words in the third fiction book I’m writing and the story will have been influenced by my recent middle school experiences. One of the two main characters is a 7th Grade boy! That’s what I do on my day off! I write about middle schoolers.

I’ll also eat a more substantial lunch today, maybe a luncheon date with Carol. I won’t need to “wolfe down” a Tupperware bowl containing cottage cheese and cucumber, or a PB&J sandwich while gulping a bottle of water. Today I won’t even have to use a plastic fork!

I’ll be able to talk in a normal voice, use the bathroom when I want to, wear a pair of shorts and a tee shirt, and sit in the swing on our back deck and read Vince Flynn. I’ll be able to enjoy a third cup of coffee on my writing stool- the last stool on the right looking out at Pike’s Peak! I can stop at the supermarket and check out the “day old food” discounted rack and play Words with Friends. I may even run by Penney’s and see if they have underwear on sale!

And in the midst of all those opportunities and “down time” I’ll be thinking about Timberview, like a kid wondering what might happen in the next episode of my favorite action TV series. 

Crazy, I know, but it brings a smile to my face! And I’ll ask myself “Was I that dorky when I was in middle school?” 

Absolutely!