Posted tagged ‘middle school teachers’

Don’t Do Stupid!

April 7, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                    April 6, 2018

                           

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

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

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

“Don’t do stupid!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Teacher-Parent Conference

March 26, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                           March 26, 2018

                                 

Dear Mrs. Jones,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why Teachers Deserve More

March 10, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                            March 10, 2018

                                 

When the teachers in the state of West Virginia went on strike for a pay increase I found myself conflicted. I agreed…some, but also was uncomfortable with it. So I had to ask myself why I was uncomfortable with the idea of teachers holding picket signs and demanding more?

The answer I found spoke to the images I held in my own mind of who teachers are and what they are about. When I think of teachers- the teachers I had in my growing up years back in the 1960’s, and the teachers I know today- I seldom think of how much they are paid. I think of sacrifice, impact, dedication, influencers, passionate people, shapers, leaders, and guides to help students discover

I don’t think about compensation and pension plans…and that’s part of the problem! When I look at the whole picture of teaching, compensation is just one of the many colors that are used to paint the portrait. We rely on teachers to do so much that we often forget that they deserve more.

Most of us have heard the arguments. “Well, they only work nine months out of the year! I wish I had a job like that!” Right!!! As a pastor I heard the same jab at my calling. “Must be nice to only work one day a week!” I wanted to reply “If I didn’t have a congregation filled with messed up people I COULD just work on Sundays!” People who are stuck in a time warp of the belief that teachers only work nine months out of the year are as clueless as a first grader in trigonometry class! Summers are now filled with preparation for the next year, reviewing textbooks, continuing education, interview committees, team meetings, getting the classroom ready, strategizing, etc.

Meanwhile, I could almost justify what teachers are compensated…if all they had to do is teach! But, guess what? Now their job description has been compounded and multiplied (I substitute taught 6th Grade math yesterday!). They are now classroom counselors, social workers, expected to straighten out the mess of the increasing number of students who come to school from dysfunctional families, caregivers, educators of students with attention spans resembling hyper puppies, and judges giving rulings about misbehaving students whose parents still think they are angels in disguise.

As a substitute teacher this year I’ve encountered a student who continually fell asleep in the first class of the school day because he’d stay up until one o’clock in the morning playing video games; a student who did not come to school regulated four out of the five school days that week because he, evidently, was not taking his medication; a student who was disruptive numerous times in a class period and, literally, could not help it; and numerous students who came to school without having anything to eat and became more sluggish as the school day went on.

Teachers are expected to be the problem solvers of the messes that many parents drop off at school at 7:30 in the morning. For many parents, teachers and school are seen as cheap child care. Thus, when school gets canceled because of the weather, or even has a two hour delay, the number of irate parents goes off the charts. What are they expected to do with little Johnny on a Tuesday work day?

When I think of my school days growing up I can remember, and see the faces, of my teachers. I remember Mrs. Riley, Mrs. Nuzum, Mr. Cooper, Mrs. Waybright, Mr. Jenkins, Ms. Lewis, Mr. Trent, Ms. Gruber, and Mr. Burcham…fifty years later! I can not remember the names of my banker, doctor, pharmacist, tailor, and others. I can remember the name of my elementary principal, Mr. Morton, but not the name of the town’s mayor or police chief.

Teachers have been taken for granted and taken advantage of. They deserve more, and when I say they deserve more I’m not just talking about compensation!

6:30 A.M. 7th Grade Basketball Practice

February 28, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                           February 28, 2018

                                     

There usually are loud moans and groans when I make the announcement, but I expect it. The pained expressions on the faces of my 7th Grade basketball team are the result of finding out that most of our practices will be held before school at 6:30 in the morning.

The eyes get big and the mouths drop open. There is a momentary weeping and gnashing of teeth…and then they accept it for what it is.

For the past several years I’ve made that unpopular decision for a few reasons, which none of the players think are good are to begin with. When we practice after school we have to share the gym with the 8th Grade team. Our middle school has two gyms, one a full-size court and the other a small gym that resembles an elementary school facility. When both teams practice at the same time we get 30-45 minutes in the larger gym and 30-45 minutes in the small gym.

6:30 A.M. practice…problem solved! And it helps the 8th Grade team, also!

