Posted tagged ‘middle school’

Saying Goodbye…Kinda!

September 9, 2021

Yesterday was my last day teaching/leading/corraling my seventh-grade language arts students. Divided amongst four classes, about 90 students at various levels of maturity and immaturity would descend upon me each day to engage in the “E’s”: Entertainment, Experience, Expression (creative writing), and Education. Some days, perhaps, there was more entertainment than education!

I had been asked to fill in until a new teacher could be hired. Since I’m a “pretend teacher” (pseudo instructor), I wasn’t being considered for the teaching position. I was simply acting as the rubber band around the personalities until someone with the right credentials could be located. It’s the same position that I ended up filling for the whole year in 2020-2021. I could have stayed a while longer this year, but needed to be step to the side before the ninety bundles of joy became to attached to me.

As it is, a number of them were looking at me with pleading eyes yesterday. Without putting myself on a very shaky pedestal, most of the munchkins enjoyed my classes. We learned about the importance of commas (The difference a comma can make between the meaning of “Let’s eat, Grandpa!” and “Let’s eat Grandpa!”), creative and imaginative writing, kindness in words and actions, and learning how to support opinions with reasons for those opinions.

But more than learning, my classes included rolls of Smarties, a back wall of Far Side cartoons that were arranged to spell the word “Smile”, conversation, bad puns, a daily Wolfe Wisdom saying and Trivia Question, and Beanie Babies used to indicate the student was going to the restroom.

I enjoyed it…and am glad I’m done! This morning I occupied my Starbucks stool again, last one of the right facing out toward Pikes Peak, and savored my Pike Place medium brew. Tomorrow I’ll probably get a call asking me to fill a vacancy for a day.

My teaching team threw me a “Kinda Going Not Far Away Party”, complete with balloons, chocolate cake, and card. One of the students gave me Chips Ahoy cookies, and several asked me why I’m leaving with a tone in their voice that conveyed my physical demise was about to begin.

So today, once again, I’m attacking the writing of the final book (Book 4) in my RED HOT novel series, creating the further adventures of middle-schooler Ethan Thomas and his flaming redheaded friend, Randy “Red Hot” Bowman. The previous three and a half weeks have provided me with new fodder for the fiction.

To that Ethan Thomas would probably say, “Jiminy Cricket!”

The Ethans of Life

September 5, 2021

One of the main characters in my RED HOT novel series is a middle school boy named Ethan Thomas. As Book 1 begins, the reader discovers that Ethan has thick-lensed eyeglasses, a buzz haircut, freckles, is short, and has no friends. He’s the kid that is there but nobody sees.

I developed his character out of some of my memories of middle school more than a half-century ago. I was the shortest kid in my class, had a buzz haircut, and wore glasses, although they didn’t have thick lenses. I did have friends, but always had that feeling of inadequacy as a result of my 4 foot 8 inch height in seventh-grade.

Now that I’m teaching a seventh-grade class (although I’m done this coming week), I see the Ethan’s that still side-step people walking down the hallway, the kids who long to belong but don’t quite jump over that wall with its constantly changing boundaries.

I can see it as they enter the classroom. Which students are chattering away with one another as they enter the room and which students come in with eyes lowered, unsure if someone will say something that causes them to feel smaller than they already are?

I see it as certain students stand in front of their lockers. They are the ones whose faces are almost buried inside the place that holds there possessions, hiding as best as they can from the mass of peers who crowd their space. The Ethan’s want to be noticed, and yet they have a fear that if they are noticed it will be in a demeaning sort of way.

I see them in the cafeteria sitting alone, or sitting as if they are a fenceposts between two groups of students, not a part of either groups’ conversations, just a student to indicate where one group ends and the other group begins. The Ethan’s sit there with their heads down and trying to eat their lunches in front of them that have lost their taste.

I see them in the classes where the assignment has students teaming up in groups of three or four. The Ethan’s become the filler that the teacher ends up assigning to a group. Sometimes the response from the group is positive, but sometimes a deep sigh can be heard in their acceptance of the one who has been put upon them. The Ethan’s are often afraid of contributing anything to the group out of a fear of being laughed at, even though great ideas percolate within him/her.

