Posted tagged ‘middle school’

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!”

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?”

The Stupidest Question In Seventh Grade Science Class

September 16, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                           September 16, 2017

                                     

In my other world of substitute teaching I entered a seventh grade science classroom for three days this past week. The teacher, Mr. Williams…”Dean-O” to me…had called in July to schedule me for several days this fall. This week included Days 3, 4, and 5 of that journey…so I knew the students already. I knew who the studious students were, as well as the suspect students. I knew the “go to” students- the ones who the teacher can always call on for help- and also the ones who were familiar with the furnishings inside the assistant principal’s office.

Wednesday started with questions spoken with a whine. “Do we have to do this?”, “Can I just sit here and not do anything?”, “Why does Mr. Williams give us so much to do?”, and “Do we have to do ALL the definitions?” (No, just the ones you know, so you don’t have to tax your brain too much!)

Other questions followed closely that were lacking in intelligence. It became a pattern…questions asked about terms that were right there in the reading.

“What’s the labrum? I can’t find it in the reading.”

“First paragraph under the section entitled Digestive System in bold print.”

“Oh!”

So on Day Two I made it a contest! I told them that during the last three minutes of class I’d listen to stupid questions, and the stupidest question would receive a bag of Skittles candy. You talk about excitement! The kids with the highest IQ’s were all over it. They used their extra intelligence to craft extremely dumb queries.

Some of the questions were more like problem-solving situations that required me to think…and thus were disqualified from winning! Others tongue-twisters, like the woodchuck riddle that creates muscle spasms in your mouth.

A few tried to plagiarize “stupid questions”, sneaking their smart phones under their desks and googling “stupid questions.” Most of them were nabbed. Like the boy who asked the stupid question, “Why does an alarm clock ‘go off’ when it’s actually ‘turning on’?” Questions such as that got class responses of “You got that on the internet!” I was amazed later on when I googled the category that there were so many links to “stupid questions”! Stupidity is in abundance!

There were the stupid questions that included no creativity, such as “Is this a stupid question?”, or “How do you spell “a”?”, and “Am I smart?”

The winners were usual the ones that were so stupid that I had to stop and think about it for a second. They will appear in the midst of the dialogue of the next Dumb and Dumber movie. Questions like, “How does brown work?”, “Since the moon is made of cheese is it true that astronauts can not be lactose intolerant?”, and “What do they feed the cows to make the milk come out chocolate?”

Let’s face it! In the midst of seventh grade science classes there have been a lot of stupid questions asked over the years, but on a couple of days this past week thought-through stupidity was celebrated!

“Great!”

May 29, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                          May 29, 2017

                                               

I get asked the question numerous times each day.

“How are you?”

I’ve come to the point that I usually give a one word reply.

“Great!”

When I’m at school it is the response I ALWAYS give! Not hokey, or inauthentic, but truthful…I’ve come to the point that I realize that I’m doing great! Not “am great”, like a star strutting down the sidewalk like a peacock, but rather living life one day at a time and doing great! In a middle school environment giving that one word response takes the conversation in a positive direction. At the end of the school year when I was encountering tired teachers, unmotivated students, and overloaded administrators one unexpected word perhaps planted a seed of pondering about attitude and the possibilities of a new day.

I use that one word response because I seem to encounter a lot of people who are “Woe be me’s!”, or seem to be apathetic about this life we are blessed to live. That’s not intended to be a knock against them. Many people are in the midst of life situations that are difficult and heartbreaking. One student I had last week was telling me about a couple of life situations he is in the midst of. Not momentary bumps in the road of life, but rather ongoing circumstances that he has no control over involving family dynamics. I listened to his wearied words, but also conveyed in my teaching and storytelling a delight for being present with him and his classmates.

Even in the down times I know that I’m blessed and, more importantly, loved. And so I give the one word response to a question asked half-heartedly.

“Great!”

A couple of weeks ago I asked one of the 8th grade classes to share one thing about that maybe no one else there knew about.  One beautiful young lady responded, “I’m often depressed and feel lonely.”  I thanked her for sharing, and in the last two weeks of school I sought to subtly share the joyful side of life.  I caused a few smiles and grins to emerge on her face. Nothing earth-shattering, but perhaps she caught a sense that life can be more than dreariness and dreadfulness.

