Posted tagged ‘substitute teaching’

Middle School Food Intake

April 10, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                 April 10, 2019

                              

“Sam, what’s this?” I pointed to the food and drink he had taken out of his backpack and placed on the desk in front of him.

“Breakfast!”

“An Arizona Ice Tea, a fruit roll-up, and a bag of cookies?” I reply with confusion etched across my face.

He nodded his head and looked at me, searching for some reason why I seemed unreasonable. I was substitute teaching in a 6th Grade class and what I didn’t realize was that the treasures now in full display mode on Sam’s desk happened to be what he had every morning in this class. Sometimes a sleeve of Ritz Crackers or chocolate-covered mini-donuts were on the menu instead of cookies, and Gummy Bears instead of a fruit roll-up, but that’s it!

“You didn’t have time to eat at home?”

“No! I never do!”

“Nutritious breakfast there, big guy!”

He smiled back at me as a Chips Ahoy disappeared into his mouth. 

Being around middle schoolers these past few years has brought back the memories of what I would consume at school when I ran the halls of Williamstown Junior High/Senior High School as a 7th grader. Back in those days, before technology took over, my parents would give me money to buy “lunch tickets”. In the school cafeteria a student handed in a lunch ticket and proceeded to have unappetizing food plopped on the tray by scowling ladies wearing hairnets. Lunch was an ordeal. There were no chefs serving fine cuisine there. In fact, the weekly menu came out ahead of time so students would know what unrecognizable food items had been placed on their trays. 

Williamstown also had candy machines in its hallways and I remember selling my lunch tickets at a discount for hard cash…er, coins to jam into the candy machine. PayDays were my lunch of choice!

When I was in high school in Ironton, Ohio we’d walk a block down the street to Smitty’s and consume Hostess Fruit Pies and Little Debbie’s.

So Sam’s breakfast of non-champions smelled of past memories and choices. What I’ve noticed is that he’s not unusual. In various classes students bring out snacks of Cheetos, Fritos, Oreos, and once in a while…a granola bar! They “snack” their way through the school day. I don’t see too many apples emerging from backpacks!

As I’m eating my salad during the lunch period a few students come into the classroom to chat and razz me. One has a fudgesicle, another ramen noodles, and the third munches from a bag of potato chips. 

“You all don’t eat lunch in the cafeteria?” I ask.

Three faces of disbelief greet the question. The cafeteria is too stressful, too confining. Bringing a bag of chips means the student doesn’t have to stand in line, and can use the 30 minutes to socialize and do whatever, ALTHOUGH I wasn’t quite sure where the fudgesicle had come from!

Cafeteria food offerings are much better than when I was a 7th grader, but many students need that high dose of sugar to satisfy their cravings. I can’t tell you how many Starbucks Frappuccino drinks I see being consumed in the first two hours of a school day. Also, there’s never a school day that goes by where a few parents don’t arrive at lunchtime with a bag from Arby’s, Chick-fil-a, or Jimmy John’s because they promised the Johnny Jim’s they’d bring them lunch that day.

The interesting thing for me is that I’ve noticed that I EAT HEALTHIER when I substitute teach. It’s usually a salad, or cottage cheese and cucumber. Don’t think too highly of me, though! I eat a light lunch so I don’t fall asleep in the afternoon classes…like I used to do in American History class back in high school! The teacher had a soothing monotone voice and the heavy non-nutritious lunch made my eyelids heavy with sleep. My understanding back in those days of our nation’s story was distorted by only catching the first 20 minutes of each class period lecture!

Perhaps the diet of many middle schoolers could explain the irrational decisions that they are prone to make…like the boy who was dared to walk into the girl’s locker room…and he did! For the next five school days after that he could eat what he wanted to…at home! Perhaps that was because of his poor eating decisions!

No…no, that’s just because he was a middle schooler! 

8th Grade Genetics

March 21, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                          March 21, 2019

                               

I didn’t quite get science back in school…ever! I understood Spelling and Physical Education, but Science was almost as foreign to me as Algebra…or as I referred to it, math with letters!