The thing is the Ethan’s of middle schools have the seeds of greatness, the potential to be heroes, the hearts to empathize, the imaginations to create, and the minds to figure out what needs to be done and can be done. In their loneliness amongst the masses they can make the difference between a school being just a school and a school being a great place of learning and developing life-long friendships.

Back to my growing-up days even though “growing” seemed to be the thing that eluded me. There were a few boys who made the difference for me. Mike Bowman and Terry Kopchak pulled me along with him during my 8th and 9th grade years when we lived in Zanesville, Ohio. Dave Hughes and Mike Fairchild picked me up through my last three years of high school after my family had moved to Ironton, Ohio. Those four guys made the difference. They got my face out of its locker hiding spots, made lunch a time of conversation instead of me feeling like a fencepost, and made me laugh just as much as I made them chuckle.

I pray that the Ethan’s I see everyday in our school hallways will find friends like that. Or, perhaps I should say, I hope they will be found by friends like that.

Storyline Life Lessons

August 2, 2021

The third book in my RED HOT novel series was the most challenging and interesting book to write so far. Those who had already read the first two books in the series were anxiously anticipating the next part of the story. That created a bit of anxiety in my creative spirit. It needed to be good. Not that the first two books weren’t good, but this needed to be even a bit better.

When you write a sequel your readers already have pictures of the characters and their quirks, qualities, and shortcomings. New readers new to be introduced to them and bring them up to speed and who’s who without having to tell the whole story again. Continuing readers want to know what happens next to the protagonist, the antagonist, and the character that has tugged on their heartstrings.

A lot of questions go through a writer’s mind: What new characters can still be introduced? What new plot twists can be written that aren’t too much a reach for the reader? With a number of characters already introduced in the series, how can the storyline be written that is able to involve all of them, or do a couple need to disappear into the margins? Since the third book is further along in time, are there changes that need to be may in some of the adolescent’s lives, like getting a driver’s license or having a growth spurt?

A lot of thinking went into the plot formation before the writing began. And then there’s the life lessons. RED HOT is about friendship, seeing that everyone has value, rising above the low expectations of others, respecting one another, forgiveness, and grace. It’s about one boy who no one seems to see and another boy who can’t be missed. It’s about that kid in every school grade that seems to be invisible to his classmates as if he doesn’t matter, and another kid with bright red hair and extraordinary talent who everyone notices. It’s about an unlikely friendship that becomes an unbreakable bond. It’s a story about faith and prayer and rescue.

I received a note from the mom of a 6th Grade boy last week. He had read the latest book Red Hot: New Peace in Fleming in three days and loved it. A 75-year-old former high school basketball coach that my sister knows had received the first book in the series, read it in five days, and called my sister to find out where he could get Book 2. His two grown daughters response: “Dad, you read a book?”

Life lessons. I love writing stories that resonate with teachable moments and important values.

Last night, four from my oldest daughter’s family joined me in a Facebook Live reading of the first two chapters. What fun it was as we took on the voices of different characters!

And yes, I’ve started writing the fourth and final book in the series, Red Hot: New Hope in Fleming. And yes-yes, it is looking to be even more of a challenge than Book 3!

Smile, Students!

November 24, 2020

Since I’m a fill-in teacher this year, kinda a fake instructor, I do some things that are a little bizarre and lacking in academic seriousness. Like last week when I started adding stuffed animals to flank the Cabbage Patch doll that was neatly arranged at the desk close to my classroom desk. I refer to the troupe as my fill-in students, since in-person students won’t be in the classroom until January.

On my back wall I had the word “Laugh” for a couple of weeks, the letters formed by Far Side cartoons. Last week I rearranged the letters, inserted some new Far Sides, and spelled out “SMILE”. Unfortunately, our school went to remote learning before my students had a chance to see it, but I’ll keep it pinned to the wall until they come back.

It’s difficult for them to smile much these days, being partially in class and partially virtual until now, and now they are totally remote. My teaching teammates and I started doing virtual lunches with them to help keep the connection. As they sit and eat their PB&J, they can log into one of our communication channels and converse with other classmates and teachers. It’s like an online cafeteria.

I want them to know that it’s okay to say they aren’t okay, to say they don’t enjoy this distant educational experience. If, in the midst of that, I can bring a smile or a chuckle I’ll have led them toward a moment of normalcy. If I can make comments about their on-screen backdrop or mention that they’re looking awesome that day, perhaps they will let their defenses and reservations down for a few moments.