And lastly, why is life great for me? Well…today I’ll have three grandkids jumping on me. Tonight I’ll take a walk with my wife. This afternoon I’ll get to talk to my dad on the phone…just three weeks away from his 89th birthday.

And when my dad, who has a frequent flyer membership to his local hospital asks me how I am I’ll be able to respond from the depths of my soul…

“Great!”

Adventures of a Substitute Teacher: Keeping Control the Last Day of School

May 25, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                             May 25, 2017

       

Today is the last day of another school year. Well, actually…most of the eighth graders’ last day was a couple of weeks ago! They checked out about the time “May” appeared on the calendar.

Today I’m substituting in the afternoon for a teacher friend of mine who is attending her daughter’s fifth grade graduation ceremony. So…what would be practical bits of wisdom to have written on my hand for the last day of school. Here’s what I’ve come up with!

1) Don’t let anyone get killed! Keep an eye on the school roof. Don’t let anyone jump from there just because they wore their Superman t-shirt. Also, if someone has been noticeably uncoordinated the whole school year playing “Frogger” across the street in front of the school most likely will end up badly!

2) Use your common sense. If something that is being done may very well end up with a police report being filed…that’s probably not good! Remember! “Common Sense” is a middle school elective that most students choose not to take. They prefer woodworking with sharp objects and piercing tools instead.

3) Stay with at least two other teachers during the last hour when most of the school is outside. Like packs of wolves, students will look for “lone teachers” to pick on. It’s their nature! In case you as a teacher get separated make sure you have plenty of candy in your pockets. Throw the candy away from you while shouting “Candy!”…and run in the opposite direction!

4) When the final bell sounds…get to the side of the hallway or into a classroom. The running of the bulls is about to happen. If you feel brave run in front of them, but just remember…another stampede is coming from the opposite direction and you most likely will be the meat in the bun!

5) Expect the emotional! There will be the students who will say that they will miss you greatly…wish that you could come to high school with them…want to visit you this summer…tell you that you’re the best teacher they’ve ever had…that you have inspired them to become teachers…and all kinds of other nice comments. Simply nod your head in acknowledgement and give high fives. The students you truthfully inspired have been known to you for a long time. They are the ones who never have to look at their cell phones the whole class period.

6) Understand that some of these students will be sitting across the table from you in less than twenty years as the parents at parent-teacher conferences! As your body shudders uncontrollably…remember the same thing was true for you…back in the day! Miracles still happen, just as they did long ago with you!

7) When you get in your car immediately lock the doors! Students like to pretend they are zombies!

Adventure of a Middle School Substitute Teacher: Opt Out Class

May 20, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                     May 20, 2017

          

It was a full week! Monday to Friday…start to finish…six classes each day inhabited by a hodgepodge of students who were seeing the end of the school year in sight. Such vision causes some students to do weird and unintelligent things that usually have negative repercussions attached to them. Such as saying something inappropriate and being added to my class list!

Oh…my class…yes, that thing! I’ve been teaching the Opt Out class of middle school sex education. When they asked me to teach that class I thought to myself, “That must mean the class on abstinence!” Wrong!!!!

The Opt Out class is for those students who have decided not to take the sex education curriculum that is state-mandated for the school to teach. Probably more accurate, it is the class that the parents of some students have decided their child would not be a part of. Back to the inappropriate comments, I had a few eighth grade students, who had made crude or insensitive remarks in the sex education class, suddenly get ushered into my class.

In all I have about forty-five students in the six classes: 20 eighth, 16 seventh, and 9 sixth graders. We’ve made it past the “weirdness” feeling, of knowing that 90%+ of their classmates are in a different class that they aren’t participating in. For some of the students, mostly the eighth graders, there is a slight stigma attached to it. Almost all of them think about sex almost as much as they use their cell phones. You can even see the “posturing” in the class to look appealing, cool, or manly.

Strange as it may sound, I’ve enjoyed being the classroom teacher, not so much for the content- 6th Grade has been studying erosion, 7th Grade the ecosystem, and 8th Grade electricity- but for the ongoing relationships with the students. As the week has gone on I’ve  discovered things about them and they’ve discovered things about me. Interestingly the last eighth grade class…my last class of the day…has become increasingly interested in who I am. They’ve met Carol, who has been subbing with the special needs students, and asked me questions about family, my kindergarten granddaughter, and how I like coaching middle school kids in football and basketball? In return this last group has felt safe sharing some personal information with me about life struggles, life situations and interests.

