Posted tagged ‘substitute teaching’

The Specialness of Special Needs Students

September 28, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                   September 28, 2019

                         

I’ve been looking forward to bedtime these past few days. By 7:30 I’m being challenged to stay upright until 9:00. I’ve been teaching special needs students at Timberview Middle School. Let’s just say that I’m getting my steps in during the school day.

It’s a three week assignment that they asked to take on while the teacher is away. One week is done and I’m down three pounds!

It’s been amazing, amusing, intriguing, and educational. Each of the students has their challenges and their awesome characteristics. Each is unique in some way and just like any other middle school kid in other ways.

For example, yesterday I was teaching a lesson to a group of 8th graders about the American Revolution. I mentioned the Declaration of Independence that was signed on July 4, 1776, and then strayed off with the question about whether any of them have watched fireworks. One girl shook her head yes and then said “Katy Perry, Fireworks.”

Being the old guy who is immersed in the middle school culture and yet totally clueless, I asked what “Katy Perry, Fireworks” meant. That led to us pulling up the song on a cell phone and singing it together. The young lady wants me to work on it and sing it solo-style on Monday. 

And then there’s the 7th grade boy who I do math work sheets with. Each time he gets a problem correct he becomes a drummer with his pencil and the edge of the table. His pencils literally take a beating each day. One 6th grade boy calls everyone “Dude”, even the school principal, but has added “Mr. Wolfe” to his vocabulary now. 

The para professionals who work with the students, go to the regular classrooms with them, help them to the bathroom, and do special feeding for the ones who require it…are incredible! I’m like a fish out of water that is being saved numerous times each day. They appreciate the consistency of my presence and my willingness to help, my conversation with the students and communication with classroom teachers about assignments and daily topics, but they know I’m a green rookie. 

It’s a new kind of education. I’ve discovered the specialness of their personalities, the challenges of keeping their attention, the variety of “paces”…from the young lady that required 28 minutes just to get to the physical education class outside, to the 8th grade boy who I can’t keep up with as he runs to give his mom a hug at the end of the school day.

I see the strain on the paras, who must constantly be alert to the sudden changes in their students’ movements and decisions- the chance of a sudden fall, shift in direction, changes in mood, and need to go to the restroom. There is no down time. A couple of them are often bruised by the unintentional blows that they receive.

And yet the work is rewarding. It is a reminder that the most rewarding moments of life are usually uncomplicated expressions of delight and discovery. Understanding algebra is one thing, but having a challenged student consistently being able to correctly add another number to an “8” is another. 

I see other students trudging through their school days uninspired and uninterested. Most of the special needs students look forward to their school days. It is their daily adventure into a place of discovery and relationships. They walk to class with their peer partners and engage in conversations about life. It’s the place where they are challenged, but also cheered.

For the adults that walk along beside them, it’s an opportunity to see life from a totally different perspective. 

And for me? Well…come Monday I’d better be ready with “Fireworks”!

Middle School Sub Teacher: Episode XXVI

September 14, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                    September 14, 2019

                             

It was a week!

I was in a middle school classroom five days this past week. The last four days were for 8th Grade Social Studies, a class I had also subbed in the week before another four days. In essence, I shepherded this flock for the past two weeks.

Some of the adolescent lambs needed some encouragement, some needed a watchful eye to keep them from falling into the chasm of complicating life. A few were identified as wolves in sheep’s clothing, seeking to lead the class to destruction. And then there were the sheep, gentle in nature and smart beyond their years.

There were statements like this: 

            “Rhode Island isn’t a state, is it?” 

           And “Mr. Wolfe, this doesn’t make any sense.” “What’s that?” “It says the Quakers believed in the s______________ of c____________ and s______________. What’s that mean?” “You mean right here in the reading where it says ‘the separation of church and state’?” “Oh!”

A couple of students put a ‘c’ in Quaker and made them Quackers. Puritans became “puritains”, a rare form of plantains. Spell check doesn’t work when you write it out longhand.

One student brought me his essay to read. I encouraged him to try reading it out loud to himself. “When I read it, it’s worded like a dialogue line for Tonto, saying something to the Lone Ranger.” 

I received a few questions such as this: “Mr. Wolfe, how many sentences do we have to write for the essay question?”

“So what you’re really asking is what is the minimum I have to do?”

            Pause before the confession. “Ahhh…yes.”

But then there were the ones who went beyond the expected. Like, “Mr. Wolfe, if I run out of room with my essay can I continue writing on another piece of paper?” I fight back the tears of appreciation. “Thank you for helping me to believe again in the possibility that 8th Grade students can be awesome!”

