Posted tagged ‘middle schoolers’

Middle School Track Practice

April 7, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                               April 7, 2018

                               

Track practice started this past Monday…middle school track practice. An assortment of short and tall adolescents gathered for the uncertainty of what would happen on the outside oval.

Questions abounded…would the coaches run them so much they would fall down and throw up? Would they astound the world with their performance? Would people be looking at them as they trudged around the track? Would the one of the opposite sex, whose attention they desire, notice them? Would their uniform fit? Did they have the moxy to stay with it?

One hundred and twenty seventh and eighth grade students…wondering about what was ahead!

Coach McKinney gathered them together and shared his excitement about having all of them there. Some of them were grizzled one year veterans, having run as seventh graders. Others had the “deer in headlights” look about them.

“Coach Wolfe, what are we going to do today?” asked a paranoid seventh grade girl who I know.

“I think we’re going to warm up with a five mile run around the neighborhood and then do an interval ladder series, and then probably cool down with a two mile jog.”

Eyes as wide as the Grand Canyon, as she reconsiders whether she can switch from track to intramural golf.

“Just kidding! Actually, I’m not sure, so we’ll find out together!”

Exhale of relief!

Coach McKinney forewarns them that Colorado weather is unpredictable and emphasizes the importance of making sure they have the needed clothing. He makes the point that some days they may need to have layers of clothing. On Friday the temperature drops to 25 degrees with a few snow flurries. The seventh grade girls, who I am the coach for, run to me as soon as I enter the gym.

“Coach Wolfe, we aren’t going outside today, are we?”

“Yes!”

“But it’s cold!” whines the young lady wearing athletic shorts and a tee shirt.

“Yes…yes, it is! So, make sure you put your hoodie on and sweat pants also!”

“But I didn’t bring anything! I didn’t think we’d be going OUTSIDE!” (Emphasize whiny voice!)

“We will ALWAYS go outside unless the school administration says we can’t.”

WHINE: “Coach Wolfe!”

I smile at her and she gets the hint that whining will not change the location of our practice. At the end of practice we pass out team uniforms and sweats. The students welcome the sweats like they are Christmas presents!

As the week has gone on certain runners have impressed. Others have needed encouragement and words that instill confidence in them. Two new students- one from California and one from Florida- have used the week to get used to the 6,000 feet altitude, after coming from sea level. Pained facial expressions bring words of empathy from the coaches.

The coaches time everyone on different days during the week on the 100, 200, 400, 800, and a run around the high school and middle school campus that is close to a mile. Everyone finishes every race!

At the end of Friday’s practice a hundred and twenty students are still smiling. No one has asked for a transfer to golf, but everyone is praying for a warm Monday afternoon!

Don’t Do Stupid!

April 7, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                    April 6, 2018

                           

In my adventures as a middle school substitute teacher and coach I have experienced a number of students who have strayed into that strange land known as “Stupidity”! It is a place whose only borders are common sense and reasoning.

Sometimes students stray into this dark territory like lambs who have lost their way. A few seconds of their life that dumbfounds everyone around them suddenly finds them standing at a point where the question comes too late: What was I thinking?

And so I tell the students that I coach at the beginning of the season the three words:

“Don’t do stupid!”

I explain to them that my incorrect verb usage is on purpose, because “stupid” is not who a person is, stupid is a choice! Someone chooses to do stupid!

Most middle school students do not have the ability yet to think of long term consequences when it comes to crossing over the Stupid boundaries. I remember one of my basketball players years ago who “de-pantsed” another boy at the beginning of one of our practices. He did it in the middle of the gym and, unfortunately for him, he did it right as the assistant principal was coming into the gym. It was funny for a few seconds…and then he received a five day suspension!

I’ve noticed trends in the treks to Stupidity. Eighth grade boys tend to be tempted the most to cross over. For some it’s the thrill of the ridiculous, the stories that they will tell years later at class reunion gatherings. They are reincarnations of “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off”!

Eighth grade girls are a bit more hesitant, or, optimistically speaking, wiser. They think about it longer, but, as a result of that, are also a bit more devious when they sneak into the forbidden zone. Their head-shaking exploits often involve a cell phone that they look at more often than the world around them.

Seventh grade boys follow closely behind, swayed by stories of their predecessors. Their exploits are usually void of creativity. They’re things like throwing a pencil at someone or pulling a chair out from another student who is just about to sit down. Some seventh grade boys, however, are building reputations for being citizens of the land of Stupid. Ask any seventh grade teacher about two months into the school year who the “suspects” are and they  know the ones who have applied for citizenship status in Stupidity.

Seventh grade girls infrequently come close to the border. The ones who venture across usually are verbal in their transgressions, saying words that are hateful and demeaning. Rarely do they stray over in ways that are physically dangerous or do the stuff that legends are built on.

