Posted tagged ‘seventh graders’

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!”

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!

Going Back To School

October 28, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                     October 28, 2017

                                  

My parents would testify to the truth of this statement.

I was not a very good student!

Actually, I was not a very motivated student. I was motivated to get to physical education class, but I can not remember another class in middle school or high school that I was motivated to excel in. Each day was a trip to Boredom in a vehicle named Mediocrity.

I remember a number of my teachers, but not necessarily for what they taught me. I remember “earthquake drills” in Health class where we laid our heads on our desks. An earthquake drill meant that our teacher hadn’t had time to plan a lesson. I remember my chemistry teacher saying that if an atomic bomb was going to be dropped by Russia it would be aimed at a place within an hour of our location. I don’t remember the chemical symbols of the periodic chart, but I do remember that we’d be the first to perish on doomsday!

I substitute taught seventh grade all five days this past week. The techniques and methods of teaching have changed, but the students are still the same. For many students the legal requirement of being in school seems to cast a looming shadow over the opportunity to go to school. Since they HAVE to do it there is a lack of WANTING to do it!

I was the same way…or worse! I now wonder what my teachers said to my parents during those parent-teacher conferences. I doubt that it included statements about my academic achievements and prowess.

And now…forty-five years after high school, I often wish I could return to the role of student and sit under the tutelage of some of those teachers that I rarely gave a hearing to. I wish I could actually sit in one of those desks and hear about dangling participles and plane geometry theorems. I’d like to sit there with my laptop and type out notes as my teacher lectured on the Spanish Inquisition.

Why is it that we are too often late in appreciating what we’re a part of, and left to sadly reminisce about lost opportunities?

Of course, that’s how it is with other area of our lives, also! We take for granted the presence of family and friends, talk about visiting that certain aunt someday soon…that never seems to come…and then it’s too late! We commit to getting out of debt…next month! We’ll make that doctor appointment for the physical exam we’ve been dreading…sometime soon! We’ll take the family to a movie…as soon as we get that major house project done that we keep putting off!

I wish I could go back to school. Maybe I will! My Great Aunt Lizzie took art classes at the community college in Paintsville, Kentucky when she was in her mid-nineties! I still have the painting she gifted me with of her log cabin birthplace. Maybe I’ll sign up for an American History class with young adults and risk being called Grandpa!

Funny, isn’t it…my longing for education when I used to long for it to be over!

Teaching 7th Graders To Say “May I?”

October 5, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                      October 5, 2017

                                    

The past few weeks have found me in several different middle school classrooms teaching in a substitution role the subjects of science, social studies, health, and physical education. I’ve taught lessons on the digestive system, sea sponges, insects, and the Hammurabi Code.

I’ve also been teaching seventh graders how to say “May I…?”

Seventh graders are infatuated with the words “Can I?” It comes as naturally out of their mouths in interactions with teachers, parents, and coaches as breathing. For many middle school boys the words “May I” are as unused as the showers in the boys locker room. And so my contribution to their education is to lead them onto the straight and mannerly road called “May I?”

It goes something like this!

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

“Listen, Sam! You’re in seventh grade. I don’t know where you fell off the tracks in your life education, but by seventh grade you should be able to go to the restroom.” Sam looks at me with confusion radiating from his face.

“So…can I?”

“”Well, let’s talk about what will happen if you don’t go to the restroom. We just talked about it in class. Remember…the digestive system…what goes in must come out! So if you don’t go to the restroom there could be some unpleasant consequences.”

“Okay!” He starts to exit.

“Wait! Where are you going?”

“To the restroom.”

“Did I give you permission?”

“You said I could.”

“I said you had the ability to go, but that’s different than permission.”

A whisper comes from the side of him. I faintly hear the words, “Say may I!”

The point of our discussion suddenly hits the light switch in Sam’s mind. “Ohhh…may I go to the restroom?”

“Yes, you may!” Three other students who have been listening snicker in the background. As my days of being saturated with seventh graders have continued the number of students who have revised their “Can I” language to “May I” continues to mount. They may not be able to remember what “cilia” and “flagella” are, or what the Code of Hammurabi is all about, what they MAY very well learn to say “May I?”

