Posted tagged ‘sixth graders’

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!

Assuming Knowledge

October 19, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                             October 19, 2017

                                       

Much of our lives are based on assumptions. Assumptions are as basic as assuming that the next time I inhale there will be air around me to breathe in, and when I get out of bed in the morning that there will be a solid floor under my feet to step on.

We assume certain rules of order. Close to the middle school I teach at there is a four-way stop. When the car on my right proceeds through the intersection I assume that I am the next vehicle that will go. Yesterday, however, someone behind the first car did a quick stop and stepped on the gas. My assumption of courteous and orderly driving was false. Irritation did a quick circuit through my body as the wild woman driver turned in front of me and gave me a non-conforming look.

Yesterday I was teaching a class of sixth graders about the homesteaders of the latter part of the eighteen hundreds in our country, the push to settle the Great Plains and the West. I began by talking about the Civil War and was taken back by some of the blank stares that communicated ignorance of the topic.

“Who knows what century the Civil War was fought in?”

A raised hand. “1900’s.” I gasped.

“No. Anybody else?”

Another raised hand by a confident young man. “1700’s?”

“No.”

Another hand. “1800’s?”

“Correct!” Of course, the student, using his inflated amount of common sense, had figured it out by the process of elimination.

I had assumed that sixth grade students knew about the Civil War. In quizzing them on why there was a Civil War only about twenty per cent knew the primary reason as to why it happened. Of course, about eighty percent of them knew the names of the most popular video games out right now and the words to several of the top ten songs on the “hits chart”!

It occurred to me that part of the confusion of these times that we live in goes to the uncertainty of assumptions. There’s the greying of guidelines, the haziness in unwritten rules, and the fog of expectations.

For instance, my daughter who is a fourth grade teacher can no longer assume that a parent who is sitting in front of her at a parent-teacher conference is on the same page with her in seeking to help the student have academic success. She now, too often, runs into parents who see her as their son’s adversary. The conference becomes a battle where she is viewed as the problem as opposed to little Jimmy’s reading level still being that of a second grader. She can no longer assume that a conference will help the parents understand where their child is in his schoolwork, and how they can help him.

Today before my 8th Grade basketball practice I will draw the team together and talk about the importance of selflessness in creating a strong team. I can no longer assume that players that I coach understand that the game they are playing is a team sport. I still remember the halftime locker room several years ago where the team I was assistant coach for was trailing by ten points. One player suddenly said, “Coach, I’ve got eleven points!” It was almost as if she didn’t understand that the purpose of the game was to win it, not keep track of personal stats.

We sometimes assume too much, assume things are the way they’ve always been, and assume people have a basic understanding.

Ohhhh…..for a clearer time when people understood the way life worked better!

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!