Posted tagged ‘substitute teaching’

A 3 Year Old and 8th Grade Girls

May 25, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                        May 25, 2018

                              

She met me in the driveway. Her mom (our daughter) was heading to her next to last day of school, teaching fourth graders, and her brother and sister were heading to the same school for their education. 

But she was staying!

“Hi, Granddad!” 

Corin, our three year old granddaughter, was ready. We blew and chased bubbles for thirty minutes and then pursued an imaginary creature she referred to as the beast. I made the mistake of calling the beast “her”, and was quickly corrected on the gender! A few minutes later I had to share an imaginary Happy Meal with Chicken McNuggets with the beast. 

We took a walk…a long walk!

Not once did she have to look at her cell phone. Her imagination and grandfather were enough to occupy her time and keep her attention.

The day before I had substitute taught 8th Grade Science for a third straight day. Thus, 8th Grade girls! The differences between the three year old and the girls in my Wednesday classroom are more than just eleven years of life and size. They are also worlds apart.

A three year old’s life is uncomplicated. 8th Grade girls are complicated! Corin’s decisions included what kind of juice she wanted to drink and whether we should play inside or outside. 8th Grade girls make decisions on which path to go down. Many of them choose the path of wisdom and common sense. Some choose the narrow path of uncertainty, where a wind or a sudden stumble can send them falling in one direction or the other. But there are others who have chosen the path that leads to destruction. It is a way that often features defiance and drama, a deafness to reason and a blindness to consequences. 

Before cell phones and social media it seems that deciding which path an adolescent would take came a couple of years later, but life has sped up to a scary pace of change. 

The girls in my science classes this week, that I had also taught last year in an awesome long-term substitute teaching experience of 7th Grade Social Studies, listened to me, talked to me, and remembered the January journey we had walked together. Many of the ones that didn’t know me blew me off as irrelevant and, since I’m “old”, uncool!

The paths are as different as east is from west. The distance between them results in a lack of hearing or, more accurately, an unwillingness to hear someone who is going in the other direction. 

And I had a growing yearning for my three year old “play buddy” to stay that age! I longed for her to stay at that point of deciding on what kind of juice she was going to drink and what imaginary creature Granddad was going to share a Happy meal with.

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!

Creating Poets Without Beards…or Rhyme!

January 27, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                              January 27, 2018

                             

I was given the opportunity yesterday to teach seventh grade Language Arts class. One hundred adolescents more excited about a weekend of doing nothing as opposed to fifty-seven minutes of literary creating and discovery!

The assignment for each period was to create a poem, based on an ancient form of Chinese poetry called “Shi” poetry. I explained the creative process to them, showed them a few examples and set them off on the road of pondering, erasing bad lines of gibberish, and creative expression.

“Mr. Wolfe, what do you think about this? “I have a flying dog who flies in the air like a pigeon.”

“Needs a bit of work!”

“Why?”

“Well, I’m not exactly sure where you’re going with this, but if you have a flying dog do you really need to repeat two words later that he flies? And, isn’t it enough to say it’s a flying dog, as opposed to comparing him to a pigeon?” He ponders, returns to his seat, and I notice he immediately flips his pencil to use the eraser.

A masterpiece just destroyed by a substitute teacher who doesn’t understand about flying dogs.

“Mr. Wolfe, what do you think about this?” He hands me his creation, which I carefully read.

“The season of winter has begin

The light will be dim…”

“Shouldn’t that word be ‘begun’?

“Well, I wanted it to rhyme with dim.”

“(Thinking the words but not saying them: Listen, Longfellow!) Begin doesn’t rhyme with dim.”

“Yes, it does…begin…dim…” He is trying to convince me that I’m in error.

“No, it doesn’t! And, anyway, you don’t need to rhyme!”

“I know, but I thought it sounded good!”

(Thinking the words again: “Well, it doesn’t!”)

There were other inspired students yesterday who impressed me with the depth of their thoughts and flow of meaning. Poems about the afterlife, death, and personal value were mixed in with other poems about chicken wings, watermelon, and having a rat for a pet.

The drudgery I sensed about the assignment was soon replaced with an excitement about personal expression. Even if the poem was about macaroni and cheese there was still a sense of pride about what had been transmitted from the pencil to the paper.

When students shared their creations they read them with smiles on their faces and the hope of recognition. When each student finished reciting we snapped our fingers together like we were beatniks from the 60’s.

