Posted tagged ‘school classroom’

The Button-Pushing Middle School Student

November 4, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                          November 4, 2017


I’m becoming experienced as a substitute teacher. Everyday I experience new things, am dismayed in new ways, and face intriguing situations that would make good fodder for reality TV.

I’ve come to realize that there is a certain category, a distinct species amongst students that causes a few to stand out like peacocks. It’s not a very large group of students, and they don’t usually cluster together like geese.

They are the button-pushers, the students who would give Jesus a hard time for walking on water. They look for the seeds of distraction and chaos to infect good discussions and teachable moments.

Recently, I had a week with the same 125 students, grouped into four classes and another class period for specialized study. Out of 125 students I discovered “the button-pusher”. Everyday he pushed my buttons in some annoying way. On Day One he asked belittling questions to another student after she gave a report on a current event in front of the whole class. His questions, which I squashed after the first couple, were asked in a way to make her look stupid. Hear the button being pushed and held down! On Day Two he kept bothering the student sitting beside him, saying things under his breath to her, touching her arm with his pencil. I was clueless of what was going on until she finally erupted…which is what he was going for!

On Day Three we had a confrontation. When I asked him to stop making a noise with his ruler, slapping the desk with it, he pushed his button with “What about him?” “I’m not talking about him. I’m talking to you!” He gave me the button-pusher look of defiance. “Don’t give me that look!”

On Day Four he started early and I attacked early. “We aren’t going to repeat yesterday. You either get with the program or take a nice vacation to the assistant principal’s office and stare at his wall posters.”

On Day Five his dad came and picked him up for some kind of appointment five minutes into class. God does answer prayer!

Button-pushers gain reputations amongst teachers. This button-pusher had done a couple of things to other students that were just plain mean, but when the teacher talked to his mom the response was that the teacher must be mistaken. It couldn’t be her son!

Conspiracy theorists believe button-pushers have been inserted into middle school classrooms to sabotage the education of the masses, but, even more than that, to become detriments to the preparatory process for the state assessment tests. There’s rumors that they have taken summer training in “argumentative classroom behavior” and “creating crying teachers who start mumbling to themselves”. Like the four celebrity judges on The Voice they have learned how to recognize opportunity and hit the button at a moment’s notice.

Oh, that button-pushers would be a dying breed heading towards extinction, but unfortunately they seem to be repopulating every year. Perhaps it has something to do with the growing number of helicopter parents, absentee parents, clueless parents, and the natural order of disorder. THEY would have you believe that! And if you do you’ve just had another button pushed called “gullible!”

Adventures In Substitute Teaching: The Questionnaire

May 3, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                        May 3, 2017


Dear Teacher and Students,

I am scheduled to substitute teach the 8th Grade Science classes next Monday. In preparation for the class I’d like to get an understanding of class expectations and boundaries…what is allowed and what isn’t! Please answer the following questions to help me facilitate an academic day that is similar to other days.

Q. 1- Is there an assigned seating system for the class?

Teacher: Yes, I will have each class charted for you indicating where each student is to be sitting. In several situations a student is seated at a certain desk/table for specific reasons.

Students: No, there is no assigned seating. Our teacher believes that students learn best when they are sitting with their friends. It promotes a class environment that is more relaxed and stress-free.

Q. 2- Are students allowed to eat food during class?

T: When they are involved in individual work, snacks are allowed. Do not allow snacks during class discussions, tests, or quizzes.

S: Absolutely! In fact, our teacher encourages it. His motto is “Food for the mind and food for the stomach!” Students pass snacks around to each other to promote a sense of classroom community. Once a month, in fact, the teacher orders Jimmy John’s for the class. Coincidentally that day comes next week when the guest teacher is here!

Q. 3- Are their any class restrictions on the use of electronic devices?

T: Yes! Students are allowed to use their devices when doing research that is dealing with the class subject matter. When doing individual work they may also use their devices to listen to music that they have their own set of earbuds for. Otherwise, devices are to be facedown on their deck or in their backpack.

S: Our teacher understands how “connected” his students are. Our smart phones can be used not only for research, but also to communicate to our friends. Once again, our teacher is more concerned with promoting a sense of community, and believes that restrictions on devices leads to isolation and ignorance. It shows his students that he totally understands us and our needs!

Q. 4- Does class end a few minutes early or the time posted?

T: At the assigned time and not a minute sooner!

S: Our teacher usually dismisses five minutes early to allow the students to visit the restroom, fill their water bottles, and get to their next class. Some of our classes are a long distance away, totally impossible to reach is we aren’t dismissed early! So if a class is scheduled to end at 9:30 he dismisses us at 9:25, and on snowy days 9:20.

