Posted tagged ‘sixth graders’

Sixth Grade Church Fidgeting

August 27, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                August 27, 2019

                    

My grandson, Jesse, is a great kid. More energy than General Electric, more creativity than a box of 120 Crayola crayon colors. He’s also a sixth grader who can’t sit still, except when he’s reading or watching TV.

Last Sunday he sat beside me in church. It was his first Sunday not in the special gathering for children, the setting where active energy is expected, even planned for. The sanctuary of adults is a bit more laid back and placid in its journey. 

Jesse fidgeted, slithered down in his seat a few times like a snake moving down a hill, set off his multi-functioning watch a couple of times, and even curled his legs up and sat still for a few moments. I chuckled a few times for several reasons. 

I saw the shadow of myself in him! 54 years removed, mind you, but I could see myself. I had that kind of energy once…a long, long time ago!

It’s different these days, though. In my childhood years our church, Central Baptist Church in Winchester, Kentucky, didn’t have a special program for kids to go to during the worship service. If you were of school age you went to the worship service in the sanctuary. it wasn’t even called “the adult service”. It just was! 

Every Sunday I would be positioned between my mom and dad, singing the hymns and snoozing during Pastor Zachary’s sermon. It was the one place each week where I knew my parents were captive. They couldn’t get up to go fix dinner or mow the lawn or go to work. They were my flanks for a good hour or longer. My dad’s arm often functioned as my pillow and my mom’s stern look as the controller of my movement. 

By the sixth grade I had been present for roughly 500 sermons, since we were “two-a-dayers” (Sunday morning and Sunday evening). My brother, sister, and I knew that good behavior translated into popcorn and The Ed Sullivan Show on Sunday night when we returned home from the evening service. 

But times have changed. Attention spans are shorter, TV commercials are now snippets, and things move faster. 

Patience is an ancient virtue. Just have a slow internet experience. It feels like you’re waiting in a long restroom line at a Broncos game. 

So I don’t blame Jesse for his hyper-ness. I don’t blame anyone. In some ways his restlessness in worship is the result of adults who don’t want to be annoyed by active kids. I remember a few years ago someone at the church I pastored complained about how disruptive it was to have kids in church. On that Sunday a mom had kept her children with her, instead of having them go to the special gathering for children.

I responded that it was nice to actually have children in our church. It was not the response that was wanted. Children, it seemed, were to be banished to the basement so the adults could learn a couple of spiritual pointers for the week ahead. 

So adults have gotten used to the little ones not being with us as we worship, and the young ones have gotten used to doing their own thing with their own mannerisms, methods, and activity level. 

It’s how it is, and Jesse is who I once was!

Middle School Passing Period

April 13, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                   April 13, 2019

                             

It’s like an 8:00 A.M. corridor in an O’Hare International Airport terminal…many people rushing and others in no hurry at all…people on a mission and others who look like they’ve been beaten into submission…people all put together and others who are frantic as they seem to be coming apart.

Instead of an airport terminal, however, it’s a  middle school hallway…between class periods. It’s the four minutes of bedlam where a thousand students are required to navigate slimmed down hallways to get from one classroom to the next. 

I stand with two of the awesome sixth grade teachers, Dan Ferrante and Stephanie Wilcox, against a railing watching the mixture of personalities and temperaments pass us by. 

Some use it to ask one of their teachers a quick question or to plead their case for grace.

“Ms. Wilcox!” whines one girl, as she sticks her lower lip out and speaks in a tone that conveys the world is coming to an end, “I didn’t get all of my math homework done…but it wasn’t my fault! My little brother was sick and I had to do his jobs around the house, PLUS my own!” She punctuates the agony of injustice in being the overworked child of the family with a deep sigh.

Ms. Wilcox is very understanding of the inconvenience and tells her that she will send an email to the mom to express her concern for the illness of the brother and her understanding of the daughter’s inability to complete her math assignment.

Eyes wide open greet the teacher’s response. “Oh, you don’t have to do that! He’s…he’s fine today! Our…ahhh…internet is down anyway!”