This year education is more about instilling a calmness in the midst of the pandemic storm. It’s about getting these adolescents to trust in the belief that it’s going to turn out okay.

It’s getting them to rediscover their ability to smile.

Redefining 7th Grade Deadlines

November 8, 2020

Since we’re living in a time when some seem comfortable in the rewriting of history, it makes sense that other parts of our culture are also being redefined.

Like at Starbucks this morning where my tall Pike Place coffee is really the small, or the email I’ve received for fifteen days that says “this is absolutely the last day for this mega-sale.”

Many of my seventh-grade language arts students have decided that the term “deadline” now has a new definition. In the middle school urban dictionary it is rendered like this:

Deadline: An estimate; a suggestion; in academia, the stated time when a student should begin thinking about working on the assignment; an approximation.

Last week- the third week of the new school quarter- I received five different assignments that were part of the first quarter. That is, they were part of the grade that had already been punched in…four weeks ago! Sorry, Charlie!

I’ll receive the glazed over looks again this coming week. “Answer the discussion question and submit it. I’ll give you the next five minutes to complete it.”

What some of the students hear: “Would you consider giving a response to this discussion question and, if it’s not too much of a bother, submit it in the next couple of weeks so that I might have the privilege of granting you a score?”

I must say this! There are plenty of students who are responsible, on-task, committed to the old definition of deadline, and in pursuit of excellence. They give me hope that my hair will not fall out in the midst of instructional agitation.

It’s interesting that the “deadline-redefines” become irritated if the school food service didn’t plan accurately and run out of chicken nuggets, or their video game doesn’t load quickly enough. So, they do show some reaction to slowness.

I’m wondering if in a few years when they become taxpayers if the IRS will understand that they might not get their tax returns completed by April 15? I’m envisioning their 2030 tax return being submitted in 2032…but only halfway done!

Being Coach Wolfe

October 17, 2020

A teacher, and friend of mine, told me a story last week that brought an ongoing chuckle to my soul. His daughter is a sixth-grader at Timberview Middle School and run cross country this fall- a sport that I head up for the school.

Timberview’s mascot is a timberwolf…the Timberview Timberwolves. Yes, and I’m Coach Wolfe of the Timberwolves!

One day the confused sixth-grader revealed her mental ponderings to her dad and asked the question.

“Why is he called Coach Wolfe?”

It brought a moment of Jeopardy music hesitation to her dad and he realized the roots of her question.

“Well, because that’s his name.”

“It is?” she replied, eyebrows raising. “His name is Coach Wolfe?”

“Yes, dear. That’s his name.”

Yesterday, my 7th Grade Language Arts class met in the school library for each of its sessions. The sixth-grader was also at another table in the library doing her classwork. I noticed that she kept looking at me. I’m not sure if she was trying to discern if there were pointy ears underneath my graying hair and fangs inside my mouth. Perhaps the Little Red Riding Hood story was coming back to her, as I drew each group of seventh-graders into my den.

Names are sometimes puzzling. What may dumbfound her even more is when another teacher from the school goes by me who greets me with a cheerful “Wolfie”, and I return the greeting by saying her married last name.

“Fish!”

Truth be told, some days it feels kind of like a zoo!

Deceptive 7th Grade Virtual Students and Clued-In Teachers

September 13, 2020

Teaching a virtual learning class of 7th graders has been rewarding, challenging, and…revealing! I have found that a teacher doesn’t necessarily have to have students in an actual classroom to discover their personalities, strengths, and tendencies.

Back in my eastern Kentucky neck of the woods, we used to say “I didn’t just fall off a turnip truck yesterday” to make the point that a person wasn’t as naive as someone else was thinking. In my classroom, I need that a bushel basket of turnips displayed.

Most of my students are awesome and on task. Some have been prone to even doing more than what is asked of them. A few have been very helpful in explaining a technology glitch to one of their virtual classmates or…me!

But there are those who think I’m fooled by the fact that there is a screen between us. They believe that I can’t see very much, that I can’t see their eyes drifting to the right or left, or their tendency to, evidently, look down at their pants every few seconds.

