Posted tagged ‘middle school’

Sixth Grade Apology Letters

March 20, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                         March 20, 2018


They walked into the classroom, three boys looking like they were headed to the gallows. Their math teacher led the procession of the condemned, faces downcast inspecting the carpet design. One of the three had visible body tremors.

They had committed the unforgivable sixth grade math class sin; they had detoured off the road of the teacher’s behavioral requirements for a substitute teacher and done some off-road free wheelin’ stupid stuff. Warnings, changing seats, and more warnings had not brought them back to the right path and so my end of the day written report to the teacher included their three names.

Now they stood before me. They had already been sentenced to make the trip to the seventh grade classroom I was guest teaching in that day. Their punishment, handed down to them by their six foot four inch teacher, was to write apology letters to the afflicted party…me!…come to my classroom, read them, hand them to me, and shake my hand.

They tried their best to be sincere, but how sincere can sixth grade boys be about never, ever, ever straying from what they know is appropriate. Sincerity is a momentary commitment that gets forgotten as easily as the jackets and water bottles left behind as they hurry out of a classroom. “Staying focused” is a higher learning skill safely untouched by the male members of this class.

“Mr. Wolfe, I am sorry for making inappropriate noises during your class. I am very sorry for causing the whole class to be distracted…Next time you substitute in my class I will listen at my best!”

I controlled the chuckling that was bubbling up inside me. The forlorn looks would surely be replaced with sighs of relief within thirty seconds of leaving my classroom.

I remember being in sixth grade! I had so much energy, or as we said “ants in my pants”, that I couldn’t sit still. School was hard, recess was easy! My teacher, however, was Mr. Cooper, an imposing giant of a man who was not hesitant about using a paddle on your behind. Witnessing a couple of classroom criminals receiving their judgments early in the school year caused most of us to quiver in our seats. And…except for music and physical education, Mr. Cooper taught ALL of my classes! He was the shepherd of our class herd for the whole school day…everyday! The fact that his younger brother was a classmate of my older brother at Williamstown High School did not buy me an ounce of grace. I learned out of fear that whole year.

A couple of days after the three “wiser” boys came to me I passed one of them in the hallway. He saw me coming and instantly started inspecting the hallway tile he was about to step on.

“Good morning!” I greeted him, also using his first name.

He looked up, a bit startled. “Good morning, Mr. Wolfe!”

It was a moment of grace in a school hallway, a peace offering towards one who had already made restitution. Perhaps…just perhaps, he will realize that he has not been judged and labeled for life, but rather understands that he is seen as valued regardless of his slip-ups.

After all, he is still in sixth grade!

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!

Cutting Kids

February 11, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                       February 9, 2018


Yesterday I posted “the list”! The list is the 13 seventh grade boys who have been invited to be a part of the Timberview Middle School interscholastic basketball team. It’s a list of celebration that had 13 signs of relief breathed upon it.

Not on the list are the 28 others who I had to say “Sorry!” to. Telling seventy percent of the boys that they were cut is worse than a couple of hemorrhoids living side by side…okay, maybe not that bad!

“Cutting kids” is also a life lesson. In every aspect of life there are those who are left off the list. Last spring I applied for a head coaching position for basketball at a local high school. About a week later I received an email informing me that I was not one of the finalists. There was a moment of indignation, but I got over it. Two weeks later I interviewed for another position and was a finalist, but was still not the final pick. In both cases I was not the one. It’s how life works.

For each of the students who tried out for the seventh grade team I did an evaluation that I will willingly share with any of them who ask me. I made the point to those who were not chosen that if they work on specific skills their chances of making next year’s team will improve. Some will make attempts, and others will find other things that may be more of a passion than basketball.

Parents don’t like kids to be cut. In fact, we use softer language as I did in the first paragraph. We “invite” a few students to be on the interscholastic team. If you hear the students talk, however, they will usually use one of two terms. They “made the team”, or they “got cut.”

Some day these same kids will apply for college or submit a resume for a job. When they are rejected I wonder if their parents will correct them and say, “No, honey! You just weren’t invited to take the position!”

Pain and disappointment lead to self-discovery. “I’m sorry to inform you” letters cause adolescents to realize that the world does not spin on their personal axis. If someone is never disappointed he/she will seldom reach for something that is still beyond their reach.

One boy came to me Friday afternoon. He’s a good-sized kid, who I thought would be one of the 13, but his skill deficiencies rose to the surface in the four days of tryouts. “Coach, I was really disappointed when I saw that I didn’t make the team, but I’m okay with it now.” He’s a good kid who I will have in class Monday and Tuesday for the teacher I’ll be subbing for. I told him I’d share my evaluation with him so he can work on a few things. He appreciated that. In the course of a few hours he went from taking it personally to knowing that I care about him. In regards to him, disappointment will make him stronger and cause him to work even harder.

Cutting kids is the hardest thing I do as a coach, and yet one of the most important things I do.

On Monday morning I’ll convince 13 other seventh grade boys that the world does not revolve around them either!

Dressing Like A Lollipop To Fight Cancer

February 3, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                           February 3, 2018


Cancer has taken a number of my friends. Mike Wilcoxen sat beside me in “home room” my senior year off high school. The next year I went off to college, but Mike succumbed to cancer at the age of 18.

Jim Sweeney, Steve Shaffer, Gary Gowler, Professor Ted Hsieh…my list of cancer victims is far longer than my list of cancer survivors.

And then about fifteen months ago my friend, Greg Davis, 41 years old, passed after a six year struggle with a form of brain cancer.