Ms. Wilcox knows the talent this student has for avoiding work. She’s heard it all before. As the student walks away she enjoys a giggle of satisfaction over the terror she has created in someone who’s been prone to be the terror!

Several eighth graders walk down the crowded hallway with their noses in their cell phones, oblivious to the mass of bodies around them. 

A couple of sixth grade boys with an obsession for looking cool walk by with AirPods in their ears, as if their social status has been elevated. AirPods are the middle school version of a high school student driving a Maserati GT Convertible to school. They think people notice! They overestimate their peer group. Little Tommy, who has so many papers sticking out of his folder that it resembles the aftermath of a tornado, notices only the obstacles in his path to science class. His coat, which he never takes off, flaps in the hallway breeze and one shoelace is untied and so loose the tongue of the shoe looks thirsty! AirPods mean as much to him as hominy grits!

A small herd of seventh grade girls roam down the way in unison. Their conversation is so fast-paced they sound like Alvin and the Chipmunks. Never once do they acknowledge the three teachers. We are obstacles in the midst of their verbal jabber.

The boy I sent to the office last week passes by and I sense a scowl. He may have just spit on me…in his mind! His preference is to have the inmates run the asylum. Teachers are like prison guards. Someday he may find out from first-hand knowledge that prison guards are different!

“Mr. Wolfe, who are you subbing for today?” asks a cute sixth grade girl who still isn’t tall enough to ride the carousel merry-go-round by herself. 

“No one! I just decided to come and hang out in the hallway for a while.”

She giggles and goes on to her Language Arts classroom, not sure if I’m serious or trying to fool her. 

Another sixth grade girl. “Mr. Ferrante, do you want to read my speech?”

“Sure, but maybe at the beginning of our lunch period…unless I can read it in 15 seconds!”

There are the few who seek to take five minutes to get to their destination. They are in no hurry…with the exception of the 2:45 bell at the end of the school day. Jet propulsion empowers their feet at that point!

The crowds lessen and the teachers turn towards their classrooms. For the next 57 minutes the terminals will be quiet until the next class period’s flights begin boarding. 

Teaching Sixth Graders Manners

February 22, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                         February 22, 2019

  

“Mr. Wolfe, can I use the restroom?”

“I’m assuming you can. I mean, you’ve got some real issues if you aren’t able to use it!”

“What?” he whispered with confusion.

“If you aren’t able to use the restroom there could be some serious repercussions.”

I point to the white board that explains the difference between asking questions that begin with “Can” versus “May”. On the board I’ve written examples:

         CAN= Am I able to…

-“Am I able to eat healthy?”

-Am I able to do the Incline?”

  

         MAY= Do I have permission to…

– “Do I have permission to get a drink of water?”

Understanding invades the inner space of the sixth grader’s mind. “Ohhh!” he exclaims as his eyebrows elevate. “May I use the restroom?”

“Yes, you may!”

Teaching sixth graders good manners and the proper way to act has become a passion of mine…sorta’! Let’s be honest! Good manners to a lot of people is as relevant as my cassette tape collection. Right before I wrote this a girl’s notebook fell off her desk and scattered papers across the classroom floor. A boy who had just returned from the restroom (“Can I go to the…I mean, may I go to the restroom?”) stepped over the papers as if they were wet paint as he returned to his desk…right next to the girl’s!

I saw the empty stares of a few others around her, blind to her plight, so I went to help. “I noticed your neighbor here just stepped over and didn’t attempt to help.”

He knew I was referring to him. “I didn’t see it!” he exclaimed as his defense.

“You stepped over it, like it was a mud puddle on the sidewalk.”

Back to honesty, however, there are a number of adults- kids in grown up bodies- who either never learned manners, or don’t really give a crap! Politeness got stuffed in a box and put in the basement about the time reality TV made its entrance.

A few days ago I was standing in the school hallway talking to two teachers as a student- actually a 7th grader!- walked right between us.

“Excuse me!” I bellowed after him.

“Huh, what?” He looked stunned and frightened, although it could have been the lighting.

“You walked right between us as we were having a conversation.”

“Huh?”

“When people are having a conversation it’s not polite to walk right between them.”

