Posted tagged ‘middle schoolers’

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!

Dressing Like A Lollipop To Fight Cancer

February 3, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                           February 3, 2018

                         

Cancer has taken a number of my friends. Mike Wilcoxen sat beside me in “home room” my senior year off high school. The next year I went off to college, but Mike succumbed to cancer at the age of 18.

Jim Sweeney, Steve Shaffer, Gary Gowler, Professor Ted Hsieh…my list of cancer victims is far longer than my list of cancer survivors.

And then about fifteen months ago my friend, Greg Davis, 41 years old, passed after a six year struggle with a form of brain cancer.

And so yesterday I taught an eighth grade language arts class at the school where Greg taught social studies for fifteen years, and I wore a pink shirt with the words “Slam Dunk Cancer” on the front of it. In the midst of each class I told Greg’s story, his victories and his struggles. Each class was graciously attentive. It’s interesting that in my second class I got a bit emotional. It suddenly came upon me like a wave of emotional memories and I had to stop for a moment.

Last night at The Classical Academy (TCA) I wore that same pink shirt, but switched to a pair of blue Docker’s, and sparkling white tennis shoes. My basketball team got a kick out of it! There was a sea of pink in the bleachers last night as TCA raised funds to send the kids of cancer victims and survivors to a special camp in the summertime.

We won our freshmen boys game! In the locker room celebration afterwards I told the boys, “This is the last time I come to a game dressed by a lollipop!”

Correct that! I would do it every game if it could help someone struggling with cancer or families that are living with heightened anxiety each and every day. I miss my friend Greg. As I told my classes yesterday, I wore the pink shirt to honor him and to remember him.

Thank God no one came up to me last night and tried to lick me!

Substitute Teaching Sarcasm

January 19, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                            January 19, 2018

                                 

I love being a substitute teacher amongst middle school students. Each class is a new experience in “classroom culture.” It takes me about ten minutes to figure out personalities… or lack of!

Students who have me for the first time soon discover that I use sarcastic humor like sunscreen at the beach. I slap it on all over the place!

It begins with the student’s question: “Are you our sub today?”

“No. They discovered that I had never properly completed 7th Grade so I had to re-enroll for the rest of the year!”

“Seriously?”

“Would I lie to you?”

“Yes!”

“Okay! Yes, I’m your sub today.”

Or “When is Ms. So-and-So coming back?”

“She’s not!”

“What?”

“Her cover was blown. She was in the Witness Protection Program and they found her. She had to be relocated to another school in another state dealing with second graders.”

“Seriously?”

Or, a conversation that happens multiple times each day.

“Mr. Wolfe, can I go to the restroom?”

“You should be able to. You’re in seventh grade.”

Confused look. “So, can I?”
“If you can’t you’ve got some real issues.”

Starts to leave.

“Where are you going?”
“You said I could go to the restroom.” (Another student behind the student whispers: “Say ‘may I go’.”) “Oh, may I go to the restroom?”

“Yes, you may!”

“Coach Wolfe, I can’t wait for basketball to start.”

“Me either! And they finally replaced those backboards that you put cracks in last year.”

“Mr. Wolfe, why can’t we start school later, like about 10:00?

“Because you’re slow learners. It takes you longer to understand things? And wait until you get in high school and have to take calculus! You’ll have to start at 6 A.M. that semester.”

“Seriously?”

“Mr. Wolfe, I have a girlfriend.”

“Does she know it?”

“What…yes, she knows!”

“Mr. Wolfe, why do we have to go to school five days a week?”

“Because the teachers voted down going to school six days a week.”

“Seriously?”

“Would I lie to you?”

“Yes!”

“Okay! You nailed me! I have no clue!”

Yesterday’s subbing in a seventh grade classroom ended with a gratifying comment from a student.

“Mr. Wolfe, you’re the best substitute teacher ever!”

The question is…was she serious or being sarcastic?

The Blessing of Cluelessness

December 12, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                       December 12, 2017

                            

Recently I was sitting on the bench waiting for my 8th Grade boy’s basketball team to begin their game. The 7th Grade team had played right before us, and, after a post-game meeting with her team, the coach came out of the girl’s locker room, where the boys had been assigned to dress, and sat down beside me. She was laughing…one of those “I can’t believe I heard that” laughs.

“What’s going on, Coach?” I asked her, wanting to be clued in on the humor behind the chuckling.

“I just heard one of the boys say to one of his teammates as they stood in front of a machine anchored to the locker room wall, “Twenty-five cents! Who would pay twenty-five cents for a napkin?”

Sometimes middle school kids bless us with their cluelessness. The head librarian at the middle school where I coach told me a story about another 7th Grader who was reading an article about the Easter Island’s famous stone statues. He called across the library to her and asked her, “What does defecation mean?” She let him know that it means to poop. A strange look came over his face as he stared at the picture in the article. She watched for a few moments and his expression of confusion did not change. It was as if he was trying to figure out a math problem, so she walked over to see what was puzzling him. There was a man in the picture standing in front of the statues showing their massive size in comparison to him. Then she saw what the wording was underneath the picture. It said, “Easter Island stone statues are thought to be the result of deification.” The librarian chuckled as she realized the student’s confused look was because he was trying to figure out how the man in the picture had been able to poop out the statues?

Cluelessness leads us to moments of humored blessing!

One of the reasons I love teaching and coaching seventh graders is the heightened level of cluelessness that appears in their midst. I was the same way growing up! Perhaps my enjoyment has some connection to some of those past personal experiences. I see myself in the rear mirror of some of the seventh graders I’m walking by.

We often limit our understanding of blessing to the serene, the peaceful, the surprise gift in the mail, but some of the pimply cluelessness of adolescent life also falls into that category as well.

In fact, last week as I was substitute teaching seventh grade a couple of students were updating me on some of the middle school lingo that I was clueless about. They taught me what a couple of words meant and challenged me to use them in some way in my next class. When I did they burst out laughing! There’s something refreshing to students to be able to view cluelessness in their instructors.

God blesses us through wisdom and revelation, but he also touches the tickle side of our spirit through the innocent moments of cluelessness.

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!