Language Arts I was okay at, but didn’t really feel any attachment to dangling participles or have much interest in reading War and Peace. Why didn’t Tolstoy stop after War, and make Peace the sequel? A Tale of Two Cities! Dickens could have just made it A Story of One City and saved me a few hours!

Social Studies at that time didn’t interest me, maybe because it was right after lunch and the eyelids seemed to get heavy!

But back to science. 

I substitute taught in 8th Grade Science class yesterday. They’re studying Genetics right now. You know…what do you get when you cross a dachshund with a pig? Answer: a creature who lays beside you on the couch that you keep wanting to barbecue.

Ahhh….that sounds right, but is wrong in more ways than one!

This Genetics lesson was focused on recessive and dominant. What are the probabilities that if one parent can roll his tongue, and the other parent can’t, that their offspring will be able to do some tongue rolls? Important questions like that!

When the lesson plan went to “Dihybrid and Two-Trait Crosses” I tried to look like I had a clue about it, but even confused 8th Graders were perceptive enough to figure out that I would flunk the test if I had to take one.

In Science I’m great at taking roll and filling out the attendance slip. I can even figure out how to show an on-line video clip, but put scientific terms and theories in front of me and I’m like that first kid who gets eliminated in the spelling bee. 

“Mr. Wolfe, I need help!”

“Yes, you do!”

“Can you help me?”

“Depends on whether it requires me to be intelligent or not!”

“Well, what about this problem? In the video it said to use the F-O-I-L method as you figure out the probablities, so taking into account Mendel’s Law of Independent Assortment for this one, would I-“

“Sure! Why not?”

“But I didn’t say what I would put there yet!”

“Well, I want you to think about it and just know that I have confidence in your answer.”

I run away to the shelter of my desk and pretend to be doing something vitally important for the new few moments.

8th Grade Genetics! I don’t remember studying that in 8th Grade. Okay, I don’t remember studying ANYTHING in 8th Grade, except a couple of girls when they weren’t looking!

When the final bell sounded at 2:45 and my last class filtered out the door, I was just starting to understand the whole F-O-I-L thing. I had watched the video four times! Another four to six times and I might have understood it enough to actually answer a question…if I had the master answer sheet in hand!

Perplexing 8th Graders

March 7, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                          March 7, 2019

                                    

There are some eighth grade students who I have gotten to know in the past two years as I’ve substitute taught in their classrooms and coached them on athletic teams. Some of them I joke around with in “perplexing ways”! That means that I’m able to bring a look of confusion or perplexity to their faces!

Yesterday as I subbed in a social studies class, that I enjoy greatly, I brought uncertainty and pondering to one student’s face, and a realization to another.

In the classroom there was a constant, annoying, ringing sound, almost like a humming, that could be heard in the midst of a silent moment. I wondered what it might be, but then a student sitting next to my desk asked me the question.

“Mr. Wolfe, what’s that sound?”

I paused and listened, sensing that I could lead him on towards perplexity. My face took on a moment of extreme concentration as I pretended I was trying to hear what he was hearing. I shook my head.

“What sound?”

“That sound!”

“I’m not hearing anything.”

“You can’t hear that humming, or whatever it is?”

I listened again like I was a contestant on that old TV game show, “Name That Tune”.

“No!”

Unbelief dotted his face.

“I’ve heard about people like you,” I said. “I know there’s only been a few cases, but they do happen.”

“What are you talking about?”?

“People who’s hearing is as acute and sensitive as a dog’s. It’s called Auditory Canine Syndrome.”

“What?”

“It’s when someone can hear sounds that no one else can.”

“You can’t hear that?”

“Hear what?” I turn to the boy sitting in the chair beside him. He is perceptive enough to go along with “the play”. “Do you hear anything?” He shakes his head no.

