Posted tagged ‘middle schoolers’

The Specialness of Special Needs Students

September 28, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                   September 28, 2019

                         

I’ve been looking forward to bedtime these past few days. By 7:30 I’m being challenged to stay upright until 9:00. I’ve been teaching special needs students at Timberview Middle School. Let’s just say that I’m getting my steps in during the school day.

It’s a three week assignment that they asked to take on while the teacher is away. One week is done and I’m down three pounds!

It’s been amazing, amusing, intriguing, and educational. Each of the students has their challenges and their awesome characteristics. Each is unique in some way and just like any other middle school kid in other ways.

For example, yesterday I was teaching a lesson to a group of 8th graders about the American Revolution. I mentioned the Declaration of Independence that was signed on July 4, 1776, and then strayed off with the question about whether any of them have watched fireworks. One girl shook her head yes and then said “Katy Perry, Fireworks.”

Being the old guy who is immersed in the middle school culture and yet totally clueless, I asked what “Katy Perry, Fireworks” meant. That led to us pulling up the song on a cell phone and singing it together. The young lady wants me to work on it and sing it solo-style on Monday. 

And then there’s the 7th grade boy who I do math work sheets with. Each time he gets a problem correct he becomes a drummer with his pencil and the edge of the table. His pencils literally take a beating each day. One 6th grade boy calls everyone “Dude”, even the school principal, but has added “Mr. Wolfe” to his vocabulary now. 

The para professionals who work with the students, go to the regular classrooms with them, help them to the bathroom, and do special feeding for the ones who require it…are incredible! I’m like a fish out of water that is being saved numerous times each day. They appreciate the consistency of my presence and my willingness to help, my conversation with the students and communication with classroom teachers about assignments and daily topics, but they know I’m a green rookie. 

It’s a new kind of education. I’ve discovered the specialness of their personalities, the challenges of keeping their attention, the variety of “paces”…from the young lady that required 28 minutes just to get to the physical education class outside, to the 8th grade boy who I can’t keep up with as he runs to give his mom a hug at the end of the school day.

I see the strain on the paras, who must constantly be alert to the sudden changes in their students’ movements and decisions- the chance of a sudden fall, shift in direction, changes in mood, and need to go to the restroom. There is no down time. A couple of them are often bruised by the unintentional blows that they receive.

And yet the work is rewarding. It is a reminder that the most rewarding moments of life are usually uncomplicated expressions of delight and discovery. Understanding algebra is one thing, but having a challenged student consistently being able to correctly add another number to an “8” is another. 

I see other students trudging through their school days uninspired and uninterested. Most of the special needs students look forward to their school days. It is their daily adventure into a place of discovery and relationships. They walk to class with their peer partners and engage in conversations about life. It’s the place where they are challenged, but also cheered.

For the adults that walk along beside them, it’s an opportunity to see life from a totally different perspective. 

And for me? Well…come Monday I’d better be ready with “Fireworks”!

Middle School Cell Phone Addiction

September 1, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                     September 1, 2019

                                    

A few days ago NBC Nightly News ran a story about San Mateo High School, just down the road from Google headquarters. The school has instituted a ban on cell phones during the hours of the school day. Students put their phones in a locking pouch when they arrive at school and go to a staff member with the unlocking device at the end of the school day. There are exceptions for medical reasons and special circumstances.

The reason for the “lockup”, according to one of the administrators, is because the phones were having a negative effect on the educational environment of the school. One student also made the comment that at lunchtime “now students actually talk to one another!”

I see the addiction taking over the lives of adolescents, but also adults. I’m always amazed when I tune into a baseball game on TV at the number of people right behind home plate focused on their cell phones instead of the game that they paid several hundred dollars to attend. Or foru adults sitting at a restaurant table for dinner, each staring at their cell phone. 

