Posted tagged ‘middle school’

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!

The Weirdness of Being Energized

February 1, 2020

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                    February 1, 2020

                                 

I looked at the class, my eyes wide open and fully caffeinated. The 29 students, most of whom have some distinctive characteristic (hair style, short and tall, reserved and animated) or possession they always have with them (Think smart phone, air pods), stare back at me.

“I know you’ll have a hard time believing this,” I begin, “but I look forward to coming here each morning and being your teacher.”

The confession causes eyebrows of each student to lower, like they’ve just been told by their parents that their family is going to move to a remote area of outer Mongolia. 

“I know, I know, that sounds weird to you. You’re wondering what is wrong with Mr. Wolfe. Is my life so lame that I need the company of 115 seventh graders each day?”

Heads nod in agreement to my statement of lunacy.

“But, believe it or not, I get excited to come to school each day. It energizes me!”

For eight weeks I’ve been given the opportunity to teach these 12 and 13 year olds, while their teacher takes care of a family member. Perhaps in these two months or so I’ll be able to convince them that someone can be energized in a way that doesn’t have to include a can of Red Bull. Perhaps they can catch some of my passion for young people and discover what they’re passionate about.

This week they’ve learned that I’m funny, use sarcastic humor like I’m doing standup comedy, and that I have high expectations.

They’ve also discovered that I can be like a military sergeant. If class is to begin at 8:04, I tell them, they are to be there at 8:04…or earlier! Not 8:04:15. The four that came waltzing in 30 seconds late owed me the first minute of their lunch period that day.

For most of them, I realize I expect more than they expect from themselves. Perhaps it’s my penance for the sins of my 7th Grade Language Arts year with Mrs. Blauvelt back in Williamstown, West Virginia. I still clearly remember doing an oral book report for her on the book Swiss Family Robinson and being “found out”. That is, I had seen the Disney movie version of the book, which is nothing like the book, and tried to make Mrs. Blauvelt believe I had read the book. 

Perhaps my expectations for these 7th Graders is to atone for my sins and to allow Mrs. Blauvelt to rest in a more comfortable eternal peace.

I’ve learned so much this week. As my teaching teammates have welcomed me, they’ve also welcomed my many questions. Most of those questions deal with technology. “How do you do this thingy right here?” “Why do they call it power point when I feel so helpless trying to do it?” “Where did MY SCREEN GO?”

As we say, “We’re no longer in Kansas, Dorothy!” I’ve learned there’s a new state I’ve been blown to called Discovery. 

The Kid Who Always Needs a Pencil

January 22, 2020

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                           January 22, 2020

                                

He comes into class with $200 Apple ear pods firmly in place. They are a sign to his peers that his parents will buy him anything. I notice that he surveys the classroom, deciding who he wants to greet and who to ignore. His $60 backpack gets dropped on his table like a sack of potatoes, and then he goes to infiltrate the ranks of unsuspecting students. His $150 pair of athletic shoes compliment the rest of his privileged life. Not including his clothes, I estimate his classroom value at over $400. 

Two minutes later I use my voice to blow the trumpet for the launching of class. “Have a seat and let’s get into it!” is my usual summons to order.

Ear pod boy plunges into his seat like he’s launching into one of the water slides at Great Wolf Lodge. 

I take attendance and then give the plan for the next 55 minutes. The kid who, by the way, the teacher I’m subbing for has left me a scribbled note about is in his own world of “peer-dom” pretends to listen as he dreams about the tall blonde two tables away. She looks his direction and he puts a hand on one of his ear pods, as if to convince her of his value and coolness.

“Today”, I tell them, “you’re going to be completing these two work sheets.” I explain what they need…textbook, copy of the work sheets I’ll hand out, something to write with. The kid is unwrapping a Pop Tart as I’m talking. Crumbs dot the sides of his mouth. If he’s trying to impress the blonde with his ear pods, he negates its effect with the remnants of the Pop Tart.

The work sheets get passed out and students begin to fill in the blanks. Five minutes later ear pod boy comes to my desk and says the words that he has spoken so many times before.

“Can I borrow a pencil?”

“You remembered your Pop Tart and your overpriced ear pods, but you couldn’t remember to bring a pencil?”

He stares at me with a blank look that conveys his disinterest in writing utensils. Pencils are not high on his list of priorities. The blonde is. Munching on a Pop Tart that he had to remember to get out of the pantry at home, that’s high! But to bring a pencil…to any class!…on any day!…for any reason!…that has not appeared on his radar yet! That’s what the teacher is there for, to keep him supplied! 

He’s a visual aid that communicates that the simplest things in life seem to be the hardest for some people to do.

Last Day of School Before Christmas Break

December 21, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                   December 21, 2019

                            

I agreed to it. It wasn’t like I was entering a dark unknown cave unaware of the dangers and unexpected holes sending me into the great abyss. I knew I was agreeing to substitute teacher on the last day before the school’s Christmas break. Some of the students had requested me. I’m still trying to decide whether that is a good thing or a warning sign, kinda’ like the army recruiter who smiles at the young buck standing in front of him and making him believe the next four years of his life will be simply a more mature version of Disney World. 

The last day of December school is frequented with sudden fits of stupidity as young adolescents all sugared up feel compelled to commit head-shaking acts of frenzied unintelligence because of their excess consumption of candy bars, peppermint candy sticks, and Starbucks Frappuccinos.

Teachers hold up surrender flags in the form of “Home Alone” and “Home Alone 2”. In reality, by 9:30 they’re wishing they were home alone and wondering why they didn’t take a sick day? 

The sound of shoes sprinting down hallways is common. Students wearing red Santa hats and adorned with tinsel is the norm. Ugly Christmas sweaters and students in Santa suits pass by almost unnoticed. 

In a couple of classes a few students suddenly broke out in song…off key, but still festive. One student blessed me with a candy cane and another with a container of baked goods that were meant for the teacher I was subbing for. When he saw that the teacher was gone he said, with great disappointment, “I guess you can have them!”

The political correctness of our culture leads some students into some degree of uncertainty as to what the right greeting/blessing is. Do they say “Merry Christmas!”, “Happy Hanukkah”, “Have a great break!”, “Happy Holidays!”, or “See ya’ next year!” I wanted to say “May the coming celebrated birth of the Christ-child be experienced in a deep way by you and yours!”, but I knew the typical middle schooler’s attention span wasn’t that long so I shortened my greeting to “Merry Christmas!”

The teaching staff did hallway countdowns as the day went on…”Three classes to go!” “Down to two!”, and words of encouragement “You can do it!”

When the final bell rang the walls of the school expanded as the entire staff exhaled in the realization that survival had been accomplished. 

Timberview Middle School, where I hang out, is a great school, great staff, mostly great students with a few warts thrown in that grab most of the attention. I almost always enjoy my days there, but Christmas break is longed for by everyone. It’s like the  opposite of the college student who comes home on Christmas break. Coming back and living with the parents is okay for the first couple of days, but then everyone is looking forward for the second semester to begin so Junior can leave again.