Posted tagged ‘middle schoolers’

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!

Playing Hoops Against the 8th Graders

May 25, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                          May 25, 2019

                              

They hoot and holler as I emerge from the locker room wearing gym shorts, tee shirt, and lily white Air Jordan sneakers. Most of them haven’t seen me in anything but sweat pants or jeans. The paleness of the skin IS a bit alarming!

I’ve been their coach, but never competed against them. Today, however, is the Student-Staff basketball game, an event each year where players who were part of the school 8th grade basketball teams strut onto the court to teach their science, math, and social studies teachers a lesson. 

To them I’m just an old man who knows his “x’s’ and o’s”. They don’t realize that I have a jump shot and can see the court well, even though I take my glasses off when I play. The staff also has “Big Matt”, who measures at about 6’6”, a former college football player who can’t jump or shoot, but…hey! He’s 6’6” and beefy! He causes some of students to “reconsider” every time they have an opportunity to take the basketball into the lane.

Mr. Williams, seventh grade science teacher, has been playing at lunchtime with his students. He’s developed into a shooter, at least for this annual game! Mr. McKinney, despite a sore knee, is fundamentally sound and my coaching compadre!

But the students think that they are all that and a slice of Swiss Cheese! They only have five more days of middle school, and it’s time to leave their mark on the staff! To dominate and then leave like Clint Eastwood at the end of each of his westerns, riding off into the sunset.

One thing, however, that has remained consistent through the years about these basketball games is that the staff plays “team ball” and the students play as individuals. The bodies of the staff might be a bit achy and moving slower, but we know that the whole is better than the sum of the parts. 

Big Matt towers in the lane like Shaq and Mr. Reynolds, who teaches most of the players in social studies, is making them pay for not remembering the three branches of our government. He’s administering “justice” to them, “legislating” pain, and “executing” the game plan. By the middle of the third quarter the lead has hit double figures and keeps growing.

The crowd of students and staff watching from the bleachers cheer on their friends and foes and by the fourth quarter everyone is simply enjoying the event. I close out the game with a half court swish shot at the buzzer and smiles emerge from both sides. For the students, their teachers have become human. For the staff, the students have minimized their swag and enjoyed the moment. 

The next day the kids who I competed against greet me with high fives and looks of amazement. Instead of mentioning my pale-skinned legs they tell me that my sneakers are cool! Instead of my slow defense they talk about my half court shot! 

And what I don’t tell them is that I maxed out on Motrin the night before and soaked my aching body in the hot tub! They are the epilogue to the finished story!

Missing Middle Schoolers…Sorta’!

May 17, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                     May 15, 2019

                        

Dear Kids!

Perhaps a few of you have been asking the question this week that needs answering: Where is Mr. Wolfe?

Perhaps not!…but just pretend, okay!

I could not be with you because I had to be in another place, sailing down the Rhine River in Germany! It was a tough choice…spending a few days controlling the Timberview Middle School chaos, conversing with snotty—nosed sixth graders; trying to keep the attention of overly dramatic seventh grade girls, who are still under the allusion that Johnny with bad breath, facial hair, and an inflated ego, likes them; keeping an eye on Peter Picker, who has the unfortunate habit of picking his nose and eating the treasures; and providing security for any eighth grade class to make sure no criminal offenses are committed! 

Yes, sailing down the Rhine on a riverboat cruise, being pampered with exceptional cuisine, and twice-a-day maid service…or substitute teaching middle schoolers…tough choice!

But I DO miss you! Paris was lovely and romantic, but subbing for Mr. Frasca and PE class is the bomb!

I miss having to say to Gaming Gary “Are you on your cell phone?”, and then having the gaming guru get all offended and disrespectful because, as all of his classmates know, the world revolves around him and his ability to rise to Level 1,893!

I miss the high fives and singing “Happy Birthday” to Ava in my operatic voice, even though her special day has been in the rear view mirror for two months.

I miss tupperware salad lunches!

I miss the bleary-eyed looks and frizzy hair of the students, who obviously fell out of bed at 7:20 and were seated in the classroom 20 minutes later.

I miss the sharing of sarcastic humor with students who appreciate the personal attention and the fact that I actually know their names.

I miss the stories that are being created, although sailing along the Rhine with my wife is creating some new memories that are meaningful and do not involve any references to Sponge Bob.

I miss Mr. McKinney and how we play off one another in comedic dialogue.

I miss the high-pitched voices of the next rocket scientists and the apathetic attitudes of those future fast-food restaurant employees who are about as exciting as generic cereal!

I miss the opportunities to just hang around with awesome kids, be youth-enized by their perspectives and verbiage, and be delighted by their potential.

Some days when I substitute teach could be compared to discovering you have a big pimple on the end of your nose, but most days are more like adventures into a brave new world! Just keep bad breath Johnny away from me and remind me never to shake hands with Peter Picker!

Middle School…Because’s

May 4, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                              May 4, 2019

                               

It’s a big word in middle school, overused and misunderstood!

Because!

It arrives at the crossroads of question and answer or, better yet, confusion and illogical reason.

This week it made more appearances at our middle school than UPS. The packages were in different sizes and forms.

For example, yesterday a student was completing a math test. One of the problems had him deciding which choice was better…if you bought 10 oranges for $4.00 or 17 oranges for $6.49…and then to explain why you decided on your choice? The student chose the right answer, but he hadn’t given an explanation. I said to him, “Buddy (not his actual name)! You need to give an explanation.”

He looked at me with an expression of disbelief about my request and then placed the pencil lead on the paper and wrote. His words lay as flat on the page as his reason.

“Because it is!” That’s what he had written. “Because it is!”

“Buddy, that’s not an explanation. Because it is…that doesn’t explain anything!” He focused his eyes on me through the lens of his eyeglasses. “Why do you wear glasses? Because you do…is that the reason?”

He nodded yes. “No, you wear them to help you see. Because isn’t an explanation, it’s an excuse.”

He looked back at his paper and erased…the right answer and the explanation, replaced them with the wrong answer and the explanation, “Who needs 17 oranges anyway!”

Earlier in the week a student in one of my classes had been caught playing video games on his cell phone in the midst of class, a no-no for seventh graders! I had him take his phone to the office, but then he never came back to class. Later on the security person found him hiding in the library. During lunch he came back into the classroom to get something. His quick look towards me conveyed irritation and anger. I had probably interfered with a career high in his game score.

I asked him why he hadn’t come back to class after taking his phone to the office. His eyes were doing bodily harm to me as he answered, “Because I didn’t want to!” There it was! The pathway to understanding…the word that our parents used on us followed by the tail ending of “I said so! And that’s the only reason you need!”

If an educator begins a question with the word “Why” there is a good chance the student will answer with a “because” statement. The probability of “because” increases as the end of the school year approaches. 

“Why did you set off firecrackers in the cafeteria right by the nacho bar?”

“Because!”

“Why did you think it was okay to wear a tee shirt with the middle finger prominently displayed on it?”

“Because…the shirt was clean!”

“Why did you throw his shoe on top of the building?”

“Because I wanted to see if I could do it!”

Of course, why do 12, 13, and 14 year olds do a lot of the things that they do? And, in a few years new ages will be inserted into that statement! And then many times in the years following it will be said again about adults…adults at tailgate parties, adults speeding down turnpikes, adults trying to cheat on tax returns and/or their spouses. 

Because becomes the answer to the unexplainable and actions that have not wisely been thought through. And why is that?

As Buddy would say, because it is!