Stupidity lurks in the midst of each school day. It’s sweet aroma draws in its prey at a moment’s notice. Some students do things at school that would curl the toes of their parents if they knew about them. There should be billboard pictures of mom and dad all along the border into Stupidity. For most students, parental fear is a good deterrent!

If pictures of my mom and dad had been plastered on my school desk I would not have made some of my journeys across the border when I was a middle schooler. Since they weren’t staring me in the face, however, I ventured into Stupidity every once in a while. Fortunately I was always “just visiting!”

Teacher-Parent Conference

March 26, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                           March 26, 2018

                                 

Dear Mrs. Jones,

It was very considerate of you to offer to have a conference with our teaching teammates, but we have decided not to take you up on your offer. Meeting us at the fitness club at the conclusion of your workout before you even have a chance to go for your spa treatment and shower was a strong indication of your desire to fit us into your schedule.

But then to offer a second possibility of a conference at your favorite Starbucks sometime between two and four o’clock so you can get double your Starbuck’s rewards…well, that was taking self-sacrifice to a new level!

I know you have concerns about how we have been teaching Johnny Junior the essential knowledge and skills necessary for him to be successful next year when he enters 8th Grade. Believe me, we understand that pre-algebra is a challenging subject to master, but most students need to pass it before they take algebra. We understand the difficulty of that task, especially when Johnny Junior has missed so many days of school because of the two different five-day suspensions and your family’s twelve day vacation to Disney World during the two school weeks preceding the week-long Thanksgiving break.

We understand your opinion that the first five-day suspension because of the sexually explicit remarks and inappropriate physical contact he made on several occasions to a female student was excessive, but it followed school policy and guidelines. I’m sure it was comforting to find out the family decided not to press charges.

And the second suspension also followed school discipline guidelines. It’s unfortunate that the bottle of whiskey was mistakenly placed in Johnny Junior’s backpack. I’m sure his father felt terrible when he realized that he had accidentally placed it in the backpack as opposed to his suitcase for the business trip he was about to embark on.

We recognize, as Johnny Junior’s teachers, what a burden such events and family vacations have placed upon him. We apologize for being underachieving teachers. We really do want Johnny Junior to be successful, and we will try to adjust to the challenges ahead. We know you’re seeking to accommodate us as much as you can, letting us know ahead of time of Johnny Junior’s absence the week after Spring Break because he will be at the NCAA Hockey Frozen Four games in Minneapolis.

We will try to do our best. With his suspensions, vacations, and also sick days he’s been out of school almost forty days so far. We’ll try to step it up as his educators and overcome that challenge. After all, being in class sometimes get overrated. If you do the homework assignments you’ll get the jest of things.

Speaking of homework, we’re missing a number of Johnny Junior’s assignments. We know you suggested that he turned them in and that we were not very responsible teachers in losing them, but our team of teachers has talked about it. Ms. Morton, his social studies teacher, distinctly remembers when one day she asked for the homework assignment to be handed in, gathered them up, and Johnny Junior looked at her and said he hadn’t done it. Could it be that there were other occasions when he didn’t do the assignment also? We know that’s an assumption on our part, but we were just asking.

We hate to bring this up at this time, but Johnny Junior may be facing another suspension, although this could just be a three day instead of a five day! The assistant principal will probably be calling you today to give you the details and consequences. Johnny Junior was having a bad morning probably as a result of skipping breakfast and relying on the nutritional value of a Venti Vanilla Bean Frappuccino from Starbucks to get him through the tough grind of Science class followed by Language Arts. He probably didn’t mean it, but he called Mrs. Case a couple of derogatory names. More specifically, “a big fat pig”, followed closely by a comment heard by the whole class about the size of her back side. Since everyone heard at least the second derogatory remark Mrs. Case really had no choice but to send him to the office. The good news is that the office staff knows Johnny Junior well so they don’t have to fill out a lot of personal information sheets all over again. His is on file…right in the front so that it’s easily accessible.

Thanks for your understanding about not being able to meet with you at your request. Sometimes Johnny Junior will have teachers who just aren’t with it. Between the four of us on our teaching team we’re now at seventy-four years of classroom teaching. That means a lot of things, but one of the downsides is that we just don’t seem to adjust that well to special cases like Johnny Junior. Perhaps in another ten years or so we can acquire those extra needed skills and quantity of patience to be able to handle things better.

If, by chance, you would like to meet with us during the two days of parent-teacher conferences provided for parents please let us know. There are still several open slots available and it would only require twenty minutes of your time here in one of the actual classrooms that Johnny Junior comes to.

Expressing My Opinions…and Knowing People Disagree!