A few poets may have been created in those moments yesterday, as well as visions of flying dogs who look like pigeons.

Did Anybody See That?

January 23, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                         January 23, 2018

                                     

Life is filled with those moments!

On Saturday morning I was leading a skills session for the Buddy Basketball program at my old church. The first session was for kindergarten through second graders. As I was monitoring the shooting grunts and groans before we began, one girl kept shouting at me, “Watch this! Watch this!” I watched a couple of her shots sail towards a different zip code than where the basket was located and then began looking around the gym at other small people, including my six year old granddaughter.

A minute or so later the same little girl who had been shouting at me to watch shouted, “Did you see that? Did you see that?” She had made a basket and wanted someone to recognize the impossible made possible.

The night before my wife and I had been watching the Michigan State men’s basketball team take out their frustrations on Indiana. In the midst of the game Miles Bridges had an incredible dunk over a defender, and I exclaimed to her “Did you see that?” We wore out the batteries in our remote control replaying the play so many times. It was a moment in time, for Spartan fans at least, that you want to share with others.

Yesterday morning I was substitute teaching at The Classical Academy. We had a two hour delay because of the snow and icy roads. I arrived ahead of schedule in order to make sure I understood the plan for the day. There weren’t many cars in the parking lot when I started strolling across and then…whoops! My feet launched towards the sky and my backside met the icy pavement and snow. My coffee (Kona from Buddha’s Cup in Hawaii, no less!) splattered onto the snow, creating a creamy dotted pattern. I felt my salad lunch jump around in its container, and my right hip was reminded that it’s no longer young.

And then I got to my feet and looked around asking myself, “Did anybody see that?” One of the other basketball coaches I work with did. He smiled at me, and I swore him to secrecy. “Don’t tell the freshmen basketball players!” He smiled at me again.

Sometimes we ask the question “Did anybody see that?” in hopes that our viewing audience is at least one, and wishing for more. At other times, however, we ask the same question and hope that no one but God viewed the embarrassment of the event.

Murphy’s Law says “No one will see the hole-in-one you hit because your partner is searching for his ball in the weeds!” Murphy’s Law also says “A crowd will notice when you want no one to see!”

Deep sigh!

Substitute Teaching Sarcasm

January 19, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                            January 19, 2018

                                 

I love being a substitute teacher amongst middle school students. Each class is a new experience in “classroom culture.” It takes me about ten minutes to figure out personalities… or lack of!

Students who have me for the first time soon discover that I use sarcastic humor like sunscreen at the beach. I slap it on all over the place!

It begins with the student’s question: “Are you our sub today?”

“No. They discovered that I had never properly completed 7th Grade so I had to re-enroll for the rest of the year!”

“Seriously?”

“Would I lie to you?”

“Yes!”

“Okay! Yes, I’m your sub today.”

Or “When is Ms. So-and-So coming back?”

“She’s not!”

“What?”

“Her cover was blown. She was in the Witness Protection Program and they found her. She had to be relocated to another school in another state dealing with second graders.”

“Seriously?”

Or, a conversation that happens multiple times each day.

“Mr. Wolfe, can I go to the restroom?”

“You should be able to. You’re in seventh grade.”

Confused look. “So, can I?”
“If you can’t you’ve got some real issues.”

Starts to leave.

“Where are you going?”
“You said I could go to the restroom.” (Another student behind the student whispers: “Say ‘may I go’.”) “Oh, may I go to the restroom?”

“Yes, you may!”

“Coach Wolfe, I can’t wait for basketball to start.”

“Me either! And they finally replaced those backboards that you put cracks in last year.”

“Mr. Wolfe, why can’t we start school later, like about 10:00?

“Because you’re slow learners. It takes you longer to understand things? And wait until you get in high school and have to take calculus! You’ll have to start at 6 A.M. that semester.”

“Seriously?”

“Mr. Wolfe, I have a girlfriend.”

“Does she know it?”

“What…yes, she knows!”

“Mr. Wolfe, why do we have to go to school five days a week?”

“Because the teachers voted down going to school six days a week.”

“Seriously?”

“Would I lie to you?”

“Yes!”

“Okay! You nailed me! I have no clue!”

Yesterday’s subbing in a seventh grade classroom ended with a gratifying comment from a student.

“Mr. Wolfe, you’re the best substitute teacher ever!”

The question is…was she serious or being sarcastic?

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!