Posted tagged ‘middle school teachers’

The Messiness of Being Heard

July 26, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                    July 26, 2019

                          

I’m coming to the end of a week of middle school church camp, six days of weirdness, laughter, and tears. Once again, I’ve been in the role of camp pastor. It’s been my privilege and plight for several years now. Call me a “strange-o”, but I enjoy it!

To be given the opportunity to talk to emerging adolescents about what it means to have a walk with Jesus is awesome.

Towards the end of our week we have an hour that is labeled “Messy Games” on the master schedule. There’s a reason why it gets positioned towards the end of the journey. Going back to Young Life youth ministry philosophy, as a youth leader we “earned the right to be heard.”

In middle camp camp philosophy you earn the right to get messy. Shaving cream, egg yolks, chocolate syrup, maple syrup, flour, water balloons and canons…you earn the right to be the target that brings joy and accomplishment to the lives of middle schoolers.

I knew I had been heard for the previous five days when several kids plastered me to the point of being unrecognizable. 

I had talked about faith and they felt free to “foam me up.”

I had talked about showing extravagant love towards Jesus and they felt free enough to lighten my hair up with a few extravagant touches of caramel syrup.

I talked about believing that just a touch of the fringe of Jesus cloak, like the woman longing for healing in Luke 8, can change things…and they felt free to touch me up with streams of chocolate syrup.

Getting “messed up” is the middle school signature upon your acceptance letter. It’s their validation of your ministry and indication that you talked with them not to them.

Saturday morning means that it’s time to load up and head down the mountain, final embraces and goodbyes, the retelling of the funny experiences of the week and tears for what has been. 

I finally got the shaving cream washed out of my shorts last night. My ears have lost the sweetness of the maple syrup, and I know that I’ve been blessed.

Yearbook Signings

May 31, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                       May 30, 2019

                              

Today was my last day of substitute teaching for this school year. Tomorrow I’m having a root canal. Some of the middle school teachers were willing to trade places with me if I took their classes.

I said no!

Today, however, I had several students come to me with their yearbooks and ask me to sign them. I can’t just sign my name like a doofus! I HAVE to write something, a few words of wisdom, or some inspirational jargon with a personal spin to it.

One 8th grade girl begged me to come and sub in high school next year. I let her have some hope that I would consider it, but I think I’d rather gargle with spoiled milk!

End-of-the-school year emotions run the whole spectrum. At one end are students who are crying their eyes out and at the other are students counting down the minutes like a NASA rocket launch just waiting for the final bell to ring.

“Mr. Wolfe, would you sign my yearbook?”

“Sure!” I take it in hand and glance at the words already written by others, hoping someone wrote this young lady’s name in their greeting. If not, I create a nickname on the spot, like “K-Factor”, “Brainiac”, and “Groovy Girl!” (No, just kidding on that last one!).

“K-Factor! What an awesome young lady you are! Every time I see a Snicker’s bar next year I’ll think of you!”

“Steady Freddy! You brought a smile to my face every time I had you in class this year. You are something else! Have a great summer!”

“Jill! Keep being as awesome as you are and the sky’s the limit!”

“Judy! Eat your veggies!”

The yearbook signings are diverse in message, some funny and some serious, some meaningless and others with words that will bring back a smile years from now. I didn’t have yearbooks from my middle school days. My first yearbook, still on my shelf, is from my freshman year at Maysville High School in Zanesville, Ohio. I was 4’10” with eyeglasses that kept sliding down my nose. In fact, I was runner-up in the school chess tournament that year. There is a picture in the yearbook where I am shaking the hand of the champion, a junior, and my glasses look like they’re about to fall off my face. I look at that picture now, 50 years later, and cringe but also chuckle. Some of these students will have the same reactions when they look at their pictures sometime in the future.

“Good Lord, what was I doing with my hair back then?”

“Look at my facial expression! Was I constipated that day?”

“Thank God, I stopped wearing that stupid headband by the time I got out of high school!”

And the signings. They will look at what Johnny wrote and laugh, or what Andrew wrote that makes no sense, or what Kyle wrote that a handwriting interpreter wouldn’t be able to figure out.

Students who have caused my underwear to get into a wad suddenly want me to sign their yearbook. I am honored that they value my signature so much. Some of the students who have caused me to run screaming to my car after school are the ones who want me to plant a few “Words from WW” in the center of their page. In 2039 when they pull their copies off their shelves many of them will get perplexed looks on their faces as they try to remember who Mr. Wolfe was…and that’s okay!

