Posted tagged ‘middle schoolers’

Learning The (7th Grade) Language

January 26, 2020

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                      January 26, 2020

 

I never was very good at foreign languages. Being from Southern Ohio/Eastern Kentucky was like learning a second language in some ways, y’all know what I mean? It still was close enough to normal English that made it understandable. Spanish and Latin were my other attempts at learning a new language in high school and college. Let me just say that neither of them did much for my grade point average…well, except lower it!

Now I’m about to begin a new course of foreign language study: 7th Grade Language Arts. Okay, maybe it’s not technically a foreign language, but it is 7th Grade! That’s like a trip to a country located on the equator, full of smells and perspiration, unpredictable lunch combinations and wardrobe mistakes.

On Monday I begin an eight week teaching assignment with this interesting tour of kids that Triple A hasn’t created a road map for yet. I’ve substitute taught several days in the past three years for seventh graders, but they’ve been mostly one-and-done experiences. If I can learn this seventh grade lingo quickly I’m sure this will be an awesome experience, but I need to learn and translate at an accelerated rate. For instance, I need to learn all of those cultural symbols, like when a boy is wearing a scrunchy on his wrist. What does that mean? Evidently, it means that he has a girlfriend. Back in the old days a guy might give his class ring to his “squeeze” and she would wear it on a necklace chain around her neck. These kids entering adolescence do scrunchies, all fluffy and sometimes even pink!

So the conversation might proceed like this?

“Hey, you’re not wearing that polka-dotted scrunchy today.”

“That’s right!”

“Forget to put it on this morning or what?”

“We broke up!”

“Oh, sorry about that.”

“It’s all right. I’ve got someone else in mind. She’s probably going to scrunchy me at lunch today.”

“Why’d you break up?”

“She was too into herself, self-absorbed, you know what I mean?”

“Explain.”

“Yesterday she wouldn’t even share any of her Dorito’s with me. Had to have them all to herself.”

“That’s a killer to a long-term relationship. This new girl, is she more of the understanding and sharing type?”

He nods. “She asked me if I wanted one of her carrot sticks yesterday.”

“That’s a sign!”

All of that situation because of a scrunchy worn on a boy’s wrist! It’s just one of the “new world” learnings I need to cram for.

There’s also the hallway culture, a few crazy-eyed students who look like bulls released from the rodeo pins as they charge into the school in the morning; the espionage emphasis of others who look to sabotage the boy’s locker room with smeared deodorant sticks on the floor and walls; the “bourgeoisie” students who leave their trash for those of the lower class to pick up from the hallways and lunchroom tables; the silent minority who seem to walk in the shadows and not be noticed; the fashionistas who are more current with their wardrobe selections than their homework assignments; and the badge of honor kids who carry their band instruments to let people know that they are committed to horn-blowing and the jocks who wear the same pair of athletic shorts with a different Nike tee shirt everyday.

I will watch and learn, commit to memory new terminology and ways of rephrasing the same thoughts we’ve had, but in new ways. Maybe I’ll start talking in a new language, also, and then when I come home each day and see Carol she’ll tell me to “take a chill pill” and talk to her in our usual “AARP” language!

Yo! That’s what I’m talking about, Dawg!

The Kid Who Always Needs a Pencil

January 22, 2020

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                           January 22, 2020

                                

He comes into class with $200 Apple ear pods firmly in place. They are a sign to his peers that his parents will buy him anything. I notice that he surveys the classroom, deciding who he wants to greet and who to ignore. His $60 backpack gets dropped on his table like a sack of potatoes, and then he goes to infiltrate the ranks of unsuspecting students. His $150 pair of athletic shoes compliment the rest of his privileged life. Not including his clothes, I estimate his classroom value at over $400. 

Two minutes later I use my voice to blow the trumpet for the launching of class. “Have a seat and let’s get into it!” is my usual summons to order.

Ear pod boy plunges into his seat like he’s launching into one of the water slides at Great Wolf Lodge. 

I take attendance and then give the plan for the next 55 minutes. The kid who, by the way, the teacher I’m subbing for has left me a scribbled note about is in his own world of “peer-dom” pretends to listen as he dreams about the tall blonde two tables away. She looks his direction and he puts a hand on one of his ear pods, as if to convince her of his value and coolness.

“Today”, I tell them, “you’re going to be completing these two work sheets.” I explain what they need…textbook, copy of the work sheets I’ll hand out, something to write with. The kid is unwrapping a Pop Tart as I’m talking. Crumbs dot the sides of his mouth. If he’s trying to impress the blonde with his ear pods, he negates its effect with the remnants of the Pop Tart.

The work sheets get passed out and students begin to fill in the blanks. Five minutes later ear pod boy comes to my desk and says the words that he has spoken so many times before.

“Can I borrow a pencil?”

“You remembered your Pop Tart and your overpriced ear pods, but you couldn’t remember to bring a pencil?”