Perplexity has landed on Student #1’s face. For a few seconds he thinks he has Auditory Canine Syndrome. I let him swim in the currents of confusion for a few seconds before I confess to our ploy. Yes, we can hear the humming. One class period later I have someone check it out from the maintenance crew. It ends up being something in the heating ventilation system.

And then there was the “realization” that came to another student. The class had watched a video that dealt with the “Trail of Tears”. A study sheet accompanied the video, some questions that could be answered as they watched the 20 minute video, and a few others that they would answer afterwards. With 15 minutes left in class one young man hadn’t answered any question, even the most obvious ones! I walked by and he smiled at me. 

“Freddie (not his real name!),” I said. “Your paper has so much open space on it that it resembles South Dakota!” 

“Huh?”

“I’m not seeing anything on your paper but open space!”

“Yes, there is! There’s the ink print on it.”

I just give him “the look”. A few minutes later I walk by again. He looks up at me and says, “See! I answered number 1!”

His answer consisted of two words, short words at that! 

“Great!” I respond. “Now it looks more like North Dakota!” And I look at him with eyes that express disappointment. He realizes that I believe in him, that I don’t think he’s as dumb as he wants people to think. For a moment he realizes he is underachieving…and then he lets it go!

Lunch Detention

February 6, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                           February 6, 2019

                             

Ughh! It happens! Jimmy decides to be extra annoying in class, perhaps because I’m a substitute teacher for the day or because it’s one of his dominant characteristics…either way I have to use the dreaded two words.

Lunch detention!

It means that the next day he will be spending time with me in the classroom where I’ll be consuming my cottage cheese and cucumber. It may be more painful for me than it it for him. It means he won’t get to hang out with his buddies for 30 minutes. For me it means I’ll be restricted to my classroom, unable to make a restroom visit, and sitting in uncomfortable silence with 8th Grade boys who think I’m unreasonable and the devil incarnate!

They don’t connect their actions with consequences. After all, should they be expected to do their part in promoting an environment where students learn? Shouldn’t they be allowed to muddy the waters of knowledge and make things challenging for their teacher? Isn’t that their right, their God-given privilege?

Oops! I’m starting to sound bitter! 

Okay! I am a little bit! I’m spending another 30 minutes with two students who already have antagonized me for 57 minutes! It’s like having a root canal and then asking if the dentist can do another one right after that!

And so we sit in the classroom together trying to make believe that the others aren’t really present. Each bite of my cottage cheese feels lumpy and unappetizing in my mouth. I might as well be eating grits with no hint of seasoning or butter.

We talk about their offenses. They have a different view of things. I’m the problem. They believe I have a vendetta against them. It’s kinda’ like the driver saying, “Yes, I switched lanes. It’s not my fault that a car was already there!”

One of the lunch detainees has a hint of repentance. The other remains defiant, convinced that a great injustice has been done. I have a feeling that his grades are an indication that not much has been done…for a few weeks!

8th graders are on the verge of high school, which means most of them are on the verge of irrational behavior as well! As their  middle school days weird down they seem to get more wound up! Teachers leave each school day shaking their heads and chewing their fingernails. It is the circle of life…middle school life that is!

Lunch ends and Abbott and Costello leave without smiling. Their comedy act has been interrupted and they are not happy. But, after all, 8th grade has just as much drama to it as humor and, in their opinion, I have no sense of humor whatsoever!

Dysfunctional 7th Graders

January 26, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                      January 26, 2019

                                   

The definition of the word “dysfunctional” is “7th Grade!” 

Okay! Actually, the definition is “not operating normally or properly.” Otherwise known as “7th Grade!”

Just view a class of 7th graders. About 40% of them are dealing with a mouth full of metal. Several of them got in line twice when height was being handed out, while a few overslept and missed the gift of inches. There are a few who are on task with whatever is assigned to them, while others’ focus can simply be distracted by air! Some are physically changing from kids into adults, bypassing adolescence completely, while others seem to still be passengers on a Frontier Airlines maturity flight, grounded in the land of childhood!

