Posted tagged ‘middle schoolers’

Sixth Grade Little Brothers and Sisters

December 1, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                      December 1, 2018

                           

It’s been a week!

A week of sixth graders, that is! One of the sixth grade social studies teachers asked me to teach the full week for him as he recovered from a procedure done on one of his knees. Five days of teaching the future Einsteins, Feinsteins, and Non-Steins; smart ones and smart alecks!

Some names stood out to me after each 57 minute class period. They were the warts in the midst of a beautiful experience; the ones that the teacher can’t trust with a pair of scissors because they may cut the hair of the young lady sitting beside them…without her knowing! They are the ones who in hearing the words “You may work with a partner on this!” view it as giving permission to cause chaos, the ones who intimately know what the inside of their assistant principal’s office looks like!

So…I remember THEIR names! If I had an acronym of the phrase “Problem Child” I could put a name with almost every letter…Pete, Robert, Octavius, Bubba, etc.

The interesting thing is that I COULDN’T remember the names of younger brothers and sisters of students I’ve had in classes the last two years. After five days of having them I still can’t think of their first names. I’d ask a question and a hand would pop up from a boy with dark hair.

“Jill’s little brother!” I’d say, acknowledging him. He looked hurt and befuddled, as if his eighth grade sister had a more prominent place in life than him.

Question: “What does longitude measure?” Up comes the hand of a girl with a never-ending smile.

“Little Smith!” I bellow as I look at her. Her smile continues because she sees it as a badge of honor. Her sister, now a high school freshman, had told her stories about Mr. Wolfe. In fact, she was the one who made my last name sound French by pronouncing it “Wolf-ay”!

There were four or five other younger brothers and sisters whose first names escaped my memory. Of course, when I was growing up some of my older brother’s friends called me “Little Charlie” or, after being immersed in their high school Spanish class, “Carlos Pequeno!”

It was the first Spanish word I learned! I guess I’m a bit partial towards younger siblings. I’m the youngest of three, the one who got the hand-me-downs, like my brother’s bicycle all beaten and battered and shirts with mustard stains dotting the fabric. 

If I have these sixth graders again I’ll graduate to calling them by their last name. That would be progress towards knowing their whole personality. The disturbing thing is that I only know the first names of the problem children, and I’ll make sure my youngest daughter (Our “Little”) has a list of names NOT to give any future grandchildren. 

As one boy asked me, “Mr. Wolfe, do you remember my name?” 

“Yes!” I respond, pausing for effect. “Starts with an ‘A’ and ends with a ‘G’!” He looks at me ready to correct my thinking, but I break in before he can say it. 

“Annoying!” 

He smiles, and, although he began the week filling out one of the letters on my acronym, we kinda’ like each other! I wonder if he has any younger siblings?

Coaching Moments and Conversations

November 11, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                 November 11, 2018

                                

I love coaching kids and adolescents! Just love it! Yesterday I finished my 18th year as boy’s basketball coach at Timberview Middle School in Colorado Springs. With a new league this year our season got bumped forward to October and November. (Now I begin high school tryouts tomorrow where I’ll be coaching JV Boys)

I enjoy coaching moments and conversations that leave my players smiling and chuckling. They are spontaneous and sometimes non-sensical! 

Like yesterday! I kneeled in front of one of my players who was sitting in the midst of the bench personnel. We were getting beat by about 15 points by the team that had gone undefeated as 7th graders and now as 8th graders. It was our fifth game of the day, after losing to them in the winner’s bracket final, coming back and winning the loser’s bracket, and now having to play them again in the final game. 

The player I kneeled in front of is a bespectacled 4’10” 8th Grader. I said, “I need you to grow 6 inches…right now!” He stared back at me slightly smiling. “Okay! I guess that’s not going to happen, so just go on in for Josh!” He went to the scorer’s table and I moved to the next player on the bench, a boy about 5’10”. 

“I need you to grow 6 inches…right now!” His eyes darted from side to side considering the possibilities as I paused. “Okay! Guess that’s not going to happen, so go on in for Tyler.”

I moved on to the third player. Kneeling in front of him and looking him in the eye, “I need you to grow six inches right now…okay, just kidding!”

A little later. “You need to be close to him on defense! Pretend it’s your girlfriend!”

“Coach, I don’t have a girlfriend.”

“No wonder! You keep your distance from her! She thinks you don’t like her!”

Confused look!

I channel Coach Don Fackler from time to time. Don mentored me in coaching back…like 25 years ago. I loved that guy! He passed away suddenly about 15 years ago and it’s the one funeral that I flew from Colorado back to Michigan to attend. 

As Don would say I now find myself saying, “You’re all discombobulated! Get organized! I need my point guard to figure out when we’re all discombobulated and pull it back together.”

Here I come again! “There is nothing in that right corner of the court that is worth dribbling towards. You planning on going somewhere?”