Sixth graders are funny! They say things that make no sense, and then giggle with glee.

EX: If rabbits had wings they wouldn’t have to hop across our street! What would you do, Mr. Wolfe, if I tied your shoe strings together right now? I wish my skateboard had an engine. That would be cool!”

     Sixth graders, working on individual assignments in the same classroom, have random thoughts and conversations that are totally unconnected…and they are totally engaged in the journey together as they travel from one topical state to the next. The teacher is more of the lead cowboy in front of the herd.

Seventh graders are more likely to question one another about the ludicrous nature of a statement. Seventh graders have more, what I call, “squirrel moments”, where they will become instantly distracted from what is being talked about by something else in their peripheral vision. The teacher is like the cowboy riding behind the herd, keeping stragglers from getting lost or straying off.

The teacher of eighth graders is standing outside the corral, looking to simply keep the thoroughbreds and ponies corralled.

My Opt Out assignment goes through next Wednesday, and then, quite frankly, I’ll miss the characters of the classroom. Call me strange! That reminds me…squirrel!!…I rented the movie “Dr. Strange.” It must be about a middle school substitute teacher!

Married To A Mom

May 14, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W                                                             May 14, 2017

                               

My wife Carol gets described in an assortment of ways. I was talking to a middle school teacher on Friday and I mentioned that I was married to Carol who works with the special needs students. The teacher’s first question was, “Is she kind of short?” When I said yes, she replied, “Ohhh…she is so nice!”

Our youngest daughter would come to me a few times over the years when Carol was in the midst of a situation that was raising her blood pressure and she would warn me, “Mom is about to go Italian!” Her maiden name was Faletti, and sometimes the “excited exuberance” of her father’s ethnic roots would rise to the surface. (Did you notice how I said that in a complimentary kind of way?)

But Carol has been a mom to a number of kids that aren’t related to us. Last year our grandson’s soccer coach presented her with a tee shirt at the end of their season with the team logo on the front…and “Number One Fan” emblazoned on the back.

Even though our kids have long since graduated, she attends Liberty High School athletic contests on a regular basis…basketball, soccer, volleyball, baseball, swimming, football, JV contests, lacrosse…it matters not! From time to time she will even put her “Lancer Lunatic” shirt on that the students also wear.

When I went to coach at a different high school she adopted those players as some of her own. She prepared the fixings for the team dinner at our house, and chuckled from outside the circle as the players played “Mr. Boodle.”

Carol’s motherly nature, however, comes out as she helps students with special needs. A graduate from Texas Christian University, this Horned Frog got her degree in deaf education and taught preschool deaf kids for a few years before we got married. In recent years she has worked as a para-professional with the students at Timberview Middle School. If you are not familiar with the position, it takes a great amount of patience and energy. It also takes love and compassion. It takes putting the needs of the autistic student above your own. It takes the willingness to be sneezed on, change the diapers of twelve year olds, deal with parents who are rightfully very sensitive about their special children, having your hair pulled, being punched or pinched, and often not being considered part of the educational process by the administrators and teachers they rub elbows with.

But Carol’s motherly nature comes out as she walks down the hallway with the child who just needs someone to come alongside her. She is her advocate and protector as self-absorbed 8th Graders threaten to topple her over. When Carol comes home at the end of a school day she’s spent!

For years she was the Children’s Church leader at my last church pastorate. Kids would share their heart-felt burdens with her, as well as other problems. A typical Sunday might include everything from “My Granddad is really really sick and in the hospital” to “Pray for my dress, because I got peanut butter on it and my mom is going to be really really mad!” Carol listened with empathy and understanding. Many in the church never knew what a gift she was. They were just glad they weren’t being asked to do kid’s church! Since I retired almost a year and a half ago, I’m pretty sure…she misses those times of children gathering together in worship.

She is a mom to three grown children and “Grammy” to three grandchildren, and she is “Mom” to countless others who have passed through our home, her classroom, or even walked down our street.

She is a mom. It is what she is comfortable with. It is who she is!