“Ohhh!” This was new information for this kid, a new kind of education and the opening bell hadn’t even sounded.

Perhaps my generation was raised by parents who placed a higher value on good manners. They seemed to make learning good manners an essential part of developing good character and keeping order in the universe.

My mom would say, “Keep your mouth closed as you’re chewing!” I’m not sure why, but she made it seem like the right thing to do. Open-mouthed chewers probably didn’t get good jobs and had to go to night school, so we kept the lips tight as we ground up the pork chop between our teeth.

“Don’t interrupt me when I’m talking to you dad! Be patient!”

Having patience seemed to be tied to politeness and we struggled with that growing up. In today’s world patience gets buddied up with whining and irritation. Most sixth graders think having patience means not being able to eat their fruit roll-up until they take the wrapper off. It’s like the sixth grade student last year whose shoes were untied. “Tie your shoes!” I commanded him.

“Why? They’re just going to come untied again!”

I wanted to say “Well, why zip your pants up? You’re just going to unzip them again next time to need to take a whiz!”

BUT… he was wearing sweat pants! 

Probably hadn’t learned the word “May” either!

Sixth Grade Trivia

February 21, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                    February 21, 2019

                                   

Sixth graders have a warped understanding of a variety of things. Like the kid who is concerned about his hair looking awesome, but unaware that the hoodie jacket he’s been wearing for the last month smells putrid! That kind of warped!

Also, most of them would not do well in a game of Trivial Pursuit. If you asked a class of sixth graders what kind of cheese you would find on the moon a few of them would say “Swiss! Because of all of those craters!”

After all, it was a European cow that jumped over the moon!

Today at the end of each class I asked a trivia question and gave out a prize to the answer that was closest to being correct. Cell phones were required to be facedown!

Q. What is the distance in miles from Anchorage, Alaska to Key West, Florida?

A few hands shoot up instantly! Usually the first ones to provide an answer are not candidates for the school quiz bowl team.

I motion for a boy, whose hand is waving back and forth like Kansas wheat ready to be picked.

“Two miles!”

The girl beside him giggles, so I call on her next.

“A million miles!”

“It’s somewhere between those two,” I clarify. Several faces are transformed from genius to confused when I say that.

The answers keep coming. “Two hundred miles”, “a thousand”, “twenty-five thousand.” Finally, a young lady, who has been hanging back patiently, raises her hand and I call on her.

“Five thousand?”

“Close enough! The answer is 5,019!” I throw her a snack sized bag of Skittles.

I hear the whines of unfairness echoing as they exit the classroom. “I was going to say that!!”

On to the next class.

Q. How many words are in Webster’s International Dictionary?

“Call on me first!” urges a blonde-haired boy who usually causes his teachers to grind their teeth. I give him the okay and he opens the bidding.

“5,000!”

A clueless young lady counters with “6,000!”

Another. “7,000!”

I say, “Is this The Price Is Right or something?”

One self-assured young man offers an answer with boldness, like he’s buying a Honus Wagner baseball card. “25,000!” He looks around as if a camera is about to take his picture for the Society page in Sunday’s newspaper.

           The guesses continue and range from 1,000 to 95,000. The class is dumbfounded when I tell them the answer is 476,000, an unfathomable figure for a few of them who haven’t progressed that far past their first grade primer book! 

“The average adult knows between 20 and 30 thousand words,” I inform them.

One boy replies, “Mine’s at least that!”, and he might be right. He looks like someone who takes the vocabulary quiz in each issue of Reader’s Digest.

Most sixth graders know more about video games, Harry Potter, and electronic devices than I will ever know. Trivia, however…no!

Of course, if I was asked a trivia question on any one of those three things my answer would be about as close as Key West is to Anchorage!

Sixth Grade Little Brothers and Sisters

December 1, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                      December 1, 2018

                           

It’s been a week!

A week of sixth graders, that is! One of the sixth grade social studies teachers asked me to teach the full week for him as he recovered from a procedure done on one of his knees. Five days of teaching the future Einsteins, Feinsteins, and Non-Steins; smart ones and smart alecks!