“No, Coach!”
“Cause you keep heading for the Exit sign, son!”

Bad shot selection comment! “Hey! Have you hit a three-pointer yet?”

“No, Coach!”

“That’s right! You’re 0 for November! So let’s consider a better shot!”

“Sorry, Coach!”

Left-hand gone missing!

“What’s that thing attached to the left side of your shoulder?”

“My arm?” replies a confused looking player.

“Why not discover that it has a purpose, okay?”

“Yes, Coach!”
“I would rather you miss a left-handed layup than make a right-handed layup that announces to everyone that you don’t have a lefthand!”

And then yesterday I subbed for a player who made a couple of mistakes. I kneeled in front of him and said, “You made some mistakes, okay! But that’s not why I subbed for you! Your body language is spelling defeat. Everyone makes mistakes, but when you start moping on the court…you might as well be sitting here!” I talked to the player’s parents after the game and they thanked me for letting him know that. 

I love these kids! I love coaching them, guiding them, helping them to figure things out not just on the court, but in the situations of life. 

At the end of our tournament yesterday we gathered together with our runner-up trophy and had our team picture taken by parents and our school administrator. I noticed that the 4’10” player was holding the trophy in the midst of the front row. He was smiling from ear-to-ear, but the trophy was hiding his face.

“Paul, would you grow that six inches I asked for so we can see your face over the top of the trophy?”

Eleven players and three managers couldn’t keep from smiling on that one!

Love that kid!

Dictionary Education

November 3, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                     November 3, 2018

                          

It has been a full week of substitute teaching- one day of 7th Grade Language Arts and then the last four days in 8th Grade Social Studies. I love teaching in a class for a number of days in a row. Next week I’ll have the same 8th Grade Social Studies for four more days.

8th Graders crack me up! They are as diverse as “Jelly Belly” jelly beans, but also with many similarities. They want to be liked and kinda’ cool without having to announce to everyone that they ARE cool! Most come to class not expecting to receive anything but homework and in-class assignments. So I like to do the unexpected with them!

For the 8th Graders on one day we closed class with a quest to find who could create the most stupid question with the answer being “Cream Cheese”. Call it “Dumbed-Down Jeopardy!” The winning stupidest question received a roll of Smarties! 

On another day this week a few students were finishing their classroom work early. 

“Mr. Wolfe, I’m done. What can I do now?”

“You can study for the test you’ll be taking next Wednesday.” (To tell an 8th Grader that he can study for a test that is a week away is like telling him that he can start preparing for the Graduate Record Exam to get accepted into Grad School.)

A non-verbal facial expression communicates that my idea is lame! 

“Or you could read a book.”

“I don’t have a book with me.”

“I’ll take care of that!” Twenty seconds later I come back to his table and put a dictionary in front of him. “Here.”

Confused eyes dart back and forth. “It’s a dictionary!”
“Yes, it is! A mind is a terrible thing to waste…especially the mind of an intelligent 8th grade student like you. Here’s what I want you to do! Start with the “J’s”! I think we may be “J-deficient” in our vocabulary, so expand your understanding for the next few minutes and tell me one word that is like a new discovery for you…okay?” I help him find “J” just in case!

His mouth is wide open and nothing is coming out of it. The other two students at his table who are still working on the classroom assignment are snickering.

Two minutes later another student falsely believes that he’s going to camp-out for the rest of the class period and pop Sweet Tarts as he does nothing. 

“All done?”
“Yes, Mr. Wolfe.”

“Okay, well…you can study for the test or read a book that you have.”
“Ahhh, I don’t have a book and I’ve done all the studying I need.”

“Well, that is awesome about the studying aspect of things, but since you’re so advanced I have something else for you to read.”

“Ahhh!”

“I’ll be right back!” A few seconds later I return with the Geographical Dictionary. “Here you go! Start with the ‘K’s’! I don’t think there are many places that we’re familiar with that begin with the letter ‘K’!”

“Huh?”

“An 8th Grade mind is a terrible thing to waste!”

Later on in the day a couple of other students discovered the treasures in “Q” and “X”. 

“Mr. Wolfe!” says the boy who is immersed in the letter ‘X’.

“Yes!”
“The word ‘xylo’ indicates something made of wood.”

“Really!”

“Yes! Like xylophone has the different keys made of wood.”

“Wow! I didn’t know that!” He seemed excited by the fact that he shared something with an old guy that wasn’t known.”

The next day another student asked if she could READ the dictionary! And I stood there with my mouth wide open!

Too Quiet To Think

October 13, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                   October 13, 2018

                                         

   My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry…”   (James 1:19, NIV)

Yesterday I substitute taught for a 7th Grade Language Arts teacher. The lesson plan for each class consisted of taking attendance and then taking the class to the school library (now called the LMC, which stands for Learning Media Center). The school librarian would then tell the students about a few new books the LMC has and they would spend the rest of the class period silently reading. 

