Posted tagged ‘RED HOT novel series’

Knowing Who You Are

January 15, 2022

LIFE LESSON (from the Red Hot Novel Series): Knowing who you are is more important than who people perceive you to be.

Earvin Johnson is six-feet, nine-inches tall. Better known since his days at Michigan State as “Magic” Johnson, Earvin grew up in Lansing in the shadow of Spartan Land. I wonder how many of his coaches assumed he was a post player, a center, before anyone realized that he was a point guard who simply didn’t fit into the perceptions of what a point guard looked like? You see, 6’9″…even 6’4″…was more often than not viewed as the player who would be down low, on the block, close to the basket, the rebounder.

Perceptions and a-rush-to-judgment are hard to change. So often younger siblings are seen through the same lens as their older brothers and sisters. A have a student who is the youngest child in a family with four kids. I coached her two older brothers in basketball and assumed, since she is tall, that she would be a hoops players as well. Instead, she has other interests not connected to athletics, is a great student and a great kid. I’m sure, however, that she has had to answer the question, “Do you play basketball like your brothers?”

Middle school and younger high school students get pressured by their classmates and friends sometimes to be who they aren’t. I’ve noticed a few eighth-graders this year who, as seventh-graders, were responsive, respectful, and made good decisions, but have been drawn into groups where wisdom and common sense have taken a leave-of-absence. They’ve allowed their identity to be reshaped in order to fit-in and be accepted. It happens quite often in those years of “figuring out life”.

The adolescent years need mentors and advisors who model integrity, strong values, and trustworthiness. Middle schoolers, especially, need non-judgmental adults who help them in the defining of who they are. Young people need those encouragers who will keep saying to them that who others want them to be is not nearly as important as being who they really are.

That doesn’t mean that every six-foot seventh-grader is going to be a point guard or every eighth-grader who isn’t afraid to sing should be the lead vocalist. It’s simply to make the point that kids these days– especially kids whose self-image is shaky– need people to help them believe they can be something different than what others are telling them they need to be.

In evaluating my own life I am so thankful for a couple of friends in my middle school years and, after a move to a new town, a couple of friends in high school who helped me stay grounded and weren’t afraid to say to me, “What are you thinking, Wolfe!!!” when I was heading toward the valley of stupidity. I’m thankful for a great church youth group and awesome adults who lead it. Those ingredients and relationships solidified my discovery of who I was and am. I can only hope that I can now be an encourager, mentor, and coach for a few as they go through these years of their lives.

Simply Respect

December 22, 2021

RED HOT NOVEL SERIES LIFE LESSON: “Respect one another!”

When many of us say the word “respect”, we think of Aretha Franklin’s song titled as such. We can hear her spell the word in a commanding rhythm, R-E-S-P-E-C-T.

In my middle school world, it’s a word that is sung in the minds of administrators, teachers, students, custodians, librarians, security officers, and cafeteria workers. In other words, everyone wants to be respected, from the skinniest sixth-grader to the most weathered staff person.

Respect, however, is detoured around as if it’s a bridge that we fear will not support the weight of our vehicle. Others may view the sag in our toughness. Our “coolness” might take a hit. And so we yield to the well-trudged path of disrespect.

How does respect become the way and not the exception? Many years ago I had a professor who told us that there is a battle that goes on when two people meet each other to establish oneupmanship. Each of us wants to unconsciously have a feeling of superiority. An element in respect is the surrendering of that desire to be seen as more important, smarter, more clever, funnier, more athletic, more attractive, more with-it, and more relevant. Instead, I look for the value in the other person, the possibility of a valued relationship, and the sacredness of his being. He/she has been created in the image of God and, therefore, worthy of my respect.

Of course, I can’t really lay all of that on a middle-schooler! He will look at me like I’m an alien being, clueless of what adolescence is all about. What I can do in the classrooms I’m privileged to inhabit is be committed to establishing an environment that values the input and involvement of each student. I can foster a place where we listen to one another, agree to disagree, and agree that it’s okay to agree! I can set up a campsite where everyone has a voice, and there is an equal playing field. What happens in other places is beyond my control, but in the setting that I facilitate I have the right and responsibility to establish certain expectations for the good of everyone.