Talking to two girls who did minimal work on an in-class assignment about 9/11: “Hey, I’m a bit disappointed in the lack of effort. I’ll give you the opportunity to come in during lunch tomorrow and bring a little more effort to the assignment.”

“Why do you want us to do that, Mr. Wolfe?”

“Because I’m concerned about the educational pursuit of excellence in your life.”

“You’re what?” (Confused looks on the two who seem to reside in the land of confusion).

“I’m concerned about the educational pursuit of excellence in your life.”

No comments, just confusion that awkwardly turns into grins.

“Mr. Wolfe, can I come and have lunch with you and talk about strategy for GaGa Ball?” (GaGa ball has become a popular outdoor game that’s kind of like mass dodgeball in a octagon ring).

“Ahhh…okay!”

“Mr. Wolfe, am I one of your favorite students?”

            “Yes, you are! You’re in the top 200!”

 

“Mr. Wolfe, don’t you wish you could teach us again next week?”

“I break out in hives just thinking about it!”

Back to the two girls mentioned above.

“We have homework again!!!” Pained facial expressions.

“Yes, I’m-“

“We know, we know! You’re concerned about the educational something in our lives!”

I smile. I think I’m getting through to them.

Laughers, Lamenters, and Losers

July 13, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                  July 13, 2019

                        

I was telling my sister a story from my middle school substitute teaching experiences of this past year. It probably was the one where a seventh grade boy tried to hide in the library and play video games on his cell phone. 

She laughed and said, “Oh, Bill, you make me laugh every time you come to visit us!” 

Shortly after that we drove past a section of run-down houses and properties along the banks of the Ohio River that made us shake our heads and I said, “I’ve come to realize that there are those people in life who make you laugh, those you make cry, and those who just make you shake your head.”

Laughers, lamenters, and losers.

I’m in the laughing category. I had enough lamenting during my 36 years as a Baptist pastor. There was plenty a Sunday where someone who looked like they had been sucking on lemons before they arrived at church, continued siphoning the joy out of the congregation. When I retired…kinda’…at the end of 2015 laughter moved back in with me. 

Being a coach and a substitute teacher with middle schoolers brings multitudes of laughter into my life. 

Like the kid who decided he wanted to sit under his desk one morning as school was beginning. My advice to sit IN his seat went unheeded and so he found himself in the principal’s office before we had even said the pledge of allegiance.

Or the young lady who noticed that I was giving nicknames to several other students and she wanted one. So I named her “Beano”, which was just a slight variation from her real name. I heard her grumble to her friend, “Oh, great! He gives me a nickname that deals with farting.” The next year I changed it, after discovering what a great young lady she was and her level of intelligence. She became “Braino”. She liked that better.

I love to laugh. In most situations of life (Notice I said most!) I can find an avenue towards laughter.

Lamenters are those who have endured the traumas and trials of life and you feel for them. Long illnesses, tragedies, unfair circumstances, heartaches…the list of life events leaves the listener saddened and empathetic. 

There are some lamenters who feel almost at home in the residence of drama. They wear the moments like a dark sweater that fits well. 

Lamenters sap our energy. We hurt for them, try to walk with them, and offer encouraging words to them. 

My dad was a laugher and my mom was a lamenter. Through 65 years of marriage he encouraged her and walked with her. He loved her dearly and they were about as devoted to one another as a couple can possibly be. 

Lamenters aren’t bad people. They tend to simply be more pessimistic. Laughers are, more often than not, optimists.

But then there are the losers! That is, those people who just make you shake your head. They are the ones who after hearing what they did, you mutter to yourself, “What was he thinking?” They are folk who overslept the day common sense was being distributed, and tend to think that the solution to their financial debts is just one more lottery ticket away. 

Like the man in Oregon who burglarized a house, along with his cat. (Does that make his cat a “cat burglar”?) He was caught INSIDE the walls of the home. He had eaten two and a half cupcakes that were in the refrigerator, and had put on a “onesie” that belonged to the woman who lived in the house. The cat was wearing a tee shirt. It’s a story that you read and you just shake your head…”what was he thinking?” 

Laughers, lamenters, and losers, that pretty much sums up people. I suppose I could have come up with a few other “L’s” for categories like “Lame”, “Laid Back”, and “Leave Me Alone!”, but I’ll just LEAVE it at that!

Yearbook Signings

May 31, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                       May 30, 2019

                              

Today was my last day of substitute teaching for this school year. Tomorrow I’m having a root canal. Some of the middle school teachers were willing to trade places with me if I took their classes.

I said no!