Thank you for your time in answering these questions. It will help immensely in facilitating a calm and orderly class that is similar to what the students are accustomed to.

Guest Teacher Orientation

August 10, 2016

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                            August 10, 2016


I took my seat on the left side of the long conference table. Ten of us looked expectantly towards the front of the conference room. The presenter was getting his materials organized and about to start.

I was about to get oriented! I was about to find out how to be a guest teacher. Let me emphasize GUEST TEACHER! Not substitute teacher! Somewhere over the last forty years somebody decided that the term “substitute teacher” was like attaching a sticky note to the back of a person’s shirt with the words “Kick Me!” written on it in large bold letters.

Time to confess! I remember the number of times I took advantage of whoever it was that was substitute teaching in my classroom. I remember asking Ms. Roth, who also happened to be a member of the my church, if I could go to the restroom. I feigned illness from eating lunch in the cafeteria that day…a logical conclusion! She gave me permission as I grimaced in front of her, and then I went down to the gym and shot basketball for the rest of the class period. Now… she would probably not remember that, but I do!

Perhaps my transgressions were part of the soil that produced a new name growing out of it, the name “Guest Teacher!”

The orientation began. The presenter stressed a couple of points to help us survive…or that is, be successful! One was “Use your common sense!”  He gave us several examples of what BAD guest teachers have done! At the end of it all of us had the same thought: What were they thinking? Perhaps being around middle school students rubs off on the substitute…er, guest teacher, and they start doing stupid things that result in them getting called in to talk to the school administrators.

I started to make a mental list of all the things I couldn’t bring with me to school: handcuffs, a pocket knife attached to my car keys, peanut products, Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue, words with too many syllables, taser gun, transistor radio, pillow, iPad, sense of humor, bull whip, duct tape, and all political commentary. If I left all those things at home my chances of being a successful guest teacher would be greatly increased. The storyline of guest teaching has been littered with examples of people who “did stupid”, were asked not to come back again, and now are making more money working on a fast-food drive-thru lane.

But then came the second point of the orientation to realize. That students will try to take advantage of guest teachers! Wait a minute! That’s how it was back in 1972 at Ironton High School, in Ironton, Ohio! That means…that means…that nothing has really changed! Well, one thing has…the title. because I am a “Guest Teacher!” Hear me roar!

We were brought back to the reality of the situation; that students are by nature the same as they were back in the day…that they will try to get away with whatever they can!

This is where leaving my sense of humor at home becomes important, for I will look at them like a drill sergeant facing his green recruits and with no expression say “I don’t think so!” It’s also where it is important that I have left my taser gun at home, because I would be tempted to use it a few times.

So now I am ready for battle…I mean, to teach! I’m ready to impart my pearls of wisdom to a new generation of young learners. I’m ready to experience the new chef creations of school cafeterias, students ready and eager to learn, the latest adolescent language terms. and spending the whole day in the gym!

I am oriented! I am a Guest Teacher!

Getting Taught By First Graders

April 29, 2016

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                      April 28, 2016


First Graders are simply adults in little bodies. They can also teach a substitute teacher a few things! And they did!

I arrived at their classroom in the late morning to fill in for their wonderful teacher for the next day and a half. As I talked through a few things with their teacher before she left, a couple of the girls entered the classroom…and seemed a little startled to see me there.

“Are you going to be our teacher?”

“No way!” I said in jest before then saying, “Yes, I am.”

They looked at one another and I heard one of them whisper to the other, “We usually have girls for subs, but he’s a boy!” That uniqueness, all because of my gender, gave me an “in!”

A couple of minutes later the rest of the class entered their domain and gazed upon the new face in front. I wrote my name on the white board. “I’m Mr. Wolfe…with an “e”…not the Big Bad Wolf,  but the good Wolfe!”

They told me their names one by one. They were ready to teach me. One boy in the back row raised three fingers in the air on his right hand. “Yes, Andy!”

“No, that means I need to go to the restroom.”

“If you raise your hand up?”

“No, if I raise three fingers on my hand.”

“Okay! Is there a restroom pass that you take?”

“No, we sign our name by “restroom” on the backboard.”

Another three-fingered hand shot up!”

“Yes, Gabriel, you can go to the restroom.”

“No, I can’t until Andy comes back.”
“Oh, okay!” My first lesson was being taught to me about restroom usage.

“Mr. Wolfe!” said the voice of a little girl named Jill.

“Yes, Jill.”

“If you have an emergency and you need to go to the restroom you raise your hand and make this kind of sign.” She cupped her hand in a “C” shape.

“Oh, okay! That’s good to know. Well, boys and girls, I’m going to be your substitute teacher for the next day and half while Ms. Brown gets some needed rest with the cold she has. So is there anything else I need to know before we begin math?”