Truthfully, we live in a time where our culture has come to expect the minimizing of one another, an impatience in listening, and a scowling disrespect. I admire people, especially students, who refuse to cave into the chaos and cruel words, and live with a consistency and commitment to those three words: Respect One Another!

Because of Aretha, we can easily spell it. The challenge is showing it.

Putting Pants On The Same Way

December 15, 2021

RED HOT LIFE LESSON: Focus on the ways we are similar to one another, not how we differ.

I remember a man from a church I pastored years ago talking about his encounter with Jud Heathcoate, the Michigan State basketball coach. The two of them were on the same plane and the man said, “Hey there, Judd!” When I asked him if Jud responded, he said, “Sure! He puts his pants on the same way I do!”

That declaration that brought a chuckle to my inners then resonates even more with me in recent times. It seems to be easy, and even our nature, to focus on the ways we differ, rather than the ways we are similar. I see it every day I’m in the hallways and classrooms of our middle school. Students who might be short, chubby, not very coordinated, intelligent, talented, socially awkward, or anyone of a few hundred other boxes that might be checked on a list of differences, have students and teachers alike focus on their shortcomings and personality warts much more than their common traits and qualities.

In the first book of my Red Hot novel series, Red Hot: New Life in Fleming, I introduce two characters who are visibly different, one with thick eyeglass lenses, short hair, and short stature; and the other with bright red hair that makes him look like his head is on fire. In a small West Virginia town where no one would envision them becoming friends, they learn the value of having someone who notices how they are more alike than different.

There will always be those who feel the need to tell someone how weird, stupid, or unimportant he is. In middle schools it doesn’t take you long to figure out who the outcasts are, the kids who stay close to the walls as they down the hallway, trying to go unnoticed. Or the student who, when the teacher invites the class to work with one or two other students on the assignment, is the one who is never invited to join.

As I view the assortment of students conversing, socializing, or avoiding eye contact, I’m always impressed with the ones who seek out the marginalized and treat with respect, the ones who push the unusualness of a fellow student to the side and sees how clearly they are alike.

It’s like putting on pants. Everyone who wears pants puts them on the same way. The pants may have different designs on them, be bell bottoms, skinny jeans, or have a different designer label but…they’re all pants!

Focus on the ways we’re similar instead of trying to divide us because of our differences.

Past Wisdom For Present Success

December 11, 2021

In my Red Hot novel series, the middle school bully, Timmy Little, never seems to learn from his past mistakes and keeps finding himself facing the consequences of his bad decisions. In fact, he frequents the principal’s office so much there is a chair with his backside imprint on it.

Real life middle school is not too far removed from fiction. When I walk through the waiting area outside the offices of our assistant principals, there seem to be a few faces that frequent the area so much they should pay rent for the spots. Yes, we all make mistakes, but some people just seem to have a way of making them over and over again. Their derailed actions are like train tracks that just seem to follow the same path toward destruction each day.

In our middle school most of the classes have this thing called “re-accessing”. A student who doesn’t do well the first time on a quiz is offered an additional opportunity to correct his/her errors. On most quizzes the teacher is even able to see how much time was spent by the student answering the questions. If a student took two minutes to answer the ten questions and received a score of three out of ten, the instructor could see if the lesson of “slowing down” sunk home in the student’s den off common sense as the student re-accessed.

We either learn from our mistakes and we continue to commit them. Our past mis-steps are best used to teach us about striding with success in the present. Most students learn that, while a few can’t seem to escape the temptation of walking on the edge of the cliff that borders the office of handed-out consequences.

