Posted tagged ‘social studies’

Mr. Wolfe'(“Wolf-ay”), Substitute Teacher

December 6, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                          December 6, 2017

                               

Almost a year ago I had an unusual bonding experience. I got a phone call asking if I would do a long-term substitute teaching position for a month at the middle school I also coach at. The call came on Friday and I started the next Monday. I was as green as week-old guacamole when I arrived at 7:15 that morning of January 9th. The principal’s granddaughter was in my first class!

It was 7th Grade Social Studies and I admitted to the class that there were a lot of things that I DIDN’T KNOW as I started the journey. On the board in front of the classroom I made three columns of marks to indicate all the things I didn’t know…and then to the right of that a column of things that I did know that included about three tiny marks under it.

The class was held in one of the portable classrooms outside the school building, and on the first day high winds that registered as much as 110 miles an hour in the area made the classroom shake like a 7th Grader standing in the middle of the principal’s office. The school district cancelled afternoon bus transportation because a couple of trucks had blown over.

That was the first day of my new experience…and it was awesome! We laughed together each day in our pursuit of knowledge and figuring out the world. Each day the 125 students that entered my classroom taught me as much as I taught them. They knew things would be a bit different when I showed a Duck Tales cartoon to introduce our study of how inflation worked.

And then one day a couple of the girls were playing around with how to pronounce my name and they suddenly made me French. Wolfe became Wolfe’, pronounced “Wolf-ay”. To be fair, I had turned a couple of their names into French-sounding mademoiselles first and they returned the favor.

After my month-long stint I was a bit depressed at no longer heading to the portable classroom each morning. The other three teachers on my team asked me why I hadn’t applied to be the new teacher and were a bit surprised when I told them that I did not have a teaching degree. I was simply a state certified substitute teacher.

Those three teachers would call me to sub for them, and for the rest of the school year I was in one of the portables several times each month.

Now…Year Two…word has spread about the substitute with the French name and the new seventh grade students have joined the parade of students who have made me a French-Canadian. I walk down the hallway and have students yell my name. Yesterday I was subbing for Physical Education, today I have seventh grade language arts, tomorrow eighth grade science, and Friday seventh grade science.

And it’s awesome!

“Missing the (School) Kids!”

January 31, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                      January 31, 2017

                             

I’m a little grieved today…a little down in the dumps so to speak!

No, it isn’t my Spartans! They beat Michigan on Sunday! Yes!!!!! It isn’t the weather. Today is suppose to hit 60! Who can be grieved by sixty degrees on the last day of January except a polar bear!

Today I’m not teaching seventh graders about world governments! That’s why I’m a bit grieved.

For many of you, especially parents who have a seventh grader, such a statement about missing the flatulence, body odor, and squealing of seventh graders qualifies as lunacy. At a multitude of moments in a typical school day I would agree, but there were other stretches of awesomeness that drape over the annoyances.

Yesterday was my last day of a three week substitute teaching position in Room 306, otherwise known as “out in the portables!” Three weeks of teaching 120 seventh graders about supply and demand, the value that we place on moments and experiences, and finally…the variety of world governments and what we can learn from them.

At their core middle school students have not changed since I was a short spectacled seventh grader at Williiamstown (WV) Junior High in 1966. Twelve year olds are still goofy, uncertain, giggly, diverse, comfortable and uncomfortable with themselves as they’ve always been. There are the hard workers, the pretenders, and the indifferent.

They ask goofy questions and yet are surprised by the answers:

“Mr. Wolfe, I have A’s in all my classes except this one and one other. Why don’t I have an A in Social Studies?”

“Well…I think you need to understand that A does not stand for “average!”

Envision mouth dropping open in disbelief!

“Mr. Wolfe, you can call me LeBron because I am the greatest!”

“Well, I’m pretty sure that LeBron’s letter grade in seventh grade social studies was probably at least three levels above you!”

“Mr. Wolfe, do I have to take the quiz today?”

“Well, let’s see! Let’s analyze the situation. First of all to take the quiz requires that you be present…and you’re here! And second, everyone else is taking the quiz today…so I’m going to go with “Yes!”…final answer…and I don’t even need to call a friend!” (Yes, sarcasm comes in handy with 7th graders, although I’m not sure if the asking student understood the reference to “Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?”)

At the end of my last day it was a bit gratifying to have several students ask me with pleading voices if I would come back and sub in their classes?

So today I’m missing them! Well, there were a few who were like leeches, parasites whose purpose was to suck the blood out of you, but the other 115 students pumped life into me.