Some of them come dragging to the front doors of the school looking a bit disheveled. I greet each one of them with words like “Good morning, handsome!” and “Looking good this morning!” Some snap out of their weariness and smile. Others are not yet to the conversational level of their day.

As they’ve gotten used to the the fact that practice is that early most of them have adjusted. There’s more spring in their step and a few more smiles as they head to school long before anyone else does.

The blood gets flowing and by 6:40 they are at full speed and wide awake. Last week I asked them if they would rather practice before school or after school. All but one said before!

Amazing! Thirteen players and five others who are designated the practice squad, and seventeen of the eighteen said 6:30 rules!

A couple of teachers have commented to me that they’ve noticed how my players are wide awake and ready for class on days we practice early. I’m sure that when the season ends in a couple of weeks that they’ll revert back to their usual school wake-up schedule, but for a few weeks they are learning what it means to be early risers.

It’s one way that I make sure they are committed to what we’re about. It’s one way to make sure they know I have higher expectations for them, and it’s one way I emphasize discipline. I wait at the front doors for each of the boys to arrive, but at 6:30 I head to the gym. You arrive late…too bad!

Tomorrow we have a game. It’s tie day. I’ve told each one of them to dress up for school tomorrow…shirt and tie. I’ll wear one for the game, also! When I told them that the teachers would be impressed they just stared at me, but when I said the young ladies would suddenly see how handsome they were…they grinned!

The Button-Pushing Middle School Student

November 4, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                          November 4, 2017

                         

I’m becoming experienced as a substitute teacher. Everyday I experience new things, am dismayed in new ways, and face intriguing situations that would make good fodder for reality TV.

I’ve come to realize that there is a certain category, a distinct species amongst students that causes a few to stand out like peacocks. It’s not a very large group of students, and they don’t usually cluster together like geese.

They are the button-pushers, the students who would give Jesus a hard time for walking on water. They look for the seeds of distraction and chaos to infect good discussions and teachable moments.

Recently, I had a week with the same 125 students, grouped into four classes and another class period for specialized study. Out of 125 students I discovered “the button-pusher”. Everyday he pushed my buttons in some annoying way. On Day One he asked belittling questions to another student after she gave a report on a current event in front of the whole class. His questions, which I squashed after the first couple, were asked in a way to make her look stupid. Hear the button being pushed and held down! On Day Two he kept bothering the student sitting beside him, saying things under his breath to her, touching her arm with his pencil. I was clueless of what was going on until she finally erupted…which is what he was going for!

On Day Three we had a confrontation. When I asked him to stop making a noise with his ruler, slapping the desk with it, he pushed his button with “What about him?” “I’m not talking about him. I’m talking to you!” He gave me the button-pusher look of defiance. “Don’t give me that look!”

On Day Four he started early and I attacked early. “We aren’t going to repeat yesterday. You either get with the program or take a nice vacation to the assistant principal’s office and stare at his wall posters.”

On Day Five his dad came and picked him up for some kind of appointment five minutes into class. God does answer prayer!

Button-pushers gain reputations amongst teachers. This button-pusher had done a couple of things to other students that were just plain mean, but when the teacher talked to his mom the response was that the teacher must be mistaken. It couldn’t be her son!

Conspiracy theorists believe button-pushers have been inserted into middle school classrooms to sabotage the education of the masses, but, even more than that, to become detriments to the preparatory process for the state assessment tests. There’s rumors that they have taken summer training in “argumentative classroom behavior” and “creating crying teachers who start mumbling to themselves”. Like the four celebrity judges on The Voice they have learned how to recognize opportunity and hit the button at a moment’s notice.

Oh, that button-pushers would be a dying breed heading towards extinction, but unfortunately they seem to be repopulating every year. Perhaps it has something to do with the growing number of helicopter parents, absentee parents, clueless parents, and the natural order of disorder. THEY would have you believe that! And if you do you’ve just had another button pushed called “gullible!”

Assuming Knowledge

October 19, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                             October 19, 2017

                                       

Much of our lives are based on assumptions. Assumptions are as basic as assuming that the next time I inhale there will be air around me to breathe in, and when I get out of bed in the morning that there will be a solid floor under my feet to step on.