And so yesterday I taught an eighth grade language arts class at the school where Greg taught social studies for fifteen years, and I wore a pink shirt with the words “Slam Dunk Cancer” on the front of it. In the midst of each class I told Greg’s story, his victories and his struggles. Each class was graciously attentive. It’s interesting that in my second class I got a bit emotional. It suddenly came upon me like a wave of emotional memories and I had to stop for a moment.

Last night at The Classical Academy (TCA) I wore that same pink shirt, but switched to a pair of blue Docker’s, and sparkling white tennis shoes. My basketball team got a kick out of it! There was a sea of pink in the bleachers last night as TCA raised funds to send the kids of cancer victims and survivors to a special camp in the summertime.

We won our freshmen boys game! In the locker room celebration afterwards I told the boys, “This is the last time I come to a game dressed by a lollipop!”

Correct that! I would do it every game if it could help someone struggling with cancer or families that are living with heightened anxiety each and every day. I miss my friend Greg. As I told my classes yesterday, I wore the pink shirt to honor him and to remember him.

Thank God no one came up to me last night and tried to lick me!

Channeling Dr. Ryder

February 1, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                      February 1, 2018


Dr. Stuart Ryder was an institution at Judson College (now Judson University). A professor in the English Department for “centuries”, in his later years he also assumed the role of Athletic Trainer for the school’s sports teams.

Dr. Ryder was also a master of puns. His sharp wit would rise to the surface suddenly with a humorous line that caused occasional laughter and, more frequently, groans.

For example, before a cross-country meet one of the runners was walking around barefoot, and Doc Ryder voiced, “I guess we must be smelling ‘da’ feet!”

Now, decades later I find myself using puns in the middle school classrooms where I’m teaching to the groans of the seventh grade students. It is as if I’m channeling Doc in my attempts at witty humor. It emerged again this morning at Starbucks when one of the baristas was fixing a cup of tea as I walked up to the counter. “Just a minute, Bill! I’ve got to fix the tea before the customer gets here.”

I quickly channeled Stuart Ryder. “I guess it wouldn’t be good for the cup to be ‘emp-ty!’”

She chuckled and said “Good one!” Seven A.M. humor at Starbucks is greatly appreciated in the midst of bleary-eyed customers who are waiting  with heightened irritation for their first cup of java.

In the classroom “pun humor” keeps the middle school students alert. Some of it is too deep for them, but that’s okay! I don’t understand the math they’re doing either!

Dr. Ryder used to say a pun and then give a personal chuckle that involved some rapid and short inhaling and exhaling. When I utter a pun I just smile and look for understanding.

“Mr. Wolfe, see my baggie! I think someone stepped on my cookie that’s in it!”

“Well, I guess you could say that’s how the cookie crumbled!”

“Mr. Wolfe!”

Another situation while we were outside.

“Mr. Wolfe, I had my bag of chips sitting here on the rock and the wind came and blew the bag off. The chips went everywhere!”

“Gee, that’s too bad! I guess you might call that an example of ‘being chips off the old rock!’” (Loud groan in the midst of chip grieving!)

It’s Doc Ryder’s seeds from the past rising again in new life.

Our lives are cultivated by different people in a multitude of ways. Dr. Stuart Ryder planted, watered, and helped students grow.

Every time I find myself beginning a sentence with the words “I guess you could say…” I can hear the rumble of his laughter within me!

Creating Poets Without Beards…or Rhyme!

January 27, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                              January 27, 2018


I was given the opportunity yesterday to teach seventh grade Language Arts class. One hundred adolescents more excited about a weekend of doing nothing as opposed to fifty-seven minutes of literary creating and discovery!

The assignment for each period was to create a poem, based on an ancient form of Chinese poetry called “Shi” poetry. I explained the creative process to them, showed them a few examples and set them off on the road of pondering, erasing bad lines of gibberish, and creative expression.

“Mr. Wolfe, what do you think about this? “I have a flying dog who flies in the air like a pigeon.”

“Needs a bit of work!”


“Well, I’m not exactly sure where you’re going with this, but if you have a flying dog do you really need to repeat two words later that he flies? And, isn’t it enough to say it’s a flying dog, as opposed to comparing him to a pigeon?” He ponders, returns to his seat, and I notice he immediately flips his pencil to use the eraser.

A masterpiece just destroyed by a substitute teacher who doesn’t understand about flying dogs.

“Mr. Wolfe, what do you think about this?” He hands me his creation, which I carefully read.

“The season of winter has begin

The light will be dim…”

“Shouldn’t that word be ‘begun’?

“Well, I wanted it to rhyme with dim.”

“(Thinking the words but not saying them: Listen, Longfellow!) Begin doesn’t rhyme with dim.”

“Yes, it does…begin…dim…” He is trying to convince me that I’m in error.

“No, it doesn’t! And, anyway, you don’t need to rhyme!”

“I know, but I thought it sounded good!”

(Thinking the words again: “Well, it doesn’t!”)

There were other inspired students yesterday who impressed me with the depth of their thoughts and flow of meaning. Poems about the afterlife, death, and personal value were mixed in with other poems about chicken wings, watermelon, and having a rat for a pet.

The drudgery I sensed about the assignment was soon replaced with an excitement about personal expression. Even if the poem was about macaroni and cheese there was still a sense of pride about what had been transmitted from the pencil to the paper.

When students shared their creations they read them with smiles on their faces and the hope of recognition. When each student finished reciting we snapped our fingers together like we were beatniks from the 60’s.

A few poets may have been created in those moments yesterday, as well as visions of flying dogs who look like pigeons.