Middle school students mimic what they see their older peers doing. They’ve even learned how to be sneaky about it. Most of the classrooms I substitute teach in have cell phone policies that stipulate that they can be used for educational purposes. Students use them to go online for sites such as Schoology and Google Classroom. The problem is that a number of them will be using them for gaming or social media and then quickly switch to Google Classroom when they see the instructor heading their way. 

At my school the consequence for being discovered is to have the student take their phone to the office where it will be kept until the end of the school day. Last year I had a student playing video games on his phone when the rest of the class was ten minutes into doing an assignment. I had him take the device to the office…but he didn’t come back! We discovered from security video that he had gone into the school library, found an isolated corner, and continued to play his video game. 

Some teachers have a “cell phone parking lot”, a bin that phones are put in when students enter the classroom and “unpark” at the end of the class period. Some teachers have become so frustrated that they don’t allow cell phones to even be seen.

San Mateo may pioneer a movement in the opposite direction from technology. My guess is that there are a multitude of teachers who wished they could be in San Mateo’s shoes. 

At the church camp this past summer where I was middle school camp pastor, we limited cell phone use to a couple of short time blocks each day, a half-hour in the afternoon and a half hour at the end of the day. It was amazing to see how the young teens connected with one another when their “cell buddy” was not holding hands with them.

BUT many of them ran to their phones like kids to free candy being thrown in a parade when they had permission!

Cell phone wisdom is needed. Proverbs 3:13 says “Blessed are those who find wisdom, those who gain understanding.” The word ‘wisdom’ is used 54 other times in Solomon’s sayings of that Old Testament book. Anytime a word in the Bible is used a multitude of times it means it’s a need, not just a want! It’s an essential, not a luxury!

Perhaps a class called “Device Wisdom” could help!

Nah! Students would probably learn the information, but not take it to heart. It would be like learning the state capitals- impressive, but not useful for figuring out the consequences of bad decisions. 

The Coach Makes Us Run 8 Miles

August 22, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                      August 22, 2019

                              

We’re a week and a half into middle school cross country season. Eight days, so far, of practice and popsicles. 

Our athletic office secretary received an email from a parent after the first four days. 

“Is it true that the coach is having them run 8 miles a day?” 

No! To this particular mom I could have replied that we’re having a hard time getting her child to run an eighth of a mile! He’s comfortable walking…everywhere and at any time!

In fact, he was one of three who were walking downhill! And it was only a quarter mile into a 1.5 mile loop we were doing. 

The tragically humorous elements of middle school runners are contained on a long list that stretches the course.

One of our other downhill walkers was bemoaning the belief that he had pulled a muscle…during warm-up stretching! He walked most of the way downhill to a park where our workout would consist of a special Swedish type of running called “Fartlek.”

Fartlek means “speed play”, but to middle schoolers it means something that causes tittering through the ranks. “Pulled Muscle Boy” walked and limped his way through the workout. When we finished I told our 70 runners that we’d be running the half-mile back to the school and we’d have popsicles if everyone got there in time…no walking! “Pulled Muscle Boy” was one of the first 15 back, even though he had to run UPHILL! I’m trying to figure out if we can dangle a popsicle in front of him for each run, kind of like the rabbit for a greyhound race. 

And then there’s the other end of the spectrum. Yesterday I challenged the top group of runners to run a four miler with one of our coaches. I left the invitation open for any runner in our second group to try it also. (We have four groups, dependent upon experience and capability.) Other runners in the second and third groups did three miles. Group 4 did 2 miles.

I was delighted to see that about 40% of the kids did the four miler, another 40% did the three miler, and most of the remaining 20% did the two miles. 

It wasn’t 8 miles, but half of it, and considering we have an hour and twenty minutes to meet, talk, stretch, run, and warm down, it felt like an achievement.

There are those in our number who are wondering what their parents signed them up for! A few were maybe under the impression that cross-country was some kind of travel club that would take them to see some places they haven’t seen before. They were partially correct. There are a couple of places where we’ve been running that they probably had not set foot on before the last week and a half. However, none of our places are in any travel brochure!