Counting Stupidity

May 26, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                     May 26, 2019

                           

A teacher friend of mine has been on a mission to create an app that would be able to measure the number of stupid decisions that occur in a typical school day at our middle school. He’s estimating that it’s around 200 acts of unintelligence AN HOUR! Fridays seem to be more, as if the students are gearing up for the weekend. Wednesdays are less, as if their energy level is lacking the ability to achieve the ridiculous!

Sometimes middle school kids clump stupidity together in such a rapid fire mass that it’s near impossible for the clicker to keep up with the number. For instance, any cafeteria lunch period is as populated with dumb decisions as Disney World is with Mickey Mouse ears. 

It’s kind of like this! Jimmy tries to squirt water from his water bottle into his mouth from three feet away (#1), but misses and hits Jenny in the back of the head with the spray (#2). Jenny’s friend, Molly, takes exception to the dousing and launches an apple slice back at Jimmy (#3), who dodges it and allows it to land smack dab in the middle of Dawson’s yogurt cup (#4). Strawberry yogurt ricochets from the container onto Dawson’s necktie (#5), which he is wearing in order to look impressive for a school interview activity. Sam, sitting next to Dawson, laughs at the sight of the yogurt on the neck tie so Dawson wipes it off with his hand and then rubs it into Sam’s hair (#6). The whole scene takes ten seconds, and yet is filled with 6 acts of stupidity. 

A few years ago a 7th grade football player was dared by two of his teammates (#1) to go into the girl’s locker room. He did (#2), and received a five day suspension, which caused him to miss two football games (#3). 

Then there’s the boy who tried to slide down the stairway railing on his stomach and fell a few feet to the bottom (#1), resulting in paramedics being called.

Or the 8th grade boy that I reprimanded last week for whipping a volleyball at top speed into a crowd of four students (#1), and then rolling his eyes at me (#2) when I called him on it! He offered excuses (#3) to explain his action, and then smiled at me (#4).

On second thought, two hundred acts of stupidity an hour might be low! 

Further analysis has revealed the effect of other factors on the count. Language Arts, for example, mostly experiences stupidity on the basis of boredom, like taking a marker and suddenly writing on the arm of the student sitting beside the bored classmate; or a student remembering that chewing gum is not allowed, so he slips it from his mouth to the underside of his desk to join with the other gobs attached there. 

Science stupid acts usually come during class periods where lab work is being done. The presence of test tubes, beakers, and microscopes are often seen as being tools for the accomplishment of mental dumbness.

And, of course, there’s the substitute teacher factor. Students tend to do stupid with greater frequency when a substitute is overseeing the class. Like the boy who was using his cell phone in class in non-academic ways (#1). I told him to put his cell phone on my desk. Two minutes later one of his classmates informed me that he had put his cell phone case on  my desk upside-down, but had kept his cell phone (#2). I told the offending student to take his cell phone to the office, where it would be held for the rest of the day. He took it in that direction, but when I checked a few minutes later the office secretary informed me that he hadn’t turned it into them (#3). The assistant principal for his grade and a long chat with him!

Next week it will be hard to keep up with the errors of the student’s ways. We’ll be cleaning out the locker room. They’ve been told, told, told, and retold to empty their lockers. Anything still in the locker room will be contributed to a local charity. I know that we’ll gather an unbelievable amount of expensive athletic wear, from $150 pairs of shoes to NBA player jerseys to baseball and wide receiver gloves. Numerous parents will have fallen for the whining excuse from their sons and daughters that the infamous criminal known as “Someone” stole their items!

And the parents will believe it!

And that’s just as stupid!

Playing Hoops Against the 8th Graders

May 25, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                          May 25, 2019

                              

They hoot and holler as I emerge from the locker room wearing gym shorts, tee shirt, and lily white Air Jordan sneakers. Most of them haven’t seen me in anything but sweat pants or jeans. The paleness of the skin IS a bit alarming!

I’ve been their coach, but never competed against them. Today, however, is the Student-Staff basketball game, an event each year where players who were part of the school 8th grade basketball teams strut onto the court to teach their science, math, and social studies teachers a lesson. 

To them I’m just an old man who knows his “x’s’ and o’s”. They don’t realize that I have a jump shot and can see the court well, even though I take my glasses off when I play. The staff also has “Big Matt”, who measures at about 6’6”, a former college football player who can’t jump or shoot, but…hey! He’s 6’6” and beefy! He causes some of students to “reconsider” every time they have an opportunity to take the basketball into the lane.

Mr. Williams, seventh grade science teacher, has been playing at lunchtime with his students. He’s developed into a shooter, at least for this annual game! Mr. McKinney, despite a sore knee, is fundamentally sound and my coaching compadre!

