Posted tagged ‘middle schoolers’

Mr. Wolfe'(“Wolf-ay”), Substitute Teacher

December 6, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                          December 6, 2017

                               

Almost a year ago I had an unusual bonding experience. I got a phone call asking if I would do a long-term substitute teaching position for a month at the middle school I also coach at. The call came on Friday and I started the next Monday. I was as green as week-old guacamole when I arrived at 7:15 that morning of January 9th. The principal’s granddaughter was in my first class!

It was 7th Grade Social Studies and I admitted to the class that there were a lot of things that I DIDN’T KNOW as I started the journey. On the board in front of the classroom I made three columns of marks to indicate all the things I didn’t know…and then to the right of that a column of things that I did know that included about three tiny marks under it.

The class was held in one of the portable classrooms outside the school building, and on the first day high winds that registered as much as 110 miles an hour in the area made the classroom shake like a 7th Grader standing in the middle of the principal’s office. The school district cancelled afternoon bus transportation because a couple of trucks had blown over.

That was the first day of my new experience…and it was awesome! We laughed together each day in our pursuit of knowledge and figuring out the world. Each day the 125 students that entered my classroom taught me as much as I taught them. They knew things would be a bit different when I showed a Duck Tales cartoon to introduce our study of how inflation worked.

And then one day a couple of the girls were playing around with how to pronounce my name and they suddenly made me French. Wolfe became Wolfe’, pronounced “Wolf-ay”. To be fair, I had turned a couple of their names into French-sounding mademoiselles first and they returned the favor.

After my month-long stint I was a bit depressed at no longer heading to the portable classroom each morning. The other three teachers on my team asked me why I hadn’t applied to be the new teacher and were a bit surprised when I told them that I did not have a teaching degree. I was simply a state certified substitute teacher.

Those three teachers would call me to sub for them, and for the rest of the school year I was in one of the portables several times each month.

Now…Year Two…word has spread about the substitute with the French name and the new seventh grade students have joined the parade of students who have made me a French-Canadian. I walk down the hallway and have students yell my name. Yesterday I was subbing for Physical Education, today I have seventh grade language arts, tomorrow eighth grade science, and Friday seventh grade science.

And it’s awesome!

Hearing My Parents Speaking…Through Me!

October 29, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                        October 29, 2017

                      

My mom passed away four years ago but I heard her voice this past week! It came up through my lungs and spoke to the seventh grade boy standing in front of me. He had made an unwise choice because some of his friends had made the same choice before him. In other words, since his friends had done something stupid he decided to do the same stupid thing. Before I knew it my mom spoke to him.

“If everyone else jumps off the roof are you going to jump off, too?”

There she was, coming back to life through her youngest child!

I find that happening a lot these days, especially as I deal with middle schoolers.

“Were you born in a barn? Close the door!”

Once in a while my mom’s voice comes through as I’m approaching my wife and I say to her, “Kiss me, slobber lips! I can swim!” When my mom would say that to my dad he would pucker up. With Carol, however, there is a quick retreat to a different room in the house.

My dad often begins a statement or comment with the word “Well”. “Well, I was at the store last week and bought some Kahn’s Bologna!” “Well, there was a time when we didn’t have anything but beans to eat for dinner.”

Now I find myself saying “Well…” as often as I swallow.

I look at a dinner bowl with a little bit of food left in it and hear my mom behind me saying, “Bill, eat this last bite. There’s just enough left in it to dirty the dishwater.” I hear that even though we haven’t filled the sink with dishwater for ages. We use the dishwasher!

I look at my shoes sitting in the floor and have echoes of the evaluation I would receive growing up: “Bill, get in here and clean up this room. It looks like a cyclone hit it!”

This past week a seventh grader who was a little full of himself was dictating something to a classmate…and I said it. “Who died and made you king?” A little later I refused a request from the same student and when he asked me why…the words flowed out of me as naturally as water out of the kitchen faucet. “Because I said so, and that’s the only reason you need!”

I am the product of my parents. When I was a teenager I probably would have punched someone if he said to me “You’re just like your dad!” But now I’d take such words directed at me as a compliment!

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?”

Putting Football Pads on 60 pound Boys

August 19, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                           August 19, 2017

                                

I began my thirteenth year of coaching middle school football this past Monday. Over the years the school where I coach has had a few good sized boys…and many, many other boys who could be blown away by the wind. As coaches we don’t know if it’s the water or what, but we are surrounded by lightweights.

In our equipment shed we have different container bins that are filled with practice pants and girdles that contain the football pads in them. Some bins contain adult sizes and other bins contain youth sizes. After handing out equipment the first day the youth-sized bins are depleted…and the adult-sized bins are now just barely below the top of the bin!

Boy after boy with high-pitched voices checked out their equipment with me. Not once did I need to say, “Your voice is too low. Can you speak up so I can hear you better?”

As player after player tried on equipment I was reminded of the biblical story of David trying on Saul’s armor! I tried to envision a slingshot in each of their hands, but as three of them put their practice jersey on backwards my hope in pint-sized conquerors was waning!

Our participation numbers took a dip this year, as concerns about the long-term and immediate effects of concussions have intensified. BUT the dip was not in sixty pounders, but rather in those double that weight. One of the biggest boys in the school, who can also chew gum and walk at the same time, decided not to play because he was worried about getting hurt. The “Little Freddie’s”, who can barely reach the urinal in the restroom, are out in mass though!

Hey! I was one of those Freddie’s back in the day! I needed “Youth Extra Small” as my size when I was in middle school. There was not another student smaller than me in my class no matter what gender you’re talking about! I know what it feels like to be the smallest. Our team however is like landing in Munchkinland in The Wizard of Oz! Our school nickname is the Timberwolves, but we’re thinking of renaming ourselves the “Tiny-Wolves!”

BUT…yes, there is a BUT…most of these sixty pound packages play with heart. Just like when David stepped forward and volunteered to go one-on-one against a giant, while the men twice his size were trying to become small, these mini-mites have heart, hustle and fearlessness. In football, which is a sport that is uncomfortable to play, those attributes make up for a lot of pounds. Over the years I’ve had massive boys who didn’t want their pants to get dirty; boys who were huge, but had no heart, hustle, and even ran from their own shadow.

So maybe our team story this year, our motivation, will be the David and Goliath story of a shepherd boy taking a nine foot giant to the ground!

That reminds me! I need to order a few more pairs of “Youth Small” practice pants!

“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!