We assume certain rules of order. Close to the middle school I teach at there is a four-way stop. When the car on my right proceeds through the intersection I assume that I am the next vehicle that will go. Yesterday, however, someone behind the first car did a quick stop and stepped on the gas. My assumption of courteous and orderly driving was false. Irritation did a quick circuit through my body as the wild woman driver turned in front of me and gave me a non-conforming look.

Yesterday I was teaching a class of sixth graders about the homesteaders of the latter part of the eighteen hundreds in our country, the push to settle the Great Plains and the West. I began by talking about the Civil War and was taken back by some of the blank stares that communicated ignorance of the topic.

“Who knows what century the Civil War was fought in?”

A raised hand. “1900’s.” I gasped.

“No. Anybody else?”

Another raised hand by a confident young man. “1700’s?”

“No.”

Another hand. “1800’s?”

“Correct!” Of course, the student, using his inflated amount of common sense, had figured it out by the process of elimination.

I had assumed that sixth grade students knew about the Civil War. In quizzing them on why there was a Civil War only about twenty per cent knew the primary reason as to why it happened. Of course, about eighty percent of them knew the names of the most popular video games out right now and the words to several of the top ten songs on the “hits chart”!

It occurred to me that part of the confusion of these times that we live in goes to the uncertainty of assumptions. There’s the greying of guidelines, the haziness in unwritten rules, and the fog of expectations.

For instance, my daughter who is a fourth grade teacher can no longer assume that a parent who is sitting in front of her at a parent-teacher conference is on the same page with her in seeking to help the student have academic success. She now, too often, runs into parents who see her as their son’s adversary. The conference becomes a battle where she is viewed as the problem as opposed to little Jimmy’s reading level still being that of a second grader. She can no longer assume that a conference will help the parents understand where their child is in his schoolwork, and how they can help him.

Today before my 8th Grade basketball practice I will draw the team together and talk about the importance of selflessness in creating a strong team. I can no longer assume that players that I coach understand that the game they are playing is a team sport. I still remember the halftime locker room several years ago where the team I was assistant coach for was trailing by ten points. One player suddenly said, “Coach, I’ve got eleven points!” It was almost as if she didn’t understand that the purpose of the game was to win it, not keep track of personal stats.

We sometimes assume too much, assume things are the way they’ve always been, and assume people have a basic understanding.

Ohhhh…..for a clearer time when people understood the way life worked better!

Teaching 7th Graders To Say “May I?”

October 5, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                      October 5, 2017

                                    

The past few weeks have found me in several different middle school classrooms teaching in a substitution role the subjects of science, social studies, health, and physical education. I’ve taught lessons on the digestive system, sea sponges, insects, and the Hammurabi Code.

I’ve also been teaching seventh graders how to say “May I…?”

Seventh graders are infatuated with the words “Can I?” It comes as naturally out of their mouths in interactions with teachers, parents, and coaches as breathing. For many middle school boys the words “May I” are as unused as the showers in the boys locker room. And so my contribution to their education is to lead them onto the straight and mannerly road called “May I?”

It goes something like this!

“Mr. Wolfe, can I go to the restroom?”

“Listen, Sam! You’re in seventh grade. I don’t know where you fell off the tracks in your life education, but by seventh grade you should be able to go to the restroom.” Sam looks at me with confusion radiating from his face.

“So…can I?”

“”Well, let’s talk about what will happen if you don’t go to the restroom. We just talked about it in class. Remember…the digestive system…what goes in must come out! So if you don’t go to the restroom there could be some unpleasant consequences.”

“Okay!” He starts to exit.

“Wait! Where are you going?”

“To the restroom.”

“Did I give you permission?”

“You said I could.”

“I said you had the ability to go, but that’s different than permission.”

A whisper comes from the side of him. I faintly hear the words, “Say may I!”

The point of our discussion suddenly hits the light switch in Sam’s mind. “Ohhh…may I go to the restroom?”

“Yes, you may!” Three other students who have been listening snicker in the background. As my days of being saturated with seventh graders have continued the number of students who have revised their “Can I” language to “May I” continues to mount. They may not be able to remember what “cilia” and “flagella” are, or what the Code of Hammurabi is all about, what they MAY very well learn to say “May I?”