I’m sure I’ve helped the Fortnite score for a few of them. Although they are clueless about what a dangling participle is, they know where the nearest zombie is coming from on their game screen. Next week when students return to their real in-person classrooms two days a week, some of them may have video game withdrawal. Maybe if i throw a few zombies into the discussion they will stay attentive.

There’s also a few of the eLearning Einsteins who seem to always have internet issues. “Mr. Wolfe, that page isn’t coming up for me.” “Mr. Wolfe, I can’t see that assignment on my screen.”

“Wait a minute! You mean the assignment that we’ve been doing for the last 45 minutes, and you’re just now saying something to me?”

And then there are the “muters”! When they accidentally unmute themselves you hear the loud chaotic music in the background of some artist who recorded immediately after having half-a-dozen Red Bulls. Or there’s the sound of the video game crash and the bash action. Or the conversations of a few other people who are in the same room with my lonesome student.

I’m okay with the security blankets that several of them cuddle up with. I’ve even seen a few stuffed animals auditing the class.

The big one, or most blatant example of someone’s belief that I took a spill from that railroad turnip train car is when the student consistently clicks his/her camera off. One student’s camera clicks on and off so many times I wonder if he’s checking with his attorney to see what view might incriminate him.

And then we have the late-arrivers, always the same ones, with always the same excuses- poor connection or their laptop was having issues that day. On the other hand, it always seems to be the same faces who arrive first for class.

One of my classes has almost everyone waiting in the virtual “lobby” for me to admit them when I finally arrive. I’m sure it’s just a coincidence that every student in that class still has an A+. I asked them the other day if their grade performance was because they’re all awesome students or I’m being too easy on them? They told me it was because of their awesomeness. I felt my right foot slipping on a few turnips.

Tomorrow begins the new frontier- half of the students in-person in-class and half virtual. This week there will be no more hiding of the truth. I’ll find out who are truly amazing and who are more resembling of the zombies.

The Threat of Pink Hair

March 31, 2020

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                           March 31, 2020

                                

Two months ago the middle school girl’s basketball season ended. The eighth-grade girls I coached had done well enough to be the #2 seed for the league tournament in our 9 team league.

The entire tournament was played on a Friday and Saturday…double-elimination…otherwise translated as doubly-exhausted!

After winning our first game on Friday, we lost our 8:00 semi-final game on Saturday morning to the #3 seed, a team we had beaten in a close game during the regular season. Two more wins put us in the loser bracket final against the same team. BUT it was also our fourth game of the day! 

My girls were dead tired, heavy legs and erratic shooting. There was no spring in their jump, a half-step slow on defense. At halftime, we were behind 18-0.

Let me type that again. 18-0! No points in the first two quarters. Zippo!

But it wasn’t because they weren’t trying. They were just tired. So I said to them at halftime, “Hey! If we come back and win this game I’ll shave my head!”

They looked at me and smiled, and then one of them said, “No, Coach! If we win you’ll dye your hair pink!” Twelve heads bobbed up and down in glee-filled agreement.

“Okay! If we win I’ll dye my hair pink!”

It looked like a safe bet, no points the whole first half…down by 18…we couldn’t throw it in the ocean! So the second half began and we score the first basket…and then the next basket…and then the next seven points after that. Each time one of my players scored the girls on the bench would giggle and smile at me, probably envisioning how I would look with pink hair.

The other team scored and I breathed a sigh of relief, but then we scored a three-pointer. The lead had shrunk to six and I was beginning to ponder what hat I’d be wearing for the next several weeks.

Dead legs had come alive, shots were falling, and I was pondering coaching strategy. Would it look bad if I took my leading scorer out of the game for about the next ten minutes? Would it be okay to have my post player try to dribble the ball up the court? 

But then I thought I could live with pink hair if I had to. If my girls could come back from 18 points down and two big zeroes to summarize their scoring for the first two quarters, then I could look like a 65-year-old pink-haired rock star for a little while.

Right about the time I was trying to envision how I would look, the other team scored and then scored again. They held us off. We had scored 28 points in the second half, but they had scored 34 for the game. 

The team was disappointed, but also proud of their effort, their comeback from forever to come close. 

Me? I plead the fifth!

“Mr. Wolfe, Your First Name Is…William?”