So what will I do with my day? Oh, that’s right! I have 7th Grade girl’s basketball practice this afternoon!

Expanding On the Expectations

January 25, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                        January 25, 2017

                            

I recently wrote a post on the list of “class expectations” I presented to my 7th Grade Social Studies classes that I’ve been substitute teaching. Next Monday will be my last day, a journey of fifteen days with 120 emerging citizens. It’s a journey that has involved death- the electric pencil sharpener croaked with a pencil still jammed in its mouth! A journey that has reacquainted me with how short school lunch periods are. A journey that has included students who want to do their best and others, similar to how I was, who just want to slide by! A journey where, like a shepherd, I’ve had to make sure that some of “the lambs” don’t wander off…topic!

The new teacher has been hired and the students get the news about her today. A couple of them have told me that they hope I’m their teacher for the rest of the year, but, honestly, I’m ready to resume a regular writing schedule occupying the last stool on the end at the counter of my local Starbucks gazing out at Pike’s Peak.

So here’s my list with some elaboration:

  1. Be here.
  2. No whining!
  3. No gum.
  4. Respect me.
  5. Treat each other with respect.
  6. Don’t do stupid.
  7. Expect to learn.
  8. Expect to even enjoy what you’re learning.
  9. Expect to teach me as we go.
  10. Expect to laugh…but never in a way that mocks someone else.
  11. Try your best, and always seek to do better.
  12. Don’t be a distraction or a disturbance.
  13. Be honest and have integrity.
  14. Share your ideas!
  15. Have fun!

Number 6- “Don’t Do Stupid!” One student said, “Mr. Wolfe, that’s not proper English!” I said that I knew that, but wanted to make a point that no one IS stupid. Doing stupid is a decision that someone makes…like the former football player I coached a few years ago who was dared to walk into the girls’s locker room where the girl’s softball team happened to be! He made the decision to do stupid…and got a five day suspension!

Number 11- “Try your best, and always seek to do better!” One student asked me what she had to do to get an “A”, and then the very next day she whined (#2- No whining!) that the world government project I had assigned to them was too hard. I reminded her of the question of the previous day, and added “I don’t know if you are aware of this or not, but ‘A’ does not stand for ‘Average!’”

Number 14- “Share your ideas!” Many of the students have taken me up on this one. Usually the ideas begin with words like “We should…” or “Do you know what would be cool?” And that has been way cool!

Great kids! Great experience! I look forward, however, to being able to actually chew my lunch!

Class Expectations

January 21, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                          January 21, 2017

                                     

Two weeks finished as a long-term substitute teacher for 7th Grade Social Studies! 120 students each school day filtering through one door into a roomful of desks that, unlike when I was in school, have no one’s initials carved into them.

Yesterday a young lady, whose family I’ve known for years, came up to me with “the long face” on. She looked at me and moaned, “Everyone loves your class!”

She’s not in it.

I don’t have a degree in teacher education, or been licensed/certfied by the state. I am not knowledgeable about educational philosophy, techniques, and curriculum. I’m simply an old fart who is enjoying the experience. It goes to what I told the class on my first day. I presented them with 15 Class Expectations, kind of like flags on a ski slalom course to show the downhill skier where he/she needs to go.

Number 8 on my list is “Expect to enjoy what you are learning!” There’s classrooms and times when straight lecture is the needed form, and there are other times when student input and discussion is the best road for discovery. I realize that I am not a grizzled veteran of the educational system, but I’ve listened to the stories of my sister, who taught university students who were looking towards careers as teachers, and my daughter who currently teaches 4th Grade. They found, and find, a balance between learning and enjoyment. My daughter greets her new class of students each year dressed up as a grandmother. Her students love her, and she loves her students!

I remember many of my teachers…the good, the bad, and the ugly. I remember the classes that I trudged to and from each day, wondering if there was an end in sight. My vision wasn’t on what I was learning, but rather on survival!

I replaced a teacher who the students loved. Several times in the past two weeks students, in referring back to him have begun sentences with the words, “Remember when we…”

I see it as an opportunity to guide students towards enjoying what they are learning, as opposed to turning them off to knowledge.

Number 10 on my list of expectations is “Expect to laugh…but never in a way that mocks someone else!”

Laughter is the saddle that keeps the student on the educational thoroughbred. We’ve laughed a lot these past two weeks as we’ve talked about “Supply and Demand”, “Taxes”, and other economic topics. They were tested on the material yesterday. I haven’t graded the papers yet, but I’m optimistic that almost all of them did well. If not…I may be blogging a retraction tomorrow!