Tough day! What did I do? Read some and did some rewriting on my book manuscript…plus, made sure the students were reading, not goofing around- a task that required considerable energy!

Libraries are not the same as they were…45 years ago. When I went to the Briggs Public Library in Ironton, Ohio you could hear a pin drop…and that pin better not drop again! It was quiet, studious, a fine place to locate one of the back wrenching volumes of the Encyclopedia Brittanica and do research on such interesting subjects as the Hoover Dam, mollusks, and the North Pole. 

Libraries today are gathering places, social settings in the midst of books and magazines, and gaming rooms. A place in Colorado Springs where I do much of my book writing is called Library 21C. It’s a great place…as long as you have earbuds! A few weeks ago I was sitting in one of the seats at the long window counter on the lower level. A man three seats away was doing a job interview on his cell phone. Good Lord! The librarian at Briggs Public would have grabbed him by his ear lobe and marched him to the door.

Things are different! Silence is no longer golden! It’s been devalued!

One of the 7th Grade girls, who is energized by the social aspect of life, didn’t seem to be reading the book in front of her yesterday. 

I’d scan the room and when my radar caught sight of her she would suddenly look down at her book. Thirty minutes into the class’s silent reading and she was on page 2. I walked over to her and said, “Hey! Let’s get busy!”

“What?”

I glanced at her book. “You’re on page 2!”

“No, page 3!”

“Okay! Page 3 and we’ve been here so long you should have read the book and written a book report on it already!”

Her eyes opened wide. “We have to do a book report!”

“No, no, no! I was exaggerating, but if you had really been reading you’d be further along than page 3.”

“I can’t think!”

“Why?”

“It’s too quiet in here!”

“What?”

“It’s too quiet! I can’t concentrate when it’s too quiet!”

“Are you serious?”

She nodded, and I realized that we were realizing- Okay, maybe I was realizing!- one of our generational differences. I read while I’m sitting in the swing on our back deck, or in my study, or at bedtime…all places where quiet and peace can follow me. This young lady operates in a world of chatter, instant communication that could better be named instant distraction, and noise. 

Noise has replaced silence as the new golden. Silence is now an indication that something’s wrong. Silence also indicates that we’re listening, and in a noisy world we no longer listen very well. 

And so what do I do in the midst of a culture that now values loudness and multiple mouths speaking at the same time? What do I do? I put my earbuds in and listen to the rhythmic noise of music to block out the noise of the other voices. I’ve resigned myself to the fact that it is my new silence.

The Hang Arounders

October 10, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                   October 10, 2018

                                     

At the middle school where I coach and substitute teach there are a few students who are like fertilizer. When you have them in class you can feel the gray hair growing in abundance!

They are the students who don’t function well in a structured classroom situation, or relate well to teachers and authority figures. They are the ones that consume 90% of a teacher’s attention during a class period, but refuse to do more than 50% of the assigned work. 

It’s not that they’re bad kids and prepping to be juvenile delinquents. They just don’t have a problem with being the problems!

When I substitute teach in a class where there is a student who falls into this category I don’t go easy on him or her. I’ve sent a few to the office or had them join me for lunch that day away from their peer group. BUT…I always seek to greet them in the hallway in a welcoming manner. In other words, no matter what their transgression has been they’re still kids to be valued. The educational journey with some students just has a few more bends and curves in it than the rest! Some students don’t slide easily from A all the way to Z!

In the last few weeks I’ve noticed some of these students who scowl each morning as they arrive at school…hanging around after school! When the 80% of the student body who aren’t involved in after-school activities has exited the building and headed quickly away as soon as that dismissal bell sounds, these few students DON’T leave! An hour after school, if they can avoid notice, they’re still roaming the hallways or hanging out somewhere on the building perimeter. For kids who dread entering the building at 7:30 in the morning they seem to have a hard time exiting by 3:00.

They hang around. 

I’ve gotten to know some of them, their histories and stories. The story is never the same. It would make for a good read if all of the personal episodes were combined together. There are students from single-parent families and students who would be going home to an empty house. There are students who live in two different households, one week with dad and one week with mom; and there are students whose parents would prefer that they stay at school for as long as they are allowed so that the parent doesn’t have to deal with them at home. 

School has become their safe place and their place of consistency. In a good way it doesn’t change. It can be counted on when the rest of their lives are in chaos. 

The teachers that they seem to enjoy terrorizing during class periods after 3:00 become the trusted adults that they gravitate to. A teacher that one of the “hang arounders” wouldn’t add two plus two for in class suddenly becomes the teacher the student is willing to run errands for, wipe down classroom tables, and share a snack with.