February 22, 2020

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                  February 22, 2020

                      

The class was about to begin and I was fiddling with my laptop, trying to get a connection with the classroom projector. (Using the term “fiddling” is a hint of my advanced age. It’s not often associated with computers and other technology.) I finally am able to display the image from my laptop to the screen at the front of the classroom, and then the question is asked.

“Your first name is…William?” There’s a tone of disbelief in how he asks it, turning his head from side to side looking at the screen and then back at me sitting behind my desk. 

“What?” I ask, not sure what he’s getting at.

“It says your first name is William.”

I stare at the screen and then notice in the upper right hand corner that my name appears on the slide I’m projecting: William Wolfe.

“Yes, it is,” I say with a calmness.

“I didn’t know that was your first name!”

“What, did you think my first name was Mister or Coach?”

“No, but I didn’t think it was William!” He draws out the pronunciation of the seven letters like a bungee cord. “Why is it William?”

“That’s like asking why the sky is above us?”

“I just never thought…you’d be William!”

He walks away amazed and dazed. Kids are often perplexed when their teachers are possessors of “normal things”, like hiking boots, trumpets, contact lenses that never get worn in the classroom, and families. They’ve associated their teachers with a classroom, a school, and an academic routine. 

Suddenly, they meet their science teacher in the produce section of the local supermarket and their life equilibrium is thrown off. As Ms. Brown is checking out the peaches they stand there perplexed and, depending on the teacher, happy. Their teacher is being seen in another place! The student has a sudden release of endorphins that tells him he has been blessed in some odd way.

My oldest daughter, who teaches third grade, experiences this quite often when she goes to the mall and sees one of her students. It’s like a rare bird sighting for the youngster. Mrs. Hodges actually goes shopping!

My student remains amazed for the first few minutes of our class period together. It’s almost like his teacher is…human!

Missing Pieces…in My Classroom

February 16, 2020

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                       February 16, 2020

                             

There is a designated area in our middle school that is over-populated most of the time. It’s the school’s version of the Goodwill drop-off container, located in the parking lot of our supermarket, always overflowing with whatever people want to discard.

At our middle school, however, our crowded area is called “Lost and Found”. The name is mis-leading because rarely does the loser go to find their lost items there. Coats get left in classrooms on twenty degree temperature days and never retrieved. There are so many water bottles at the Lost and Found that the student council should consider opening a hydration supplies store. 

T-shirts, mittens, stuffed animals, notebooks, eyeglasses and eyeglass cases, backpacks, shoes, sandals, pens and pencils, lunch containers, wristbands, headbands, and on and on.

At the end of one of my classes this week I noticed a jar of Vaseline under one of the tables. The top part of the jar lid had been cut out so that the opening was uncovered. I’m not sure if I want to know why a 7th grader has a jar of Vaseline in class. I put the jar on my desk and waited to see if anyone would claim it the next day. When I saw Sherri, our evening custodian, I brought her into my classroom and explained to her that the Vaseline was not mine so she wouldn’t think I was weird…well, maybe just weirder!

No one owned up to losing the jar so I tossed it. Even the Lost and Found shouldn’t have open Vaseline jars in it!

One thing that students don’t lose in my classroom: Candy! I have yet to find a Snickers bar left behind, or a half eaten bag of Cheetos. What they do leave behind are the wrappers. A couple of classes will lose their eating privileges next week because of a couple of students who consumed rolls of Smarties but weren’t smart enough to dispose of the wrappers. 

I suppose losing items in middle school is one thing that hasn’t changed since I roamed the halls fifty years ago. I left jackets behind but, as I remember, I was more concerned about the wrath of my parents than I was with actually looking for the missing garment. I simply tried to avoid detection, sprinting out the door in the morning when Mom wasn’t looking. Discovery Day, however, would come at some point and I’d be asked the feared question: Where’s your jacket…your new jacket that we spent our hard-earned money to provide for you?

I can’t remember if I had used the time between lostness and being found out to come up with an excuse, like someone stole it or cafeteria catsup was dumped on it and it became unbearable, but the bottom line is that keeping track of my possessions was not a skill that I possessed. 

Parental guilt didn’t make it better. Putting my name on everything from shirts to underwear didn’t seem to help either. At some point, I just became more responsible, or at least there were glimpses of responsibility. 

This past Friday there were a few items left behind at the end of classes that were not lost. A few students had placed candy on my desk…Valentine’s Day candy! 

What a treat!