Today, however, I had several students come to me with their yearbooks and ask me to sign them. I can’t just sign my name like a doofus! I HAVE to write something, a few words of wisdom, or some inspirational jargon with a personal spin to it.

One 8th grade girl begged me to come and sub in high school next year. I let her have some hope that I would consider it, but I think I’d rather gargle with spoiled milk!

End-of-the-school year emotions run the whole spectrum. At one end are students who are crying their eyes out and at the other are students counting down the minutes like a NASA rocket launch just waiting for the final bell to ring.

“Mr. Wolfe, would you sign my yearbook?”

“Sure!” I take it in hand and glance at the words already written by others, hoping someone wrote this young lady’s name in their greeting. If not, I create a nickname on the spot, like “K-Factor”, “Brainiac”, and “Groovy Girl!” (No, just kidding on that last one!).

“K-Factor! What an awesome young lady you are! Every time I see a Snicker’s bar next year I’ll think of you!”

“Steady Freddy! You brought a smile to my face every time I had you in class this year. You are something else! Have a great summer!”

“Jill! Keep being as awesome as you are and the sky’s the limit!”

“Judy! Eat your veggies!”

The yearbook signings are diverse in message, some funny and some serious, some meaningless and others with words that will bring back a smile years from now. I didn’t have yearbooks from my middle school days. My first yearbook, still on my shelf, is from my freshman year at Maysville High School in Zanesville, Ohio. I was 4’10” with eyeglasses that kept sliding down my nose. In fact, I was runner-up in the school chess tournament that year. There is a picture in the yearbook where I am shaking the hand of the champion, a junior, and my glasses look like they’re about to fall off my face. I look at that picture now, 50 years later, and cringe but also chuckle. Some of these students will have the same reactions when they look at their pictures sometime in the future.

“Good Lord, what was I doing with my hair back then?”

“Look at my facial expression! Was I constipated that day?”

“Thank God, I stopped wearing that stupid headband by the time I got out of high school!”

And the signings. They will look at what Johnny wrote and laugh, or what Andrew wrote that makes no sense, or what Kyle wrote that a handwriting interpreter wouldn’t be able to figure out.

Students who have caused my underwear to get into a wad suddenly want me to sign their yearbook. I am honored that they value my signature so much. Some of the students who have caused me to run screaming to my car after school are the ones who want me to plant a few “Words from WW” in the center of their page. In 2039 when they pull their copies off their shelves many of them will get perplexed looks on their faces as they try to remember who Mr. Wolfe was…and that’s okay!

Missing Middle Schoolers…Sorta’!

May 17, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                     May 15, 2019

                        

Dear Kids!

Perhaps a few of you have been asking the question this week that needs answering: Where is Mr. Wolfe?

Perhaps not!…but just pretend, okay!

I could not be with you because I had to be in another place, sailing down the Rhine River in Germany! It was a tough choice…spending a few days controlling the Timberview Middle School chaos, conversing with snotty—nosed sixth graders; trying to keep the attention of overly dramatic seventh grade girls, who are still under the allusion that Johnny with bad breath, facial hair, and an inflated ego, likes them; keeping an eye on Peter Picker, who has the unfortunate habit of picking his nose and eating the treasures; and providing security for any eighth grade class to make sure no criminal offenses are committed! 

Yes, sailing down the Rhine on a riverboat cruise, being pampered with exceptional cuisine, and twice-a-day maid service…or substitute teaching middle schoolers…tough choice!

But I DO miss you! Paris was lovely and romantic, but subbing for Mr. Frasca and PE class is the bomb!

I miss having to say to Gaming Gary “Are you on your cell phone?”, and then having the gaming guru get all offended and disrespectful because, as all of his classmates know, the world revolves around him and his ability to rise to Level 1,893!

I miss the high fives and singing “Happy Birthday” to Ava in my operatic voice, even though her special day has been in the rear view mirror for two months.

I miss tupperware salad lunches!

I miss the bleary-eyed looks and frizzy hair of the students, who obviously fell out of bed at 7:20 and were seated in the classroom 20 minutes later.

I miss the sharing of sarcastic humor with students who appreciate the personal attention and the fact that I actually know their names.

I miss the stories that are being created, although sailing along the Rhine with my wife is creating some new memories that are meaningful and do not involve any references to Sponge Bob.

I miss Mr. McKinney and how we play off one another in comedic dialogue.

I miss the high-pitched voices of the next rocket scientists and the apathetic attitudes of those future fast-food restaurant employees who are about as exciting as generic cereal!

I miss the opportunities to just hang around with awesome kids, be youth-enized by their perspectives and verbiage, and be delighted by their potential.