A couple of our kids seem to have digestive issues at a certain time each day, right after we get stretched out and are about to begin our run. Funny how they have to “run” to the bathroom about that time. 

But then I have a few kids who yesterday ran the three miles and then asked permission to run another half mile. Absolutely, I said! 

I’m hoping for the same enthusiasm today when we go through an interval workout that will test their desire and require determination and perseverance when whining will be the normal middle school go to.

And the promise of popsicles will be dangled in front of them!

The Messiness of Being Heard

July 26, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                    July 26, 2019

                          

I’m coming to the end of a week of middle school church camp, six days of weirdness, laughter, and tears. Once again, I’ve been in the role of camp pastor. It’s been my privilege and plight for several years now. Call me a “strange-o”, but I enjoy it!

To be given the opportunity to talk to emerging adolescents about what it means to have a walk with Jesus is awesome.

Towards the end of our week we have an hour that is labeled “Messy Games” on the master schedule. There’s a reason why it gets positioned towards the end of the journey. Going back to Young Life youth ministry philosophy, as a youth leader we “earned the right to be heard.”

In middle camp camp philosophy you earn the right to get messy. Shaving cream, egg yolks, chocolate syrup, maple syrup, flour, water balloons and canons…you earn the right to be the target that brings joy and accomplishment to the lives of middle schoolers.

I knew I had been heard for the previous five days when several kids plastered me to the point of being unrecognizable. 

I had talked about faith and they felt free to “foam me up.”

I had talked about showing extravagant love towards Jesus and they felt free enough to lighten my hair up with a few extravagant touches of caramel syrup.

I talked about believing that just a touch of the fringe of Jesus cloak, like the woman longing for healing in Luke 8, can change things…and they felt free to touch me up with streams of chocolate syrup.

Getting “messed up” is the middle school signature upon your acceptance letter. It’s their validation of your ministry and indication that you talked with them not to them.

Saturday morning means that it’s time to load up and head down the mountain, final embraces and goodbyes, the retelling of the funny experiences of the week and tears for what has been. 

I finally got the shaving cream washed out of my shorts last night. My ears have lost the sweetness of the maple syrup, and I know that I’ve been blessed.

Laughers, Lamenters, and Losers

July 13, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                  July 13, 2019

                        

I was telling my sister a story from my middle school substitute teaching experiences of this past year. It probably was the one where a seventh grade boy tried to hide in the library and play video games on his cell phone. 

She laughed and said, “Oh, Bill, you make me laugh every time you come to visit us!” 

Shortly after that we drove past a section of run-down houses and properties along the banks of the Ohio River that made us shake our heads and I said, “I’ve come to realize that there are those people in life who make you laugh, those you make cry, and those who just make you shake your head.”

Laughers, lamenters, and losers.

I’m in the laughing category. I had enough lamenting during my 36 years as a Baptist pastor. There was plenty a Sunday where someone who looked like they had been sucking on lemons before they arrived at church, continued siphoning the joy out of the congregation. When I retired…kinda’…at the end of 2015 laughter moved back in with me. 

Being a coach and a substitute teacher with middle schoolers brings multitudes of laughter into my life. 

Like the kid who decided he wanted to sit under his desk one morning as school was beginning. My advice to sit IN his seat went unheeded and so he found himself in the principal’s office before we had even said the pledge of allegiance.

Or the young lady who noticed that I was giving nicknames to several other students and she wanted one. So I named her “Beano”, which was just a slight variation from her real name. I heard her grumble to her friend, “Oh, great! He gives me a nickname that deals with farting.” The next year I changed it, after discovering what a great young lady she was and her level of intelligence. She became “Braino”. She liked that better.

I love to laugh. In most situations of life (Notice I said most!) I can find an avenue towards laughter.

