Posted tagged ‘substitute teaching’

The Blessing of Cluelessness

December 12, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                       December 12, 2017

                            

Recently I was sitting on the bench waiting for my 8th Grade boy’s basketball team to begin their game. The 7th Grade team had played right before us, and, after a post-game meeting with her team, the coach came out of the girl’s locker room, where the boys had been assigned to dress, and sat down beside me. She was laughing…one of those “I can’t believe I heard that” laughs.

“What’s going on, Coach?” I asked her, wanting to be clued in on the humor behind the chuckling.

“I just heard one of the boys say to one of his teammates as they stood in front of a machine anchored to the locker room wall, “Twenty-five cents! Who would pay twenty-five cents for a napkin?”

Sometimes middle school kids bless us with their cluelessness. The head librarian at the middle school where I coach told me a story about another 7th Grader who was reading an article about the Easter Island’s famous stone statues. He called across the library to her and asked her, “What does defecation mean?” She let him know that it means to poop. A strange look came over his face as he stared at the picture in the article. She watched for a few moments and his expression of confusion did not change. It was as if he was trying to figure out a math problem, so she walked over to see what was puzzling him. There was a man in the picture standing in front of the statues showing their massive size in comparison to him. Then she saw what the wording was underneath the picture. It said, “Easter Island stone statues are thought to be the result of deification.” The librarian chuckled as she realized the student’s confused look was because he was trying to figure out how the man in the picture had been able to poop out the statues?

Cluelessness leads us to moments of humored blessing!

One of the reasons I love teaching and coaching seventh graders is the heightened level of cluelessness that appears in their midst. I was the same way growing up! Perhaps my enjoyment has some connection to some of those past personal experiences. I see myself in the rear mirror of some of the seventh graders I’m walking by.

We often limit our understanding of blessing to the serene, the peaceful, the surprise gift in the mail, but some of the pimply cluelessness of adolescent life also falls into that category as well.

In fact, last week as I was substitute teaching seventh grade a couple of students were updating me on some of the middle school lingo that I was clueless about. They taught me what a couple of words meant and challenged me to use them in some way in my next class. When I did they burst out laughing! There’s something refreshing to students to be able to view cluelessness in their instructors.

God blesses us through wisdom and revelation, but he also touches the tickle side of our spirit through the innocent moments of cluelessness.

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!

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?”

Re-entering The World of First Grade

September 20, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                         September 19, 2017

                               

The six year old boy stood beside my desk and looked at me. “I’ve never had a boy teacher before. I’ve always had girl teachers.”

“Oh, is that so?” I replied.

“Yes, and I’ve always wanted a boy teacher. If I didn’t have a boy teacher by the time I’m eight or nine I was going to be really upset!”

“Okay! Well, I’m a boy!” He smiled and walked back to his desk. My morning of teaching first graders was beginning with one young man’s personal agenda being fulfilled.

Being a substitute teacher in first grade is a delightful experience…mostly! There were the moments when movement in certain students legs required them to get out of their seats and wiggle for a few seconds, and there’s always a student who wants to answer everything, be the one who is always chosen, and the one who is always first in line…but, for the most part, it’s an enjoyable experience. Someone’s pencil falls on the floor every five seconds, but no one ever throws a pencil at another student. That doesn’t become a problem until like…middle school!

Being a man…or a “boy teacher” in first grade causes the mouths of first grade students to drop open as they see the teacher of the other gender standing there as they arrive.

Some people who know me would say that my maturity level is similar to a first grader’s. At the school I subbed at a classical piece of music is played over the speakers in the classroom to begin the school day. I could not help myself as I swayed and moved my head from side-to-side in front of the classroom. The students giggled at my gyrations! In my opinion first grade needs to include a lot of laughter and giggling. Each day needs to be an experience in education, not a task in learning.

I led them on a journey with a nomad tribe, as we studied history. I made a fool of myself by intentionally saying the months of the year incorrectly and having them tell me when I messed up. I told them about my family as they enjoyed their mid-morning snack. My granddaughter is in first grade this year, and they thought that was pretty cool!

But this first grade class steered me back on the road when I was straying off-course. For example, at the beginning of the day the date is written on the board and I was forgetting to do that. STOP! As we were heading out for recess I had not taken the whistle that was hooked to the wall right by the door. One cute girl with a very serious look on her face corrected me. I repented of my omission and grabbed the whistle. I believe she has a future in law enforcement.

At noon the teacher who had been at training that morning…a girl teacher!…returned and I turned the rest of the day’s journey over to her…a little sad that I was leaving and blessed to have been a part of it!

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!

Nicknaming Middle Schoolers

August 24, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                           August 24, 2017

                                 

This week marks the beginning of my second full year of substitute teaching. I have settled into enjoying my role as a mostly middle school substitute teacher, although I do have two days of kindergarten physical education coming up soon! When I mention to some people about subbing for middle school they look at me like I have a flu virus or a tattoo on my face…diseased and disturbed!

Last week I stood in the middle school entry way waiting for football practice to begin and in the few minutes I was there I was asked by three different teachers to be their subs for a total of 14 days in the coming two months. One teacher called me in July to schedule me for late August (today and tomorrow) and September.

Call me a “strange-o!”

One of the ways I connect with middle school kids is by gradually giving them nicknames that sometimes make sense, but often don’t! The nicknames, however, stick to them like flies on honey! This morning one young lady reminded me that I had nicknamed her “Georgia” last year, because her name is Savannah. One of her classmates then asked me to call her “California” for no apparent reason.

Last year Bryson became “Bison”. Another young man whose initials are “A.B.” became “Arby’s.” A young lady who requested that I give her a nickname became “The Professor”.

Nicknames make kids feel special in a funny kind of way. My nickname in high school was a takeoff on my name…Bill Wolfe. We were studying Beowulf in English and someone picked up on the similarity in pronunciations. To this day I can go back to Ironton, Ohio, see an old classmate from forty-five years ago, and be called Beowulf, or “Beo” for short!

To be honest, a lot of first names these days are hard for me to pronounce. I look at the class roster and don’t see many students named Bob, Jane, Susan, or John. Instead I look down the class list of young boys and girls who have more syllables than Mississippi. Pronouncing the names are like running obstacle pronunciation courses, each syllable ready to trip my tongue up.

Last year some seventh graders that I subbed for quite a bit even gave me a nickname. Instead of “Wolfe”…one syllable, they named me “Wolfe-a”, like I’m French. The “a” is sounded  like it’s flying into the ozone! It made me feel good, that a bunch of seventh graders felt me worthy enough for a nickname. I remember a few nicknames we had for some of my teachers back in school and they were not French, but definitely not very flattering!