Some days when I substitute teach could be compared to discovering you have a big pimple on the end of your nose, but most days are more like adventures into a brave new world! Just keep bad breath Johnny away from me and remind me never to shake hands with Peter Picker!

Middle School…Because’s

May 4, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                              May 4, 2019

                               

It’s a big word in middle school, overused and misunderstood!

Because!

It arrives at the crossroads of question and answer or, better yet, confusion and illogical reason.

This week it made more appearances at our middle school than UPS. The packages were in different sizes and forms.

For example, yesterday a student was completing a math test. One of the problems had him deciding which choice was better…if you bought 10 oranges for $4.00 or 17 oranges for $6.49…and then to explain why you decided on your choice? The student chose the right answer, but he hadn’t given an explanation. I said to him, “Buddy (not his actual name)! You need to give an explanation.”

He looked at me with an expression of disbelief about my request and then placed the pencil lead on the paper and wrote. His words lay as flat on the page as his reason.

“Because it is!” That’s what he had written. “Because it is!”

“Buddy, that’s not an explanation. Because it is…that doesn’t explain anything!” He focused his eyes on me through the lens of his eyeglasses. “Why do you wear glasses? Because you do…is that the reason?”

He nodded yes. “No, you wear them to help you see. Because isn’t an explanation, it’s an excuse.”

He looked back at his paper and erased…the right answer and the explanation, replaced them with the wrong answer and the explanation, “Who needs 17 oranges anyway!”

Earlier in the week a student in one of my classes had been caught playing video games on his cell phone in the midst of class, a no-no for seventh graders! I had him take his phone to the office, but then he never came back to class. Later on the security person found him hiding in the library. During lunch he came back into the classroom to get something. His quick look towards me conveyed irritation and anger. I had probably interfered with a career high in his game score.

I asked him why he hadn’t come back to class after taking his phone to the office. His eyes were doing bodily harm to me as he answered, “Because I didn’t want to!” There it was! The pathway to understanding…the word that our parents used on us followed by the tail ending of “I said so! And that’s the only reason you need!”

If an educator begins a question with the word “Why” there is a good chance the student will answer with a “because” statement. The probability of “because” increases as the end of the school year approaches. 

“Why did you set off firecrackers in the cafeteria right by the nacho bar?”

“Because!”

“Why did you think it was okay to wear a tee shirt with the middle finger prominently displayed on it?”

“Because…the shirt was clean!”

“Why did you throw his shoe on top of the building?”

“Because I wanted to see if I could do it!”

Of course, why do 12, 13, and 14 year olds do a lot of the things that they do? And, in a few years new ages will be inserted into that statement! And then many times in the years following it will be said again about adults…adults at tailgate parties, adults speeding down turnpikes, adults trying to cheat on tax returns and/or their spouses. 

Because becomes the answer to the unexplainable and actions that have not wisely been thought through. And why is that?

As Buddy would say, because it is!

Doing The Woah

April 30, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                    April 30, 2019

 

They ask me to do it!

And do it again…and again!

There is something amusing to middle school students about convincing a senior citizen to do “The Woah. It’s a new thing, kinda’ like the fidget spinner was a new thing two years ago, and dabbing was a new thing a little bit before that. In regards to dance moves there’s been the Harlem Shake, the Mannequin, and “the floss”.

“The Woah” is about a quick moving of a dancer’s fists and then freezing the movement. It derived in Texas for some reason! Evidently, safer than cow-tipping!

Everyday I have middle school students asking me to do the Woah. Their favorite has become the “Woah” where I’m thrown an imaginary ball and make an imaginary catch. The “act” causes uncontrollable laughter from the adolescents, reminiscent of adults chuckling over the cute things one year olds do. Yes, sad isn’t it? I’m back to being ridiculously cute like a one year old!

There’s kids doing adult things and then there’s adults doing kids things! I’ve always been a kid at heart, but am now elderly in my ankles, knees, hips, and lower back.

So I do a little woahing! It’s cheap! No accessories or batteries to buy, or brand name to fashion. Just a simple movement of the hands!

Kids like my Moondance, also, although that is getting a little more difficult for my hips and knees to execute.

Yesterday an 8th Grade girl said to me, “Mr. Wolfe, you’re cool!” I thanked her and then retrieved my lunch from the refrigerator for the day, a plastic container of cottage cheese and cucumbers. The illusion of coolness quickly disappeared as she began gagging over my choice of cuisine. Cottage cheese to 8th Grade girls is cool in temperature only, and to be avoided like facial blemishes and bad hair days.

Perhaps the Woah will disappear as quickly as my residency in the land of “being with it!’ I’ll probably never know…and I’m okay with that!