But the students think that they are all that and a slice of Swiss Cheese! They only have five more days of middle school, and it’s time to leave their mark on the staff! To dominate and then leave like Clint Eastwood at the end of each of his westerns, riding off into the sunset.

One thing, however, that has remained consistent through the years about these basketball games is that the staff plays “team ball” and the students play as individuals. The bodies of the staff might be a bit achy and moving slower, but we know that the whole is better than the sum of the parts. 

Big Matt towers in the lane like Shaq and Mr. Reynolds, who teaches most of the players in social studies, is making them pay for not remembering the three branches of our government. He’s administering “justice” to them, “legislating” pain, and “executing” the game plan. By the middle of the third quarter the lead has hit double figures and keeps growing.

The crowd of students and staff watching from the bleachers cheer on their friends and foes and by the fourth quarter everyone is simply enjoying the event. I close out the game with a half court swish shot at the buzzer and smiles emerge from both sides. For the students, their teachers have become human. For the staff, the students have minimized their swag and enjoyed the moment. 

The next day the kids who I competed against greet me with high fives and looks of amazement. Instead of mentioning my pale-skinned legs they tell me that my sneakers are cool! Instead of my slow defense they talk about my half court shot! 

And what I don’t tell them is that I maxed out on Motrin the night before and soaked my aching body in the hot tub! They are the epilogue to the finished story!

Missing Middle Schoolers…Sorta’!

May 17, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                     May 15, 2019

                        

Dear Kids!

Perhaps a few of you have been asking the question this week that needs answering: Where is Mr. Wolfe?

Perhaps not!…but just pretend, okay!

I could not be with you because I had to be in another place, sailing down the Rhine River in Germany! It was a tough choice…spending a few days controlling the Timberview Middle School chaos, conversing with snotty—nosed sixth graders; trying to keep the attention of overly dramatic seventh grade girls, who are still under the allusion that Johnny with bad breath, facial hair, and an inflated ego, likes them; keeping an eye on Peter Picker, who has the unfortunate habit of picking his nose and eating the treasures; and providing security for any eighth grade class to make sure no criminal offenses are committed! 

Yes, sailing down the Rhine on a riverboat cruise, being pampered with exceptional cuisine, and twice-a-day maid service…or substitute teaching middle schoolers…tough choice!

But I DO miss you! Paris was lovely and romantic, but subbing for Mr. Frasca and PE class is the bomb!

I miss having to say to Gaming Gary “Are you on your cell phone?”, and then having the gaming guru get all offended and disrespectful because, as all of his classmates know, the world revolves around him and his ability to rise to Level 1,893!

I miss the high fives and singing “Happy Birthday” to Ava in my operatic voice, even though her special day has been in the rear view mirror for two months.

I miss tupperware salad lunches!

I miss the bleary-eyed looks and frizzy hair of the students, who obviously fell out of bed at 7:20 and were seated in the classroom 20 minutes later.

I miss the sharing of sarcastic humor with students who appreciate the personal attention and the fact that I actually know their names.

I miss the stories that are being created, although sailing along the Rhine with my wife is creating some new memories that are meaningful and do not involve any references to Sponge Bob.

I miss Mr. McKinney and how we play off one another in comedic dialogue.

I miss the high-pitched voices of the next rocket scientists and the apathetic attitudes of those future fast-food restaurant employees who are about as exciting as generic cereal!

I miss the opportunities to just hang around with awesome kids, be youth-enized by their perspectives and verbiage, and be delighted by their potential.

Some days when I substitute teach could be compared to discovering you have a big pimple on the end of your nose, but most days are more like adventures into a brave new world! Just keep bad breath Johnny away from me and remind me never to shake hands with Peter Picker!

Teacher Love and Life

May 6, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                     May 6, 2019

                                     

The PTO at Timberview Middle School sponsored a pretty cool project this weekend. They had students and parents “chalk up” the front sidewalk entry to the school with words of affirmation and thanks for the teachers and staff. I’m sure when the school staff arrived this morning their faces broke into smiles. It’s Teacher Appreciation Week, a welcome event for weary educators as they crawl towards the finish line of another marathon school year. 

Yes, they are underpaid and sometimes under appreciated, taken advantage of by self-centered parents who assume that educators have nothing else to do but watch their children, and discounted by other obnoxious parents who think their children’s poop doesn’t stink!

But let me tell you about some of the things I see teachers do that aren’t stipulations in their contracts.

I see several Timberview teachers eating lunch in their classrooms…along with anywhere from 15 to 30 students. Thirty minutes of quiet between classes is sacrificed so kids can chatter around them.

I see a couple of teachers giving up lunch time to play football or some other game outside with students, who want nothing else but to impress their instructors!