I don’t have any substantiated research data for this statement, just a feeling…an inkling…that school is where they feel valued and safe, that school is the place they can count on in their worlds where they’ve been disappointed and discarded too many times. 

And so they hang around for an hour, an hour and a half, not wanting to leave and, oddly enough, in a few hours not wanting to come back. 

Well…come back for class, that is! There’s work to do, new gray hairs to create!

Dear Mr. Substitute Teacher, I’m Sorry!

September 29, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                    September 29, 2018

                        

Dear Mr. Substitute Teacher,

I am sorry for how I acted in the class you were our substitute for yesterday. I did not act right. It may have been because I had two Hershey’s bars for breakfast. That chocolate sometimes makes me do things I don’t usually do. Like putting Vaseline on the top of your desk that caused your hand to slip, resulting in your chin hitting the edge of the desk. I don’t usually do things like that. That second chocolate bar put me over the edge!

After you got the bleeding stopped you somehow figured out that it was me who had done it. I probably would have ‘fessed’ up even if you haven’t figured it out. I shouldn’t have used my right hand in spreading it. I couldn’t hold a pencil for the first two class periods!

I apologize for that! 

And the constant chatter! You probably should have sent me to the office after the Vaseline thing, but you gave me a second chance, and I wouldn’t shut up. I don’t understand what came over me! Is there caffeine in a Hershey bar? 

It could also be the class subject matter. I’m a history buff, you know. I play Fortnite everyday! Coming to Social Studies class just seems to bring all of that knowledge to the surface that I need to share. I just get all excited and out of control. I apologize for my inappropriate loud bursts.

You are a great teacher that I hope will sub for my class again. I promise I will be perfect next time. If you let me know you’re coming to my class I will make sure NOT to have chocolate bars for breakfast, maybe just do some fruit and yogurt that day!

AND I’ll help you with the other students who may be problems for you! I know who they are, and am willing to give you some intel on each one of them. That’s the least I could do for you!

Oh, and you’re probably wondering about the picture of George Washington on the wall. Yes, I was the one who dotted his face with spit wads…one on each cheek and a direct shot right on the tip of his nose. They were great shots!…but probably not appropriate. You’ll be glad to know that I cleaned up his complexion after school yesterday, although I thought the spit wad on his right cheek improved his appearance a little bit. I can’t help it if I’m a crack shot with a plastic straw. You should see me spitting watermelon seeds into a bucket twenty feet away!

Once again, I wanted to apologize for my behavior. I need to do better. My goal for the year is to only get suspended from school once and I know if I don’t improve my ways I could meet and surpass that total by the time Parent-Teacher Conferences happen in mid-October. You’ll be happy to know that my mom says I won’t be allowed to play Fortnite during my suspension! 

Thank you for being nice!

Your Friend,

Johnathan Lee Davis, III

Be Kind or Be Kinda’ Kind

September 25, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                   September 25, 2018

                            

At our middle school, as any other middle school, there has been a lot of information and discussion about bullying- what it is and what to do if you are the person who is being bullied? 

This school year there has been an initiative to have students and teachers think about doing the polar opposite of bullying. It’s the idea of being kind. Teachers and administrators wear t-shirts that say “Be Kind” on the front. (I’ve got one of the t-shirts!) Since school is only into its seventh week it’s hard to make any “kind” of determination on the effect or non-effect of the initiative yet. 

Students ARE influenced by slogans and sayings, images and symbols, but I’m not sure how well a school can teach kindness. It’s on a different plane than learning algebra, what the functions are of the three branches of government, or the different body parts of a grasshopper are. 

From my Christian faith, kindness is one of the results that emerges in the life of a Christ-follower as he/she allows the Holy Spirit to take up residence in his/her life. Kindness, along with other characteristics like perseverance, self-control, and peace are called “fruit of the Spirit.” That’s not to say that someone who isn’t a follower of Jesus can’t be kind, but I’m more comfortable with the belief that the Spirit can develop it within my life than in the idea that it can be taught to be a part of our human nature. 

Middle school students are a bizarre community of many things- kind and thoughtful, self-centered and obnoxious, unorganized and wrinkled, understanding and supportive. Perhaps teaching and emphasizing kindness will cause a number of them to think about what they say and do before they do it,  but I’m hesitant to believe it will change them for a lifetime. It may simply make this school year a little more tolerable!

I’m not so naive as to believe that if someone is a Christian he/she is automatically kind. I know a lot of people who identify themselves as Christians who are simply jerks! I wouldn’t let them date my granddaughter or walk my cat (if I still had a cat)! 

Jesus modeled kindness for his disciples. His disciples were a bit clumsy in how they showed such a practice, but it finally sunk in. Early followers of Christ were known for their kindness. It grew out of their spiritual relationships and from the life of their community. 

Can schools teach kindness that has sanitized from anything resembling Jesus? Time will tell, but it may end up being more like a “kinda’ kind!”