He stares at me with a blank look that conveys his disinterest in writing utensils. Pencils are not high on his list of priorities. The blonde is. Munching on a Pop Tart that he had to remember to get out of the pantry at home, that’s high! But to bring a pencil…to any class!…on any day!…for any reason!…that has not appeared on his radar yet! That’s what the teacher is there for, to keep him supplied! 

He’s a visual aid that communicates that the simplest things in life seem to be the hardest for some people to do.

Last Day of School Before Christmas Break

December 21, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                   December 21, 2019

                            

I agreed to it. It wasn’t like I was entering a dark unknown cave unaware of the dangers and unexpected holes sending me into the great abyss. I knew I was agreeing to substitute teacher on the last day before the school’s Christmas break. Some of the students had requested me. I’m still trying to decide whether that is a good thing or a warning sign, kinda’ like the army recruiter who smiles at the young buck standing in front of him and making him believe the next four years of his life will be simply a more mature version of Disney World. 

The last day of December school is frequented with sudden fits of stupidity as young adolescents all sugared up feel compelled to commit head-shaking acts of frenzied unintelligence because of their excess consumption of candy bars, peppermint candy sticks, and Starbucks Frappuccinos.

Teachers hold up surrender flags in the form of “Home Alone” and “Home Alone 2”. In reality, by 9:30 they’re wishing they were home alone and wondering why they didn’t take a sick day? 

The sound of shoes sprinting down hallways is common. Students wearing red Santa hats and adorned with tinsel is the norm. Ugly Christmas sweaters and students in Santa suits pass by almost unnoticed. 

In a couple of classes a few students suddenly broke out in song…off key, but still festive. One student blessed me with a candy cane and another with a container of baked goods that were meant for the teacher I was subbing for. When he saw that the teacher was gone he said, with great disappointment, “I guess you can have them!”

The political correctness of our culture leads some students into some degree of uncertainty as to what the right greeting/blessing is. Do they say “Merry Christmas!”, “Happy Hanukkah”, “Have a great break!”, “Happy Holidays!”, or “See ya’ next year!” I wanted to say “May the coming celebrated birth of the Christ-child be experienced in a deep way by you and yours!”, but I knew the typical middle schooler’s attention span wasn’t that long so I shortened my greeting to “Merry Christmas!”

The teaching staff did hallway countdowns as the day went on…”Three classes to go!” “Down to two!”, and words of encouragement “You can do it!”

When the final bell rang the walls of the school expanded as the entire staff exhaled in the realization that survival had been accomplished. 

Timberview Middle School, where I hang out, is a great school, great staff, mostly great students with a few warts thrown in that grab most of the attention. I almost always enjoy my days there, but Christmas break is longed for by everyone. It’s like the  opposite of the college student who comes home on Christmas break. Coming back and living with the parents is okay for the first couple of days, but then everyone is looking forward for the second semester to begin so Junior can leave again.

Having a Teacher’s Third Eye

December 7, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                     December 7, 2019

               

In many ways I’m clueless.

Don’t ask me about who is singing what song. I can recognize Bing Crosby singing “White Christmas”, but I’m a loser in identifying Crosby, Stills, and Nash. Same goes for the whole gaming area. If you ask me about “Fortnite”, I’ll look as lost as a child in the Chicago Futures Exchange.

But one thing I’m pretty good at is figuring out who to keep an eye on in any middle school classroom. My third eye, that is! I don’t have to actually keep my first two eyes on the student, it’s the invisible eye that knows and sees. 

Most of us who have been around the block a few times can still remember teachers we had in school who we couldn’t fool, and others who seemed to be oblivious. One of my high school teachers was so clueless that when he’d leave the classroom for a moment, students would climb out the first floor window and leave, while other students would climb into the classroom. 

Having that third eye is essential for classroom survival and control. Recently I was sitting in on a class who’s teacher I would be subbing for a few days later. The teacher told me that the class was made up of great kids, but there was one student who I’d have to keep an eye on. She said to me, “See if you can figure out who it is.” Even before the class had officially started I knew who the suspect was. She looked at me and I motioned with a slight nod of my head in the direction of the young man. She smiled and nodded back to indicate the accuracy of my choice.

Yesterday I had two classes of sixth graders in the afternoon. Same thing, my third eye knew who I had to be aware of. 

On the other end of the spectrum, a teacher can usually figure out who the students are who will help him steer the class in the right direction. It’s almost like having teammates who are on the mission with you. Whereas some kids will lead the herd to the edge of the cliff, the students who you praise God for will help the teacher in the pursuit of knowledge and understanding.

There are the kids who seem to think the world revolves around them and there are the students who have a desire to help make the world right. 

Oh, there’s been a few times where someone has gone undiscovered in their antics…like the boy a couple of years ago who was handing out Flamin’ Hot Cheetos that he had also doused with a hot sauce called “The Devil’s Blood”. I didn’t catch on for a few minutes. When  the fifth student came to me and asked if he could get a drink of water, as tears ran down his cheeks, I finally figured out something was up. 