I see teachers staying after school to help students who are having a hard time understanding the subject material. The teachers are “off the clock”, but willing to give whatever time is needed to have things finally click for the student.

I see frustrated teachers sending emails to parents about their children’s academic struggles or unwise decision making…and getting no response. They see it as a partnership with the parents, but some parents seem to be more interested in whatever sports team is playing.

I see teachers giving hours and hours of their time for events like Science Olympiad, Chess Club, Student Council, and food drives.

I see teachers taking heat for the state mandates on testing, like they’re the driving force behind it!

I see teachers giving words of encouragement to crying kids, hope-filled hugs, and listening ears to student stories that seem to have no end or purpose.

I see teachers giving high-fives and inquiring how the past weekend’s hockey game went. I see them showing interest in their student’s lives, not just how well they understand the latest unit of linear algebra.

I see teachers giving their students nicknames that become marks of distinction. In my time as a guest teacher I’ve nicknamed kids “Mary Poppins”, “Braino”, “Beano”, “GOAT”, ‘Steak and Shake”, “Princess”, “Fruit Loopz”, “The Blonde Bomb”, “Dictionary Boy”, and “Kermit the Frog”. 

I see teachers trying to give their all for their students and then experiencing guilt about short-changing their own families.

I see teachers trying to expand their own knowledge and understanding of their subject matter, while staying current on what they are expected to teach in the present.

I see teachers coming to the aide of students who don’t have the necessary supplies, teachers who do things like bring a pair of gloves for a kid who doesn’t have any, shoe laces for a student whose tongues are flapping uncontrollably, and handing a granola bar to a hungry kid who has no lunch to eat. 

I see teachers as being on the frontlines of our society’s efforts to go forward, to prepare the next generation of difference-makers. No one can make more of a difference in a student’s life than a teacher who is passionate about his/her opportunity to teach!

Hopefully, this week you’ll also see teachers for who they really are and what they do!

Middle School…Because’s

May 4, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                              May 4, 2019

                               

It’s a big word in middle school, overused and misunderstood!

Because!

It arrives at the crossroads of question and answer or, better yet, confusion and illogical reason.

This week it made more appearances at our middle school than UPS. The packages were in different sizes and forms.

For example, yesterday a student was completing a math test. One of the problems had him deciding which choice was better…if you bought 10 oranges for $4.00 or 17 oranges for $6.49…and then to explain why you decided on your choice? The student chose the right answer, but he hadn’t given an explanation. I said to him, “Buddy (not his actual name)! You need to give an explanation.”

He looked at me with an expression of disbelief about my request and then placed the pencil lead on the paper and wrote. His words lay as flat on the page as his reason.

“Because it is!” That’s what he had written. “Because it is!”

“Buddy, that’s not an explanation. Because it is…that doesn’t explain anything!” He focused his eyes on me through the lens of his eyeglasses. “Why do you wear glasses? Because you do…is that the reason?”

He nodded yes. “No, you wear them to help you see. Because isn’t an explanation, it’s an excuse.”

He looked back at his paper and erased…the right answer and the explanation, replaced them with the wrong answer and the explanation, “Who needs 17 oranges anyway!”

Earlier in the week a student in one of my classes had been caught playing video games on his cell phone in the midst of class, a no-no for seventh graders! I had him take his phone to the office, but then he never came back to class. Later on the security person found him hiding in the library. During lunch he came back into the classroom to get something. His quick look towards me conveyed irritation and anger. I had probably interfered with a career high in his game score.

I asked him why he hadn’t come back to class after taking his phone to the office. His eyes were doing bodily harm to me as he answered, “Because I didn’t want to!” There it was! The pathway to understanding…the word that our parents used on us followed by the tail ending of “I said so! And that’s the only reason you need!”

If an educator begins a question with the word “Why” there is a good chance the student will answer with a “because” statement. The probability of “because” increases as the end of the school year approaches. 

“Why did you set off firecrackers in the cafeteria right by the nacho bar?”

“Because!”

“Why did you think it was okay to wear a tee shirt with the middle finger prominently displayed on it?”

“Because…the shirt was clean!”

“Why did you throw his shoe on top of the building?”

“Because I wanted to see if I could do it!”

Of course, why do 12, 13, and 14 year olds do a lot of the things that they do? And, in a few years new ages will be inserted into that statement! And then many times in the years following it will be said again about adults…adults at tailgate parties, adults speeding down turnpikes, adults trying to cheat on tax returns and/or their spouses. 

Because becomes the answer to the unexplainable and actions that have not wisely been thought through. And why is that?

As Buddy would say, because it is!