Lamenters are those who have endured the traumas and trials of life and you feel for them. Long illnesses, tragedies, unfair circumstances, heartaches…the list of life events leaves the listener saddened and empathetic. 

There are some lamenters who feel almost at home in the residence of drama. They wear the moments like a dark sweater that fits well. 

Lamenters sap our energy. We hurt for them, try to walk with them, and offer encouraging words to them. 

My dad was a laugher and my mom was a lamenter. Through 65 years of marriage he encouraged her and walked with her. He loved her dearly and they were about as devoted to one another as a couple can possibly be. 

Lamenters aren’t bad people. They tend to simply be more pessimistic. Laughers are, more often than not, optimists.

But then there are the losers! That is, those people who just make you shake your head. They are the ones who after hearing what they did, you mutter to yourself, “What was he thinking?” They are folk who overslept the day common sense was being distributed, and tend to think that the solution to their financial debts is just one more lottery ticket away. 

Like the man in Oregon who burglarized a house, along with his cat. (Does that make his cat a “cat burglar”?) He was caught INSIDE the walls of the home. He had eaten two and a half cupcakes that were in the refrigerator, and had put on a “onesie” that belonged to the woman who lived in the house. The cat was wearing a tee shirt. It’s a story that you read and you just shake your head…”what was he thinking?” 

Laughers, lamenters, and losers, that pretty much sums up people. I suppose I could have come up with a few other “L’s” for categories like “Lame”, “Laid Back”, and “Leave Me Alone!”, but I’ll just LEAVE it at that!

Book Update

May 31, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                     May 31, 2019

                                         

Some (I wish a multitude!) have been wondering about the status of my first novel, Red Hot: New Life In Fleming. Let me use my space to give an update for those who are interested.

First of all, I’m getting an education about the tangled world of publishing. I’ve learned about the inner workings of “vanity presses”, the self-publishing world, and the maze of even getting heard in the traditional publishing enterprises. 

There are a multitude of writing voices that hunger to be heard. A writer can self-publish for a price if he so desires. The costs can range from $1,000 to $6,000, and the adage “You get what you pay for!” is proved correct in this area.

Traditional publishers HAVE to be sure a writing project is going to be profitable for them. Too many bad decisions will result in their doors being permanently closed. Publishers are not risk takers these days!

That takes me to step two! Having the book edited. Two dear friends of mine have partnered with me in the writing to this point. They’ve checked for punctuation, made suggestions, read the story for clarity, and offered encouragement that has kept me going. They keep telling me that THIS BOOK NEEDS TO BE PUBLISHED! There have been several occasions where, after meeting with them, I’ve gone off excited and motivated to continue writing the story. (I’m actually about a quarter of the way through Book 3, and I give them the credit for cheering me on!) Now, with their encouragement, I’m contracting with someone to do a professional edit of the manuscript. It is a person I’ve met and talked with who has extensive experience editing and publishing. 

When the editing is concluded, with the guidance of my friends and editor, we’ll figure out the next step in the journey. One of the common mistakes that authors fall into is being impatient and rushing the process. Realizing I’m not getting any younger, that has been one scenario that my friends have cautioned me about.

Writing is a joy for me. I enjoy the creating of the storyline, the twists in the plot, and the development of characters. My perspective on life comes out in my storytelling. So much of fiction is dark and depressing. Fiction does not have to be fantasy or inhabited by zombies. It can be a story that causes laughter on one page and tears a few pages after that. The two main characters in my book are very real to me. I see the image of who I was back in my middle school years in one of the characters…and who I wanted to be in the other. 

There have been other learnings along the way. Terms like “building a platform” and “what’s your hook?” keep coming up. I’m a clueless writer who is gradually getting a clue.

You see, there’s the writing…and then there’s all the other stuff! It’s kind of like a basketball game being the main event, but then there’s all the preparation and practice that happens before the game is played.