My daughter, an elementary school educator, was recently grieved by a tragedy that happened to one of her former students, now in his latter teen years. When she had him as a student she could see the possible troubles ahead in his future. He often made the wrong decision, but she gave him extra attention and encouraged him whenever the opportunity presented itself. After she had him as a student she would continue to greet him with smiles and hugs each day she saw him in school. When he went on to middle school she’d only see him about once a year, always giving him a hug and asking how he was doing. The other influences on his life began to take over more and more. Whether there were others who tried to steer him back in the right direction and encourage him on the right decisions, we will never know. The tragedy of his life, however, will always rumble in the sorrow of our daughter’s soul.

As an optimist I believe that deeply-entrenched tendencies always have the potential to be ironed out. Like the frozen ice of the rink scarred by the deep cuts of the skates, the Zamboni smoothes out the rough parts and returns the surface to an appealing shine. I believe the past can be used to navigate a present productive reality.

No One is Worthless! Everyone Has Value!

December 8, 2021

In my novel series, Red Hot, one of the main characters, a seventh-grader named Ethan Thomas, has no one who believes in him. His thick-lensed eyeglasses, short hair, short in height, and freckles don’t help matters. Even most of his teachers don’t believe he can be successful.

Thankfully, a new boy with bright red hair moves to Ethan’s small West Virginia town and gradually convinces Ethan that he’s not worthless and can achieve things that he didn’t think were possible. Having someone believe in him makes all the difference in the world for Ethan.

In any middle school or high school there are numerous Ethan’s trudging down the hallways, struggling with the uncertainty of their worth, their purpose. They hide in the shadows, avoid certain people who enjoy making fun of them, and count down the minutes until they can escape the corridors and classrooms again. To have someone tell a kid something different than he has always heard is a God-send. Hearing positive words in a negative environment is like a fresh spring rain on a dried-out soul.

I love speaking encouraging words into young people who had resigned themselves to the fact that they were losers, nothings, not to be seen or heard. There was one young boy last year who was not doing well in class. His absences made it difficult to connect subject matter that built from one day to the next like building blocks. And then we had a section on short stories. Each short story was followed by a discussion or a quiz, so the day was self-contained. He did well, and I told him that. He’d contribute his thoughts and opinions when we’d have a discussion. He did well on the quizzes. In other words, he had the potential to do well, to excel, to do work that was deserving of an A or a B.

Unfortunately, his family system didn’t put much value into his schoolwork or time at school. Suddenly, he’d miss a day or two and the residue from his past struggles would reappear. The doubters in his life far outweighed those who believed in him and, although he kept being reminded of his potential, the depth of his personal lack of belief was a rocky journey filled with stumbles and missed opportunities.

He’s just one example of a young person who needs the cheers of many who drown out the jeers of a few. Value is more than there ability to throw a ball well or dress like a million. It’s more than being like by a lot of people or coming from a family of prominence. Value is in anyone. It sometimes simply needs to be cultivated and uncovered.

Saying Goodbye…Kinda!

September 9, 2021

Yesterday was my last day teaching/leading/corraling my seventh-grade language arts students. Divided amongst four classes, about 90 students at various levels of maturity and immaturity would descend upon me each day to engage in the “E’s”: Entertainment, Experience, Expression (creative writing), and Education. Some days, perhaps, there was more entertainment than education!

I had been asked to fill in until a new teacher could be hired. Since I’m a “pretend teacher” (pseudo instructor), I wasn’t being considered for the teaching position. I was simply acting as the rubber band around the personalities until someone with the right credentials could be located. It’s the same position that I ended up filling for the whole year in 2020-2021. I could have stayed a while longer this year, but needed to be step to the side before the ninety bundles of joy became to attached to me.

As it is, a number of them were looking at me with pleading eyes yesterday. Without putting myself on a very shaky pedestal, most of the munchkins enjoyed my classes. We learned about the importance of commas (The difference a comma can make between the meaning of “Let’s eat, Grandpa!” and “Let’s eat Grandpa!”), creative and imaginative writing, kindness in words and actions, and learning how to support opinions with reasons for those opinions.

