Posted tagged ‘middle school teachers’

Middle School Cool

April 23, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                      April 23, 2019

                                   

I was never one of the cool kids in school. It’s hard being cool when you’re a 4 foot 8 inch eighth grader with nerdy looking glasses. I was a cute kid, but eighth grade girls had moved past cute and had started looking for handsome, manly, and hints of voices that had suddenly started getting lower. I was a high-pitched, miniature, buzzcut boy who always wore clothes from the J.C. Penney’s store my mom worked at. Randy McDaniels was cool! He was 6 foot one inch, a great athlete, and the dream of most of the females in our class. Of course, when Randy entered his senior year he was still six foot one! He had just received an advance on his masculinity that the rest of his classmates wouldn’t catch up on for a couple of years.

As I walk down the hallways of Timberview Middle School nowadays I notice cool and uncool. That is, what students perceive as cool! 

For instance, having a cell phone in your hand is a prerequisite to even being considered cool. To be talking to Joey and without hesitation look at your cell phone and text Charley that you’ll see him at lunch…that’s in the preface of the book on cool. 

In fact, up-to-date technology is the first chapter in the book How to Be Cool In Middle School In Ten Easy Diagrammed With Pictures Steps. Cool students walk down the hallways with Apple AirPods in their ears. They are an indication that overpriced merchandise is not an obstacle for them…or their parents’ credit card. Having an Apple Watch is an even greater advance in the Kingdom of Coolness! In saying those things I have to admit that I pull out my gold MacBook at Starbucks with an air of prideful arrogance!

Middle school cool kids stand in the middle of the hallway at the height of student traffic moments and expect everyone else to detour around them. It’s their position of royalty with the feel of their subjects keeping their distance from them. If uncool students did that they would be trampled by the stampeding herd!

Uncool kids wear things like hair headbands with cat ears attached. Cool kids wear hair apparel with a Nike swoosh prominently displayed!

Cool kids have their parents deliver Chick-Fil-A to them for lunch. Uncool kids bring Lunchables or sandwiches made with white bread. 

Cool kids go to school athletic contests and sit in the upper corner of the bleachers with their cell phones and make inappropriate remarks about uncool classmates. Actually watching the game that is being played is not cool, unless someone they are infatuated with is playing.

Cool kids moan and groan about going to Language Arts and Math. Depending on whether the teacher is considered cool or not, it may be acceptable to seem interested in the Science and Social Studies classes. 

Cool kids ask to go to the restroom at least twice a day and take their time in the venture. Cool kids have cool looking water bottles, also. 

Cool kids run for student council and get elected even though they have no interest in making any decisions or planning any initiatives. Uncool kids, who would be awesome in getting some things done, never get elected! 

Cool kids show up in the morning with their Starbucks Frappuccinos. Uncool kids have juice boxes.

Middle school coolness is the predecessor to high school cockiness. It’s like the incubator for developing distorted perspectives on what’s important in life. Into the mash of that heated setting teachers try to lead students to deeper life understandings and principles. 

And, you know something? Bottom line, middle school teachers are the ones who are really the cool ones! 

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 Passing Period

April 13, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                   April 13, 2019

                             

It’s like an 8:00 A.M. corridor in an O’Hare International Airport terminal…many people rushing and others in no hurry at all…people on a mission and others who look like they’ve been beaten into submission…people all put together and others who are frantic as they seem to be coming apart.

Instead of an airport terminal, however, it’s a  middle school hallway…between class periods. It’s the four minutes of bedlam where a thousand students are required to navigate slimmed down hallways to get from one classroom to the next. 

I stand with two of the awesome sixth grade teachers, Dan Ferrante and Stephanie Wilcox, against a railing watching the mixture of personalities and temperaments pass us by. 

Some use it to ask one of their teachers a quick question or to plead their case for grace.

“Ms. Wilcox!” whines one girl, as she sticks her lower lip out and speaks in a tone that conveys the world is coming to an end, “I didn’t get all of my math homework done…but it wasn’t my fault! My little brother was sick and I had to do his jobs around the house, PLUS my own!” She punctuates the agony of injustice in being the overworked child of the family with a deep sigh.

Ms. Wilcox is very understanding of the inconvenience and tells her that she will send an email to the mom to express her concern for the illness of the brother and her understanding of the daughter’s inability to complete her math assignment.

Eyes wide open greet the teacher’s response. “Oh, you don’t have to do that! He’s…he’s fine today! Our…ahhh…internet is down anyway!”

Ms. Wilcox knows the talent this student has for avoiding work. She’s heard it all before. As the student walks away she enjoys a giggle of satisfaction over the terror she has created in someone who’s been prone to be the terror!

Several eighth graders walk down the crowded hallway with their noses in their cell phones, oblivious to the mass of bodies around them. 

A couple of sixth grade boys with an obsession for looking cool walk by with AirPods in their ears, as if their social status has been elevated. AirPods are the middle school version of a high school student driving a Maserati GT Convertible to school. They think people notice! They overestimate their peer group. Little Tommy, who has so many papers sticking out of his folder that it resembles the aftermath of a tornado, notices only the obstacles in his path to science class. His coat, which he never takes off, flaps in the hallway breeze and one shoelace is untied and so loose the tongue of the shoe looks thirsty! AirPods mean as much to him as hominy grits!

A small herd of seventh grade girls roam down the way in unison. Their conversation is so fast-paced they sound like Alvin and the Chipmunks. Never once do they acknowledge the three teachers. We are obstacles in the midst of their verbal jabber.

The boy I sent to the office last week passes by and I sense a scowl. He may have just spit on me…in his mind! His preference is to have the inmates run the asylum. Teachers are like prison guards. Someday he may find out from first-hand knowledge that prison guards are different!

“Mr. Wolfe, who are you subbing for today?” asks a cute sixth grade girl who still isn’t tall enough to ride the carousel merry-go-round by herself. 

“No one! I just decided to come and hang out in the hallway for a while.”

She giggles and goes on to her Language Arts classroom, not sure if I’m serious or trying to fool her. 

Another sixth grade girl. “Mr. Ferrante, do you want to read my speech?”

“Sure, but maybe at the beginning of our lunch period…unless I can read it in 15 seconds!”

There are the few who seek to take five minutes to get to their destination. They are in no hurry…with the exception of the 2:45 bell at the end of the school day. Jet propulsion empowers their feet at that point!

The crowds lessen and the teachers turn towards their classrooms. For the next 57 minutes the terminals will be quiet until the next class period’s flights begin boarding. 

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!