Some names stood out to me after each 57 minute class period. They were the warts in the midst of a beautiful experience; the ones that the teacher can’t trust with a pair of scissors because they may cut the hair of the young lady sitting beside them…without her knowing! They are the ones who in hearing the words “You may work with a partner on this!” view it as giving permission to cause chaos, the ones who intimately know what the inside of their assistant principal’s office looks like!

So…I remember THEIR names! If I had an acronym of the phrase “Problem Child” I could put a name with almost every letter…Pete, Robert, Octavius, Bubba, etc.

The interesting thing is that I COULDN’T remember the names of younger brothers and sisters of students I’ve had in classes the last two years. After five days of having them I still can’t think of their first names. I’d ask a question and a hand would pop up from a boy with dark hair.

“Jill’s little brother!” I’d say, acknowledging him. He looked hurt and befuddled, as if his eighth grade sister had a more prominent place in life than him.

Question: “What does longitude measure?” Up comes the hand of a girl with a never-ending smile.

“Little Smith!” I bellow as I look at her. Her smile continues because she sees it as a badge of honor. Her sister, now a high school freshman, had told her stories about Mr. Wolfe. In fact, she was the one who made my last name sound French by pronouncing it “Wolf-ay”!

There were four or five other younger brothers and sisters whose first names escaped my memory. Of course, when I was growing up some of my older brother’s friends called me “Little Charlie” or, after being immersed in their high school Spanish class, “Carlos Pequeno!”

It was the first Spanish word I learned! I guess I’m a bit partial towards younger siblings. I’m the youngest of three, the one who got the hand-me-downs, like my brother’s bicycle all beaten and battered and shirts with mustard stains dotting the fabric. 

If I have these sixth graders again I’ll graduate to calling them by their last name. That would be progress towards knowing their whole personality. The disturbing thing is that I only know the first names of the problem children, and I’ll make sure my youngest daughter (Our “Little”) has a list of names NOT to give any future grandchildren. 

As one boy asked me, “Mr. Wolfe, do you remember my name?” 

“Yes!” I respond, pausing for effect. “Starts with an ‘A’ and ends with a ‘G’!” He looks at me ready to correct my thinking, but I break in before he can say it. 

“Annoying!” 

He smiles, and, although he began the week filling out one of the letters on my acronym, we kinda’ like each other! I wonder if he has any younger siblings?

The ‘What Ifs’ of Sixth Graders

September 8, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                        September 8, 2018

                      

Squirrels were named after sixth graders! When you’re around sixth graders for very long you just automatically blurt it out. “You’re squirrelly!” And then someone saw a furry looking hyperactive, confused critter climbing the tree in their front yard and he said, “Wow! I’m not sure what that thing is but it’s as squirrelly as a sixth grader so I’m going to call it a squirrel!”

Okay! It probably didn’t happen that way, but it’s a good story, and if you’ve been around sixth graders for very long you understand how plausible the story sounds.

Yesterday I was teaching sixth grade physical education. It’s kind of like filling thirty balloons with air and letting them go all at the same time.

We were teaching the students a new game, which was not complicated to understand. It involved trying to get all of the people on one team to the other end of the field without having the flags they wore around their waists pulled by someone from the other team. 

Simple, right? 

The other teacher I was partnered with that day explained the game thoroughly and then said the words that she wished she could take back, the words that cause body tremors and sweating. 

“Are there any questions?” Hands shot up in the air like 4th of July bottle rockets.

“What if…someone doesn’t mean to fall, but he does? Does that mean he’s frozen until he gets freed by one of his teammates?”

“Yes.”

A future lawyer. “What if…the person who falls has been tripped, pushed, or in a collision that results in his tumble? Would he be held liable for the consequences of the action, or would you take into consideration extenuating circumstances…AND, is there an appeal process in place for the defendant?”

My teaching colleague has a blank stare for a moment. “We will consider each action individually.” The student starts to ask a followup question, but my colleague ignores her and looks at the body attached to another raised hand.

“What if…I’m running down the field and my flag falls off just because? Can I just put it back on? You know…like the wind just blows it off of me, because that wouldn’t be fair!”

“If your flag falls off because of the wind or as the result of some other act of nature you can put it back on and resume the game.”