I’m never bored as I view 7th graders. There is always something going on. Maybe that’s why one of the main characters in my first novel is a 7th grader with thick glasses and a lack of friends. I see him multiple times each time I substitute teach.

Yesterday I had a 7th grader who walked around with a facial tissue sticking out of one of his nostrils. Weird, huh? Not for him! Goes with his personality! I finally informed him that it was kind of gross for others to look at and he apologized. He’s the kind of 7th grader who often forgets that there is a zipper on the front of his pants. On Thursday he asked to go to the restroom and then didn’t come back for half an hour. Not because he was doing anything bad, just because he had some constipation issues. He apologized to me when he came back and started to go into detail! I put the stop sign up!

I tried to rationalize with one student who lacks motivation. He didn’t want to complete an assignment and I asked him if he walks home after school? “Yes!” 

“So do you ever get halfway home and say ‘I don’t want to walk the rest of the way!’?”

“No! That’d be stupid!”

“Think of this assignment as kinda’ being like that.”

“It’s not!”

A girl and a boy were having a disagreement about something like how much white board markers cost and I bring a chuckle to their neighboring classmates when I say to the girl, “You’re like Drama!” and to the boy “And you’re the sequel!”

A couple of students talk to me non-stop like a fire hydrant that has been opened up. I appreciate the conversation, although I don’t need to know the veterinarian experiences of her 12 year old Tabby!

There’s seventh graders who didn’t get the memo that they’re in seventh grade…three grades either way. Some who are still living the world of fourth graders and others who think they deserve to be escorted to the high school prom.

BUT, whereas there are folks who take the “fun” out of the dysfunction, seventh graders put it back in…in triplicate! It’s how they are and who they are!

Substitute Poet

January 20, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                  January 20, 2019

                                    

One of the 7th Grade classes I substitute teach for is Ms. DeKlerk’s Language Arts class. She trusts me with her students (Not sure how wise that is!) and inquires of my availability sometimes several months in advance or, as happened last week, if she happens to see me at school and is considering taking a day away from the classroom…like the next day!

This past Friday was a day in her poetry unit, so I began each class by sharing a couple of poems I had composed. My “hamming it up” Young Life days rose to the surface as I began my first poem with much verbiage about how much it meant to me, and how I often got emotional as I recited it. I talked about how the poem had come to me one night as I lay in bed and unable to sleep, and I entitled it simply “Flowers.” 

I waited for quiet, a long pause when it comes to 7th graders! Some of them shushed their classmates as they anxiously awaited the substitute teacher’s original creation.

And then I began!

“Roses are red! 

Pause for effect and looking as if I was about to breakdown in tears. I bring the back of one of my curled fingers to my lips as if I’m trying to hold it together.

“Violets are blue!”

Pause. “That’s it! Thank you!”

Laughter around the class and several of them clicked their fingers as if they were in a 70’s coffeehouse. A couple of “too cool” boys roll their eyes. The bodies of several kids who enjoy my humor are still shaking with inner giggling!

“And last night I had another one come to me.”

“Because you couldn’t sleep?” asks a dark-haired girl with braces sitting in the front row.

“Exactly! I was laying there and the words just invaded my mind.” Most of the class awaits with smiles on their faces. They have a feeling this is not going to resemble Longfellow!

“If roses are red, why are violets blue?

This is a confusing question for me…and for you!

And why don’t 7th Grade boys comb their hair?

Is it to get 6th Grade girls to stare?

And why are 7th grade girls so dramatic?

Is it because their lives are traumatic?

These are questions that keep me awake…awake…awake

For Pete’s sake!”

More clicking of fingers as I take my bow! 

“Thank you! Thank you very much!” 

As we used to say, now the students say of me, “He was a poet and didn’t know it!”

Looking Back: Rookie Substitute Teacher

January 10, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                          January 9, 2019

                           

Today is the two year anniversary! On January 9, 2017 I entered Room 306 at Timberview Middle School- a classroom in a portable structure outside the building, mind you! I would be teaching 7th Grade Social Studies for at least a month and maybe the rest of the school year. 