The Stupidest Question In Seventh Grade Science Class

September 16, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                           September 16, 2017

                                     

In my other world of substitute teaching I entered a seventh grade science classroom for three days this past week. The teacher, Mr. Williams…”Dean-O” to me…had called in July to schedule me for several days this fall. This week included Days 3, 4, and 5 of that journey…so I knew the students already. I knew who the studious students were, as well as the suspect students. I knew the “go to” students- the ones who the teacher can always call on for help- and also the ones who were familiar with the furnishings inside the assistant principal’s office.

Wednesday started with questions spoken with a whine. “Do we have to do this?”, “Can I just sit here and not do anything?”, “Why does Mr. Williams give us so much to do?”, and “Do we have to do ALL the definitions?” (No, just the ones you know, so you don’t have to tax your brain too much!)

Other questions followed closely that were lacking in intelligence. It became a pattern…questions asked about terms that were right there in the reading.

“What’s the labrum? I can’t find it in the reading.”

“First paragraph under the section entitled Digestive System in bold print.”

“Oh!”

So on Day Two I made it a contest! I told them that during the last three minutes of class I’d listen to stupid questions, and the stupidest question would receive a bag of Skittles candy. You talk about excitement! The kids with the highest IQ’s were all over it. They used their extra intelligence to craft extremely dumb queries.

Some of the questions were more like problem-solving situations that required me to think…and thus were disqualified from winning! Others tongue-twisters, like the woodchuck riddle that creates muscle spasms in your mouth.

A few tried to plagiarize “stupid questions”, sneaking their smart phones under their desks and googling “stupid questions.” Most of them were nabbed. Like the boy who asked the stupid question, “Why does an alarm clock ‘go off’ when it’s actually ‘turning on’?” Questions such as that got class responses of “You got that on the internet!” I was amazed later on when I googled the category that there were so many links to “stupid questions”! Stupidity is in abundance!

There were the stupid questions that included no creativity, such as “Is this a stupid question?”, or “How do you spell “a”?”, and “Am I smart?”

The winners were usual the ones that were so stupid that I had to stop and think about it for a second. They will appear in the midst of the dialogue of the next Dumb and Dumber movie. Questions like, “How does brown work?”, “Since the moon is made of cheese is it true that astronauts can not be lactose intolerant?”, and “What do they feed the cows to make the milk come out chocolate?”

Let’s face it! In the midst of seventh grade science classes there have been a lot of stupid questions asked over the years, but on a couple of days this past week thought-through stupidity was celebrated!

Putting Football Pads on 60 pound Boys

August 19, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                           August 19, 2017

                                

I began my thirteenth year of coaching middle school football this past Monday. Over the years the school where I coach has had a few good sized boys…and many, many other boys who could be blown away by the wind. As coaches we don’t know if it’s the water or what, but we are surrounded by lightweights.

In our equipment shed we have different container bins that are filled with practice pants and girdles that contain the football pads in them. Some bins contain adult sizes and other bins contain youth sizes. After handing out equipment the first day the youth-sized bins are depleted…and the adult-sized bins are now just barely below the top of the bin!

Boy after boy with high-pitched voices checked out their equipment with me. Not once did I need to say, “Your voice is too low. Can you speak up so I can hear you better?”

As player after player tried on equipment I was reminded of the biblical story of David trying on Saul’s armor! I tried to envision a slingshot in each of their hands, but as three of them put their practice jersey on backwards my hope in pint-sized conquerors was waning!

Our participation numbers took a dip this year, as concerns about the long-term and immediate effects of concussions have intensified. BUT the dip was not in sixty pounders, but rather in those double that weight. One of the biggest boys in the school, who can also chew gum and walk at the same time, decided not to play because he was worried about getting hurt. The “Little Freddie’s”, who can barely reach the urinal in the restroom, are out in mass though!