The future attorney is raising her hand and waving it wildly as she considers her case before the Court of Sixth Grade PE Appeals. The teacher contines to ignore her, and turns her attention to a squirrel sitting on the top row of the bleachers.

“What if…someone calls my name and when I look to see who said my name a different person from the other team runs by and pulls my flag off?”

“Then you are frozen until a teammate frees you.”

“Ahhh!” he responds with a look of agony.

Redheaded girl with a bored look wishing she was in math class. “Do we have to play?”

“Yes.”

Blonde boy who has a tendency to want to always say things that makes his other squirrelly classmates giggle. “What if…someone’s shorts rip right down the middle and their underwear is showing?” Giggles from the gathered.

“If that happens they will be out for the rest of the game.”

“That’s not fair!”

“By the time they go back inside, change shorts, and come back out again, our class period will be over.”

Future prosecutor’s hand going berserk. 

“Is this question relevant?”

“Yes, absolutely!”

“Okay! Last question because we aren’t going to have that much time to actually play the game.”

“I’m not throwing any accusations or inferring that a certain person, who will remain anonymous, would do this, BUT…what if someone from the other team made some offensive remarks about another person in the course of game play? Would that be grounds for, so to speak, legal action?”

My colleague looks at her with a facial expression that communicates “No comment!’

“Okay! Mr. Wolfe’s class is red and my class is yellow! Let’s play!”

And the squirrels rush the field to play the game for the one reason we’ve planned it for. That they will run around like crazy for the next fifteen minutes!

Sixth Grade Apology Letters

March 20, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                         March 20, 2018

                                  

They walked into the classroom, three boys looking like they were headed to the gallows. Their math teacher led the procession of the condemned, faces downcast inspecting the carpet design. One of the three had visible body tremors.

They had committed the unforgivable sixth grade math class sin; they had detoured off the road of the teacher’s behavioral requirements for a substitute teacher and done some off-road free wheelin’ stupid stuff. Warnings, changing seats, and more warnings had not brought them back to the right path and so my end of the day written report to the teacher included their three names.

Now they stood before me. They had already been sentenced to make the trip to the seventh grade classroom I was guest teaching in that day. Their punishment, handed down to them by their six foot four inch teacher, was to write apology letters to the afflicted party…me!…come to my classroom, read them, hand them to me, and shake my hand.

They tried their best to be sincere, but how sincere can sixth grade boys be about never, ever, ever straying from what they know is appropriate. Sincerity is a momentary commitment that gets forgotten as easily as the jackets and water bottles left behind as they hurry out of a classroom. “Staying focused” is a higher learning skill safely untouched by the male members of this class.

“Mr. Wolfe, I am sorry for making inappropriate noises during your class. I am very sorry for causing the whole class to be distracted…Next time you substitute in my class I will listen at my best!”

I controlled the chuckling that was bubbling up inside me. The forlorn looks would surely be replaced with sighs of relief within thirty seconds of leaving my classroom.

I remember being in sixth grade! I had so much energy, or as we said “ants in my pants”, that I couldn’t sit still. School was hard, recess was easy! My teacher, however, was Mr. Cooper, an imposing giant of a man who was not hesitant about using a paddle on your behind. Witnessing a couple of classroom criminals receiving their judgments early in the school year caused most of us to quiver in our seats. And…except for music and physical education, Mr. Cooper taught ALL of my classes! He was the shepherd of our class herd for the whole school day…everyday! The fact that his younger brother was a classmate of my older brother at Williamstown High School did not buy me an ounce of grace. I learned out of fear that whole year.

A couple of days after the three “wiser” boys came to me I passed one of them in the hallway. He saw me coming and instantly started inspecting the hallway tile he was about to step on.

“Good morning!” I greeted him, also using his first name.

He looked up, a bit startled. “Good morning, Mr. Wolfe!”

It was a moment of grace in a school hallway, a peace offering towards one who had already made restitution. Perhaps…just perhaps, he will realize that he has not been judged and labeled for life, but rather understands that he is seen as valued regardless of his slip-ups.

After all, he is still in sixth grade!