There was TONS I needed to know, and they were very gentle with me. The math lesson was on an overhead transparency. One boy sitting in the front row informed me that it was his job, not mine, to turn the projector on. Another student pulled the screen down, and I began the lesson…on the fringe of cluelessness!

Several times the class reigned me back in to how things are done. Like a horse about to gallop, I was slowed down by a classroom full of riders. “Whoa, Mr. Wolfe!”

I fumbled through math, but they was gracious. Without saying so they let me know that it was okay. “Good try! You’ll do better next time!”

Time for Science! I read to them from a book about Neil Armstrong and the Apollo space shuttle launch to the moon. When I informed them that I remember watching the moon walk when it happened on July 20, 1969 they looked at me with puzzled faces. One of them raised his hand and asked the question that the whole class was thinking.

“How old are you?”

“Older than when Neil Armstrong walked on the moon.”

They looked at me with sympathetic faces that said “We’re sorry that you’re so old!” And yet, they were also fascinated that I had actually watched first-hand what they were now studying about. In their eyes it gave me a sense of worth and value.

“Mr. Wolfe, what is the surface of the moon like?”

“Well, Marcus, it is kind of like a mixture of sand and dirt.” I was guessing, but they thought it sounded plausible.

Recess thankfully arrived! They taught me how to play a game that is somehow a mixture of Jurrasic Park and Star Wars. I was to choose a kind of dinosaur and also a character from Star Wars and run around the playground making “character sounds.” I was a playground rookie, ignorant of rules and procedures, but none of the students scolded me about my lack of recess experience. In fact, I gave them four extra minutes and suddenly I was the cat’s meow! I would have won a popularity contest against Hans Solo!

After recess we read. I started to read a book about a girl named Felicity, but was halted before beginning. “Mr. Wolfe, we sit on the carpet square over there and you sit in the rocking chair.”

“Oh, thank you!” The carpet got populated and Felicity made her appearance. They were drawn into the story…and then it was time to go home.

“Mr. Wolfe, can we do some dancing with the lights off?”

“Excuse me!”

“Can we turn the lights off and dance?”

“Is that okay?” (I went to a Baptist college where the “D word” was prohibited on campus. Everyone knew that the “D word” would lead to the “S word!”)

“Yes, it’s okay!” The lights got turned off and for two minutes a class of first graders did “creative dancing” between desks, down rows, with beaming faces and giggling voices. I halted it after a couple of minutes and they lined up.

“Okay! I will see you all tomorrow!”

“Mr. Wolfe!”

“Yes, Susie!”

“This has been the best day ever!”

I smiled at the compliment and realized that I could probably say something close to that myself.

Observing Junior High Math Class

February 10, 2016

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                February 10, 2016


On Monday I sat in on two different junior high math classes. As I’m gearing up to be a substitute teacher I wanted to experience another classroom situation, and also to revisit the subject that I had difficulty with back when Moby Dick was a minnow. I was great with numbers…and then some wise guy started including letters into the problem. I got lost in the midst of “x’s” and “y’s”. If you asked me how much 45 times 20 was I could tell you faster than an adding machine, but put a letter into the mix and I floundered like a fish flopping in the bottom of the boat.

But I went willingly to this classroom of formulas and adolescent confusion, and I learned several things. One, that I actually understood part of the lessons, and enjoyed it…kind of!

Two, that junior high boys haven’t changed since 1968! Oh, they have fancier devices now, but at the core they are twins two generations removed from those who sat in the same classrooms.

Thirteen year old boys still make noises. When the teacher was on the other side of the room there was a good chance that a farting sound would come from somebody. One boy broke out in a humming sound until he was asked to keep it quiet. Pencils were used at various moments as drumsticks on desk tops. Fingers were snapped against open jaws to make popping sounds.

Junior high boys make noise!

Junior high girls ranged from totally quiet to “Chatty Cathy’s”, who would suddenly erupt in nonsensical comments. During a class time when students worked together on an assignment you could hear snippets of conversations about Super Bowl Dorito’s commercials, the half-time entertainment, and what was eaten that day for lunch.

Junior high boys still like attention. I identified the three boys in the first five minutes of the class whose social standing was based on their wisecracks and off-the-wall humor. They weren’t malicious…just in need of being noticed.

Junior high students are special. Several people asked me why I would observe in a classroom of 8th graders. Was I on some kind of probation and this was part of my sentencing? Did I not get that memo about how junior high boys cause hair-pulling and temporary instructor insanity?

Actually, I enjoy thirteen year olds just as much…maybe even more…than sixteen and seventeen year olds.

There you go! Now you know I’m warped!