Hey! I was one of those Freddie’s back in the day! I needed “Youth Extra Small” as my size when I was in middle school. There was not another student smaller than me in my class no matter what gender you’re talking about! I know what it feels like to be the smallest. Our team however is like landing in Munchkinland in The Wizard of Oz! Our school nickname is the Timberwolves, but we’re thinking of renaming ourselves the “Tiny-Wolves!”

BUT…yes, there is a BUT…most of these sixty pound packages play with heart. Just like when David stepped forward and volunteered to go one-on-one against a giant, while the men twice his size were trying to become small, these mini-mites have heart, hustle and fearlessness. In football, which is a sport that is uncomfortable to play, those attributes make up for a lot of pounds. Over the years I’ve had massive boys who didn’t want their pants to get dirty; boys who were huge, but had no heart, hustle, and even ran from their own shadow.

So maybe our team story this year, our motivation, will be the David and Goliath story of a shepherd boy taking a nine foot giant to the ground!

That reminds me! I need to order a few more pairs of “Youth Small” practice pants!

Adventure of a Middle School Substitute Teacher: Opt Out Class

May 20, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                     May 20, 2017

          

It was a full week! Monday to Friday…start to finish…six classes each day inhabited by a hodgepodge of students who were seeing the end of the school year in sight. Such vision causes some students to do weird and unintelligent things that usually have negative repercussions attached to them. Such as saying something inappropriate and being added to my class list!

Oh…my class…yes, that thing! I’ve been teaching the Opt Out class of middle school sex education. When they asked me to teach that class I thought to myself, “That must mean the class on abstinence!” Wrong!!!!

The Opt Out class is for those students who have decided not to take the sex education curriculum that is state-mandated for the school to teach. Probably more accurate, it is the class that the parents of some students have decided their child would not be a part of. Back to the inappropriate comments, I had a few eighth grade students, who had made crude or insensitive remarks in the sex education class, suddenly get ushered into my class.

In all I have about forty-five students in the six classes: 20 eighth, 16 seventh, and 9 sixth graders. We’ve made it past the “weirdness” feeling, of knowing that 90%+ of their classmates are in a different class that they aren’t participating in. For some of the students, mostly the eighth graders, there is a slight stigma attached to it. Almost all of them think about sex almost as much as they use their cell phones. You can even see the “posturing” in the class to look appealing, cool, or manly.

Strange as it may sound, I’ve enjoyed being the classroom teacher, not so much for the content- 6th Grade has been studying erosion, 7th Grade the ecosystem, and 8th Grade electricity- but for the ongoing relationships with the students. As the week has gone on I’ve  discovered things about them and they’ve discovered things about me. Interestingly the last eighth grade class…my last class of the day…has become increasingly interested in who I am. They’ve met Carol, who has been subbing with the special needs students, and asked me questions about family, my kindergarten granddaughter, and how I like coaching middle school kids in football and basketball? In return this last group has felt safe sharing some personal information with me about life struggles, life situations and interests.

Sixth graders are funny! They say things that make no sense, and then giggle with glee.

EX: If rabbits had wings they wouldn’t have to hop across our street! What would you do, Mr. Wolfe, if I tied your shoe strings together right now? I wish my skateboard had an engine. That would be cool!”

     Sixth graders, working on individual assignments in the same classroom, have random thoughts and conversations that are totally unconnected…and they are totally engaged in the journey together as they travel from one topical state to the next. The teacher is more of the lead cowboy in front of the herd.

Seventh graders are more likely to question one another about the ludicrous nature of a statement. Seventh graders have more, what I call, “squirrel moments”, where they will become instantly distracted from what is being talked about by something else in their peripheral vision. The teacher is like the cowboy riding behind the herd, keeping stragglers from getting lost or straying off.

The teacher of eighth graders is standing outside the corral, looking to simply keep the thoroughbreds and ponies corralled.

My Opt Out assignment goes through next Wednesday, and then, quite frankly, I’ll miss the characters of the classroom. Call me strange! That reminds me…squirrel!!…I rented the movie “Dr. Strange.” It must be about a middle school substitute teacher!