HOW MIGHT YOU HELP? Go to my blog site (WordsfromWW.com) and become a follower if you aren’t already. Publishers look to who the writer’s audience is and how large it is. They want to know if anyone is listening? AND tell others about it and ask them to become followers. 

It may be another year or longer before Red Hot gets into print. I’ll let you know if and when that happens. In the mean time I keep substitute teaching and coaching at our middle school. It gives me a constant stream of new writing material!

Counting Stupidity

May 26, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                     May 26, 2019

                           

A teacher friend of mine has been on a mission to create an app that would be able to measure the number of stupid decisions that occur in a typical school day at our middle school. He’s estimating that it’s around 200 acts of unintelligence AN HOUR! Fridays seem to be more, as if the students are gearing up for the weekend. Wednesdays are less, as if their energy level is lacking the ability to achieve the ridiculous!

Sometimes middle school kids clump stupidity together in such a rapid fire mass that it’s near impossible for the clicker to keep up with the number. For instance, any cafeteria lunch period is as populated with dumb decisions as Disney World is with Mickey Mouse ears. 

It’s kind of like this! Jimmy tries to squirt water from his water bottle into his mouth from three feet away (#1), but misses and hits Jenny in the back of the head with the spray (#2). Jenny’s friend, Molly, takes exception to the dousing and launches an apple slice back at Jimmy (#3), who dodges it and allows it to land smack dab in the middle of Dawson’s yogurt cup (#4). Strawberry yogurt ricochets from the container onto Dawson’s necktie (#5), which he is wearing in order to look impressive for a school interview activity. Sam, sitting next to Dawson, laughs at the sight of the yogurt on the neck tie so Dawson wipes it off with his hand and then rubs it into Sam’s hair (#6). The whole scene takes ten seconds, and yet is filled with 6 acts of stupidity. 

A few years ago a 7th grade football player was dared by two of his teammates (#1) to go into the girl’s locker room. He did (#2), and received a five day suspension, which caused him to miss two football games (#3). 

Then there’s the boy who tried to slide down the stairway railing on his stomach and fell a few feet to the bottom (#1), resulting in paramedics being called.

Or the 8th grade boy that I reprimanded last week for whipping a volleyball at top speed into a crowd of four students (#1), and then rolling his eyes at me (#2) when I called him on it! He offered excuses (#3) to explain his action, and then smiled at me (#4).

On second thought, two hundred acts of stupidity an hour might be low! 

Further analysis has revealed the effect of other factors on the count. Language Arts, for example, mostly experiences stupidity on the basis of boredom, like taking a marker and suddenly writing on the arm of the student sitting beside the bored classmate; or a student remembering that chewing gum is not allowed, so he slips it from his mouth to the underside of his desk to join with the other gobs attached there. 

Science stupid acts usually come during class periods where lab work is being done. The presence of test tubes, beakers, and microscopes are often seen as being tools for the accomplishment of mental dumbness.

And, of course, there’s the substitute teacher factor. Students tend to do stupid with greater frequency when a substitute is overseeing the class. Like the boy who was using his cell phone in class in non-academic ways (#1). I told him to put his cell phone on my desk. Two minutes later one of his classmates informed me that he had put his cell phone case on  my desk upside-down, but had kept his cell phone (#2). I told the offending student to take his cell phone to the office, where it would be held for the rest of the day. He took it in that direction, but when I checked a few minutes later the office secretary informed me that he hadn’t turned it into them (#3). The assistant principal for his grade and a long chat with him!

Next week it will be hard to keep up with the errors of the student’s ways. We’ll be cleaning out the locker room. They’ve been told, told, told, and retold to empty their lockers. Anything still in the locker room will be contributed to a local charity. I know that we’ll gather an unbelievable amount of expensive athletic wear, from $150 pairs of shoes to NBA player jerseys to baseball and wide receiver gloves. Numerous parents will have fallen for the whining excuse from their sons and daughters that the infamous criminal known as “Someone” stole their items!

And the parents will believe it!

And that’s just as stupid!