As I would tell a story that made a point, and also cause laughter, students would raise their hands and share their own stories about similar experiences. Our laughter and chuckles bonded us on the road to understanding.

There is a definite connection between being in a new experience and the level of enjoyment of it. I understand that. After being a pastor for 36 years I recognize that my enjoyment level had taken a dip. Being a rookie often comes with optimism and enthusiasm, before the blood of too many parent-teacher conferences gets sucked out of you. I may have only one week left in this teaching position before a new teacher is brought on board. Maybe that’s a good thing, because I’ll leave still in a state of enjoyment and a volume of laughter.

And will have learned a lot! Oh, that’s number 9 on my list of expectations for the students: “Expect to teach me as we go!”

The Most Under Appreciated Occupation

January 15, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                           January 15, 2017

                              

There are a number of educators in my family. My dad taught high school agricultural science for a year in Kentucky before family demands caused him to pursue a different career path. His mom, my Granny Wolfe, was a teacher. My sister and brother-in-law were both teachers, and in the last several years of her career my sister was really a teacher of teachers. I’m married to a wonderful woman who taught pre-school deaf children before we were married. She had graduated from Texas Christian University with a degree in deaf education. One of her sisters was in vocational education for close to twenty years, and now my oldest daughter, Kecia, is in her twelfth year of teaching fourth grade.

Back in the mid-nineties I served on the school board of the Mason, Michigan school system. In that capacity, two years of which I served as President, I learned the challenges of being a quality school system and the daunting challenges of teachers. Now I’m a substitute teacher, and about to start my second week as a long-term substitute in a seventh grade social studies class.

What I’ve discovered is that teaching is the most under-appreciated occupation in our nation. Others may disagree with me, based on their observations and circumstances. I won’t debate the situation with them. From my perspective, however, a teacher is like a person who is asked to build a mansion with a pile of sticks, a bag of nails, and a hammer…and to do it quickly and with quality!

A teacher is a counselor…for the student who comes to school dealing with the fact that her parents are divorcing…and for the student whose dog just got hit by a car the night before.

A teacher is a listener…for the classroom full of students who all want to tell her what they did over Spring Break…and the student who needs to share what someone had said to her in the cafeteria at lunch that was hurtful.

A teacher is an evaluator…of the research papers turned in by a hundred and twenty students, tasked with the responsibility of evaluating who made a determined effort and who didn’t, who gave their best and who gave the minimum.

A teacher is a presenter…of subject matter that must be informative, understandable, and interesting. The challenge of educating the gaming and social media generation demands creativeness and a number of ways to communicate the material.

A teacher is asked to prepare students for state assessment tests and expected to have their students produce great scores…even though they have no control over such factors as home environment, limited resources of a family such as food and clothing, and emotional issues that effect a student’s ability to perform well.

A teacher is asked to participate in a number of ways outside of the classroom…such as meeting with the other teachers of their subject matter, school staff meetings, training meetings, team meetings, support school functions such as concerts, games, dances, and fundraising efforts.

A teacher is expected to continue his education…learning the latest in curriculum material, the updated technology, the new school procedures, and also know what it is that his students are interested in.

A teacher is expected to be innovative…thinking beyond the box even though most of her school day deals with stuff that is in the box, developing new and better ways of teaching old things.

A teacher has a never-ending lists of tasks to complete…replying to parent emails, meeting with students who need a bit more help in understanding the subject matter, grading papers, entering grades, contacting parents about their child’s classroom behavior, doing bus duty, doing cafeteria lunch duty, cleaning the room, communicating with the administration, and trying to get a few hours of sleep each night.

A teacher is a planner….of the classroom presentations weeks from now, putting lesson plans together way ahead of time in case he catches one of the numerous illnesses that his students have been freely passing around.

A teacher is underpaid, but passionate about her opportunity to influence lives.

A teacher is a difference maker. When I look back at my school years and also years of college and seminary training there are numerous teachers and professors who still are very memorable in my memory. They challenged me, changed me and motivated me to be someone who lived a life of purpose.

So back to my statement! Teachers make up the most under appreciated occupation…and yet, perhaps, they make the biggest difference!

Going Back To Class…as The Teacher

January 14, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                          January 14, 2017

                                  

My Great Aunt Lizzie took art classes at her local community college when she was 96. I still have one of the canvas paintings that she created- a picture of the log cabin she lived in when she was a child!

I went back to school this week, also…at the age of 62 years and 8 months! The difference is that I was the teacher in classrooms full of 7th Graders who took the huge task upon themselves of teaching the teacher.