But more than learning, my classes included rolls of Smarties, a back wall of Far Side cartoons that were arranged to spell the word “Smile”, conversation, bad puns, a daily Wolfe Wisdom saying and Trivia Question, and Beanie Babies used to indicate the student was going to the restroom.

I enjoyed it…and am glad I’m done! This morning I occupied my Starbucks stool again, last one of the right facing out toward Pikes Peak, and savored my Pike Place medium brew. Tomorrow I’ll probably get a call asking me to fill a vacancy for a day.

My teaching team threw me a “Kinda Going Not Far Away Party”, complete with balloons, chocolate cake, and card. One of the students gave me Chips Ahoy cookies, and several asked me why I’m leaving with a tone in their voice that conveyed my physical demise was about to begin.

So today, once again, I’m attacking the writing of the final book (Book 4) in my RED HOT novel series, creating the further adventures of middle-schooler Ethan Thomas and his flaming redheaded friend, Randy “Red Hot” Bowman. The previous three and a half weeks have provided me with new fodder for the fiction.

To that Ethan Thomas would probably say, “Jiminy Cricket!”

The Ethans of Life

September 5, 2021

One of the main characters in my RED HOT novel series is a middle school boy named Ethan Thomas. As Book 1 begins, the reader discovers that Ethan has thick-lensed eyeglasses, a buzz haircut, freckles, is short, and has no friends. He’s the kid that is there but nobody sees.

I developed his character out of some of my memories of middle school more than a half-century ago. I was the shortest kid in my class, had a buzz haircut, and wore glasses, although they didn’t have thick lenses. I did have friends, but always had that feeling of inadequacy as a result of my 4 foot 8 inch height in seventh-grade.

Now that I’m teaching a seventh-grade class (although I’m done this coming week), I see the Ethan’s that still side-step people walking down the hallway, the kids who long to belong but don’t quite jump over that wall with its constantly changing boundaries.

I can see it as they enter the classroom. Which students are chattering away with one another as they enter the room and which students come in with eyes lowered, unsure if someone will say something that causes them to feel smaller than they already are?

I see it as certain students stand in front of their lockers. They are the ones whose faces are almost buried inside the place that holds there possessions, hiding as best as they can from the mass of peers who crowd their space. The Ethan’s want to be noticed, and yet they have a fear that if they are noticed it will be in a demeaning sort of way.

I see them in the cafeteria sitting alone, or sitting as if they are a fenceposts between two groups of students, not a part of either groups’ conversations, just a student to indicate where one group ends and the other group begins. The Ethan’s sit there with their heads down and trying to eat their lunches in front of them that have lost their taste.

I see them in the classes where the assignment has students teaming up in groups of three or four. The Ethan’s become the filler that the teacher ends up assigning to a group. Sometimes the response from the group is positive, but sometimes a deep sigh can be heard in their acceptance of the one who has been put upon them. The Ethan’s are often afraid of contributing anything to the group out of a fear of being laughed at, even though great ideas percolate within him/her.

The thing is the Ethan’s of middle schools have the seeds of greatness, the potential to be heroes, the hearts to empathize, the imaginations to create, and the minds to figure out what needs to be done and can be done. In their loneliness amongst the masses they can make the difference between a school being just a school and a school being a great place of learning and developing life-long friendships.

Back to my growing-up days even though “growing” seemed to be the thing that eluded me. There were a few boys who made the difference for me. Mike Bowman and Terry Kopchak pulled me along with him during my 8th and 9th grade years when we lived in Zanesville, Ohio. Dave Hughes and Mike Fairchild picked me up through my last three years of high school after my family had moved to Ironton, Ohio. Those four guys made the difference. They got my face out of its locker hiding spots, made lunch a time of conversation instead of me feeling like a fencepost, and made me laugh just as much as I made them chuckle.

I pray that the Ethan’s I see everyday in our school hallways will find friends like that. Or, perhaps I should say, I hope they will be found by friends like that.