March 22, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                       March 22, 2018

           

Crotchety…that’s what we would call old embittered men who walked around with scowls on their faces, mad at the world, and complaining about today’s youth.

I think I’m becoming crotchety! I seem to be shaking my head a lot these days, not necessarily at today’s youth, but the world in general. If you would like to draw a scowling face beside the page right now to characterize me, go ahead! If you are using an iPad do not use a Sharpie!

Opinion #1- Adults are pulling kids out of childhood like it’s a disease! Ever seen one of those TV show episodes about child “pageants” where a six year old is made to look like she’s twenty-six? As my Papaw would say, “Lord, have mercy!” Too many parents have bought into the lie that if little Johnny plays baseball year-round and gets expensive extra personal instruction from a hitting coach that he will receive a college scholarship down the road. Meanwhile, little Johnny would just like to play with his Lego’s for a while! Adults have minimized the importance of letting kids grow up gradually. The same development of a seed that becomes a bean plant should be used for our children. One day at a time and one stage at a time.

Opinion #2- The NCAA Basketball Tournament selection process is fixed! If money is connected to every tournament win, how much is the selection committee listening to the West Coast Conference versus the ACC? If strength of schedule is a deciding criteria for mid-major conference teams to be invited, how many Power Five conference teams turn down games with Western Kentucky and St. Mary’s in favor of Bethune-Cookman and Houston Baptist? Arkansas-Pine Bluff gets invited to play AT other arenas (Their first 13 games this season were on the road!) not because they’re expected to win!

Opinion #3- The public library has become a noisy place! Remember when you were expected to be quiet in the public library so people could focus? Last month the guy two seats away from me was doing a job interview on his cell phone! This week three people were gathered around a nearby table having a meeting. Where have the cranky librarians gone off to who elicited fear in those present? AND, half the time as I’m approaching the entrance or leaving afterwards there is someone trying to get me to sign a petition or Girl Scouts selling cookies. I know what you’re thinking…I’m really, really crotchety, but I’ve put on five pounds in the last month!

Opinion #4- My mom used to throw away blue jeans with holes. Now someone gets paid for putting holes in them! Actually, my mom would turn my jeans with holes in the knees into shorts! I don’t understand fashion, but I guess I prefer jeans with holes over sagging pants any day!

Opinion #5- Teens can’t go to the bathroom without their cell phones! With that exceedingly crotchety statement I’ll conclude my rant.

I had a student in a class this past week who asked me how old I was? I asked her how old she thought I was, thinking she’d mention a figure that began with a 4 or a 5, and she replied, “I dunno…70!”

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!

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!

Temporary Disfigurement

February 5, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                 February 5, 2018

                              

My wife and I went to see the movie Wonder a few weeks ago. We found ourselves shedding a few tears during the film, which followed the story of a fifth grade boy named “Auggie” who had Treacher Collins syndrome. Because of his condition Auggie would wear an astronaut’s helmet around whenever he was in public. He dreamed of being an astronaut because in space no one sees the faces of others.

Ten and eleven year old kids can be cruel, but they can also be compassionate. Auggie experiences both ends of the pendulum as it swung from classmate to classmate.

I was deeply moved by watching the film and pondering its messages. Weeks later I’m still thinking about it!

And then Saturday morning I woke up with a rash on the side of my face that made me want to put on an astronaut’s helmet…or paper bag. By Saturday afternoon I looked like I had a huge chaw of chewing tobacco between my left cheek and gum (Not that I’ve ever done that, but I was born in Kentucky! Half the barns in the state used to have “Chew Mail Pouch” painted on one side!).

The past two days I’ve had a few “Auggie moments”. That is, I’m very self-conscious of my face and I assume that everyone I see is looking at me. There’s a sense of embarrassment tied into it. I don’t feel normal, and normal is what all of us want to be unless we’re doing something that our culture thinks is extraordinary.

Lessons are learned in the abnormal moments of life.

This afternoon middle school boy’s basketball tryouts begin. It’s my seventeenth season coaching at Timberview Middle School, and it’s the seventeenth time I will see the uncertainty of seventh and eighth grade boys as they deal with the uncomfortableness of being watched by coaches and other boys who they feel inferior to. Perhaps God gave me this rash to help me empathize with the pressures of being a twelve year old.

Actually, there’s that hint of uncertainty and inadequacy in any middle school child. With some it just might be a little deeper below the surface, but it’s there. Much of the time he or she simply stays out of situations where it has the potential to rise to the surface.

I can relate. In my few trips out in public the last three days I’ve tried to stay to the left so the left side of my face is away from people. Three months from today I’ll turn 64 and I’m still sensitive to my insufficiencies!

I’m simply a self-conscious adolescent in an elderly shell!