I did not realize that “7th Grade” qualifies as a foreign language. This week I gave them an assignment that involved making a brief presentation in front of the class about who each of them is…interests, background, hobbies, etc. Most 7th Graders are wired! They are into gaming, YouTube, social media, and their friends. After each presentation I allowed the class to ask some clarifying questions about the insights the presenter had given about their life.

Questions like:

“What’s your favorite video game? What level are you on at before mentioned video game?”

    “Who are your favorite YouTubers?” 

    “Who is your favorite character in Harry Potter?

    “What’s your favorite Drake song?”

    The education came in the answers. On the chalk board at the front of the classroom I had put two headings: Don’t Know! and Know. Under each heading I had drawn lines. To begin the week I had two lines underneath the “Know” column. It was to let the students know that there was very little that I knew. Worded another way, I was pretty much clueless about this teaching thing! Under the “Don’t Know” heading I had two columns of about a dozen lines each. As the presentations took place the students noticed that once in a while I would take the two steps to the board and add another line of something new that I had just discovered that I didn’t know.

Those discovered unknowns usually were new language terms of the “Seventh-ish” language. I’m just glad I won’t be tested on it next week!

I need to go to Best Buy and browse the video game section. I’m still more familiar with “Baywatch” than I am with “Overwatch”. “Titan Fall”…ahhh, clueless! I’ve heard of Madden 17, but I haven’t played it. I’m from the generation of kids who played Electric Football, that unusual game where you lined up the players on a tabletop football field, turned the power on and watched them scatter all over the place like out-of-control ants. It was a game that was tortuous to play, and after a couple of months got crammed into the back of the closet.

I was also taught this week by this squadron of 120 students that there are a number of 7th Graders who are dealing with some deep hurts and pains. There’s a lot of uncertainty about what is and what will be. Gaming systems, music interests, and YouTube are safe topics to dwell on, as opposed to split families, parents being deployed, and depression. In that respect, 7th Graders haven’t changed. Forty years ago when I was their age I was dealing with the confusion of adolescence, the stigma of being the shortest student in my whole grade, and being the new kid in a school where just about everyone already had their set of friends. I’m thankful to this day for Terry Kopchak and Mike Bowman who saw me as the new kid who needed some friends. My education this week taught me that in a world of rapid change and new terminology some things don’t change.

The good news is that we (the 7th Grade squadron and me) journeyed together well this week. Being a retired pastor I’ve always been the shepherd, but this week I was more like the sheep with 120 guiding shepherds keeping me under control and pointed in the right direction.

Becoming the Student Again…as the Teacher

January 8, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                        January 8, 2017

                             

    Tomorrow I begin a long-term substitute teaching position, traveling with a pack of seventh grade adventurers through Sub-Saharan Africa for the next couple of weeks. In preparation I went to the public library and checked out a bunch of books, including Fodor’s The Complete Guide to African Safaris! Of all the continents Africa is the one I know the least about…and thus, I will be the “lead student” amongst a roomful of students in the discovery process.

I grew up in a time of black-and-white box TV sets on which I watched two Saturday morning shows each week: “Tarzan” and “Jungle Jim.” Those adventure shows gave me a very distorted view of the Dark Continent. I thought most of the male inhabitants ran around in loincloths. I had a roommate in my years of seminary training who frequently walked around campus in a loincloth. He even performed our wedding ceremony in 1979…in a suit though!

So I enter the jungle of a new classroom Monday morning on a learning safari!

I’m thinking of making a trip to Barnes and Noble today to see if they have a CliffsNotes book on Long-Term Substitute Teaching! I can just envision how it might begin: 1) Be on time! 2) Make sure you’re zipped! 3) Don’t pick your nose! 4) Don’t be afraid! They won’t eat you!

I’m looking forward to my new education. I’m replacing a great teacher. The worst thing I could do would be to make social studies bland and a daily torture. I remember the history class I had my junior year of high school. We were arranged alphabetically in rows and Betsy Wolfe was in front of me. I can’t tell you how many days I got a few snooze moments as I hid behind Betsy. I was totally bored by American History at that point!

And then when I was a sophomore in college I took an American History class one term, taught by a professor named Richard Jennison. It was the only class I ever took that he taught, but he made history come alive. Wherever that spark of interest was within me, he ignited it for U.S. History. The next year I switched majors and become a history major. I look back at that and realize that Professor Jennison was the change agent in my life.

As I begin this new adventure I’m hoping I’ll come alongside kids in an adventure of learning, but, most of all, I don’t want any students to be like I was in that high school history class…hiding behind Betsy Wolfe with my eyes closed!