There had been a sudden resignation during the Christmas break and the other three teachers on that team (math, science, and language arts) had requested me for a long-term sub.

Carol and I had flown back from Phoenix the previous Wednesday and there was a message on our voicemail from the principal’s secretary to call them. It was too late to call that day and then the next day school was cancelled because of the weather. Friday, January 6, I drove over to the school and met with the assistant principal.

“Bill, we’d like you to consider doing a long-term substitute position for 7th Grade Social Studies.”

“Okay!”

“And we’d like for you to start Monday!”

“Ooo…kaay!

That next Monday was the beginning of one of the best months of my life. I went into it like someone who has never tasted coffee suddenly working as a Starbucks barista. I was about as raw and wide-eyed as a rookie can be.

And I admitted it! Each class knew that this guy in front of the class could be seen as being fresh meat to chew on or the new guy to simply enjoy and even teach. Thankfully they took the second approach. They enjoyed me as much as I enjoyed them.

On that first day there were high winds in the area that measured up to 109 miles an hour at Cheyenne Mountain. A window blew out of the library at a high school two miles away from Timberview. Afternoon buses were cancelled because of the fear of them tipping over…and here I was in a portable classroom! I remember the windows sounding like they were doing a drumroll as they rattled, but inside the classroom I was teaching kids about the meaning of “Coats of Arms”. 

I put two headings on the board…DON’T KNOW and KNOW. Under DON”T KNOW I drew about 20 lines, and under KNOW I put two! 

“This is me! I’m going to be your teacher for at least the rest of the month, and maybe longer, and this is about how much I know in terms of teaching a class. And all these lines under DON”T KNOW, that tells you how not-with-it I am in regards of your culture, words and sayings you use, and stuff. So…you’re going to teach me each day just as much as I’m going to teach you!”

Each day when some new term was mentioned that I was unfamiliar with I’d add another line under DON”T KNOW. For example, several students used the term “memes”. I had no idea what a meme was. They were astounded. Was I really a person? Had I just been unfrozen from the Ice Age? 

My cluelessness extended into their music world. I didn’t know what song was being sung by what singer or group. On the other hand, when I mentioned “Three Dog Night”, “Steppenwolf”, or “Jethro Tull” they were as clueless as I had been about their music. 

I gave them nicknames. Kids who did not have nicknames would come to me whining and say, “Mr. Wolfe, I don’t have a nickname!”

I taught them about inflation, using a DuckTales video clip. I had them look at the different kinds of taxes that would be added onto a purchased plane ticket, and also a rental car at the airport. We talked about how different things are valued differently by different people and why that is. Each day was a journey into discovery…for all of us!

I don’t think I’ve worked so hard in my life. After the school day I’d be preparing for the next day, and then I’d go to officiate a high school basketball game, come back home, finish getting ready for the next school day, and then fall into bed.

I loved it! When Jenn Dilger was hired to be the next teacher, beginning in early February, I was disappointed. She is an awesome teacher, who, in fact, recently I subbed for the last week before Christmas break,break, and am subbing for her three days this month. I just missed the kids, the students, who had taught me so much. I missed the day-to-day interaction and humor. Laughter was a part of the educational adventure for each of my classes.

A couple of weeks ago Carol and I went over to watch a Liberty High School basketball game and three of those students I had on January 9, 2017 met me by the bleachers. We relived those days once again. One of them said, “Coach Wolfe, those were the most fun classes I’ve ever had!” 

“For me, too! I’m not sure how much you all learned, but I had a great time.”

“I still remember when you showed that DuckTales video. And do you remember Abby’s flying lego car? And when Dominick couldn’t answer any of your questions about Iran, the country he was doing a presentation about? And Jonah telling you that you could just call him “G.O.A.T”, greatest of all time?” 

I nodded my head. I remembered and I was very, very blessed to have been a part of it…and still miss it!