Most of the time, however, I’m like a wise ole’ cat fully aware of the mouse trying to get a nibble of the cheese nearby. In each of the sixth grade classes yesterday I knew who had the potential to some day be on the FBI Most Wanted list before I had even finished taking attendance…and they lived up to their potential!

Middle School Speeders and Laggers

November 9, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                      November 9, 2019

                             

I’ve noticed something about middle school students. Most of them have gotten their speed controls confused. They speed when going slow is the wise decision and they go slow when speed is better suited for the moment. 

Somewhere along the line wires got crossed. Rewiring doesn’t seem to be an option now. Instead, teachers monitor the hallway speed zones and take note of slow-moving students taking their time to get back to the math or language arts class. 

For example, I substitute taught in a seventh grade science class yesterday. They were taking a test. Before handing out the three page exam, I emphasized that they should take their time and recheck their answers when they were done. Some listened, others didn’t. Fifteen minutes into test time several students rushed their papers to me like they were trying to be the first to buzz in on Jeopardy. 

On the other hand, I’ve noticed one student who seems to have to go to the restroom every class period. When he goes…to go…his classroom absence more resembles the Israelites’ 40 years of wandering in the wilderness. He never seems in a rush to “cross the Jordan” back into the classroom.

At lunchtime several students remind me of Joey Chestnut eating hot dogs at the Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest on July 4th. They throw their lunch items into their mouths without a need to taste what they’re eating. Their objective is to be one of the first ones to get to the GaGa ball pit outside. There should be a mandatory serving of peas and carrots for every middle school lunch. It would act as a dietary speed bump.

On the other hand, rarely will there be a student who is quick to pick up a piece of trash under or on their cafeteria table, especially if it wasn’t put there by him/her. The same student who is quick to grab a Cheeto from someone else’s bag treats a chip bag wrapper like the source for the Bubonic Plague.   

At 2:45 when the final bell rings to signal the end of the school day the scene is similar to a Walmart 5:00 A.M. Black Friday sale. Kids fire up their turbos and battle the hallways in a human sorta’ Dodge-Em Cars. Teachers stay to the sides for their own safety. To cross the hallway during these few moments is a recipe for becoming roadkill.

On the positive side I’ve seen several students in non-academic settings, such as Target or the supermarket or an Air Force Academy basketball game and they are quick to acknowledge me with a greeting. I was glad to see one of them because I couldn’t remember if he had ever returned from his restroom wilderness journey or not. 

Middle School Weirdness

October 26, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                              October 26, 2019

                           

When I walk down the halls of Timberview Middle School each day I’m taken back by the weirdness. The weirdness is a strange recipe mixture of cluelessness, pseudo-coolness, and a special spice of individuality. It goes like this:

“Mr. Wolfe, I can’t get my locker open and I’ve tried ten times.”

“Okay, let’s have a look.” We walk a few feet to a locker. “I see the problem.”

“What?”

“Your two inch thick backpack strap is hanging out like a human hand trying to escape jail.”

“Oh! So, you think that’s the problem?”

Then there’s the boys who take a clump of their hair and stand it up like a corn stalk with a rubber band or small scrunchie. If a boy wears a scrunchie around his wrist, evidently it means that he is “taken”! That is, a girl gives it to him because she likes him and he wears it to tell her he likes her back. Weird! The corn stalk hair, however, that just looks stupid.

The awesome kids who bring flavor to each of their teachers are offset by the few students who are committed to being bitter herbs in the midst of a great school day. They are the bite of “raw horseradish” in the midst of an apple pie. They come to school seeking to destroy class momentum and the grasp of concepts and ideas. One boy who makes me break out in hives has strengths in the areas of annoyance, immaturity, and inappropriate comments. He works well in a classroom all by himself, but in a classroom of 30 students he is determined to lead the Titanic into an iceberg. I have nightmares of a futuristic scene where he’s been cloned.

Then there’s the new fashion of jeans with rips and holes in them. Yesterday one girl had more holes than Swiss cheese in her pants. I remember the old days when my mom would iron on a patch over a hole in the knee of my jeans. A pair of jeans that needed a third patch ironed on meant it was time to go to J.C. Penney’s and buy a new pair. 

Weird! 

Yesterday a 7th Grade boy stood in front of his locker with an empty Dorito’s chip bag balanced on top of his head. I didn’t understand it, and I don’t think he did either.

There’s students who seem to have bathroom issues. That is, their need to go to the restroom happens about once every class period, but never during lunch and the few free minutes at the end of their lunch period. Put a mathematics calculation before them and they suddenly have irritable bowel syndrome. 

Every passing period there are a few students who walk down the hallway entirely focused on their cell phones. If the school hallway suddenly had a sinkhole they would be swallowed up…still looking at their cell phones until they hit the bottom. 

And in the midst of this climate of strange emerging adolescents are the teachers who seek to lead them to a brighter future through the jungles of their present. 

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”!