Posted tagged ‘substitute teaching’

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!

Seventh Grade Test Personalities

December 21, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                 December 21, 2018

                                 

I’m substitute teaching today in a seventh grade social studies class. It’s test day, an unfair educational challenge in the opinion of most of the students, since it’s the last day before Christmas break. 

I’ve observed the different “test personalities” emerging as the day has gone on. They’ve been covered up by various facial distortions and deer-in-headlights looks.

There’s the “clueless wonder”, the kid who thinks he’s all that but can’t remember his middle initial. Taking a test is his worst nightmare. He would rather gargle vinegar. Some of his classmates think he’s cool, but his intellectual stimulation is restricted to the depth of the latest  SnapChat.

“The questioner” arises in the midst of my test information questions. When I say that each student is to complete the whole test and turn it in to the class basket, the questioner raises her hand and asks, “Do we have to complete the whole test?” A nod to answer. “And then what are we to do with the test when we complete it?” I point to the class basket. “Is that where we are to put the test when we’re done with the whole thing?” 

I just stare as an answer. She gets the idea! The questioner may someday be on a Senate review panel asking 800 pages of questions to someone who will plead the fifth!

“The annoyer” makes sounds to distract people from the mission. He will drop his books, intentionally choose candy that involves loud noise-making wrappers, and disturb any sense of quiet and calm. It’s his purpose in life, or at least in seventh grade. As other students are trying to remember what the capital of Pennsylvania is he’s making squirrel sounds in his corner of the room. 

“The Ivy Leaguer” focuses on every question and quickly remembers the correct answer from the twenty pages of notes that she has studied in preparation. Seventh grade is not a challenge for her. Her challenge is spending time with seventh graders.

“The nose picker” absentmindedly inserts his finger into his nostril and digs for treasure, which he then wipes on whatever is closest to him…pants, shirt, desk bottom, or flicking off onto the floor. His classmates rarely offer him a high-five!

“Miss Probation” is not adverse to being sent to the office. In fact, the office has a chair with her name on it. She knows everyone there on a first name basis. Next year in eighth grade her locker is likely to contain some forms off contraband.

“Mr. Bored” thinks it’s important to communicate his lack of enthusiasm about whatever it is he is studying. In his opinion, if it is studied at school it must be unimportant. If a cure for cancer was discovered and then studied in science class he would label it as boring. But have someone send him a 30 second video of a snowboarder wiping out on a 360…that is crucial entertainment for him!

“Miss Awkward” is at that age where nothing seems coordinated in life. She’s unsure of herself, and some of her classmates make her nervous. She’s afraid of being the butt of their jokes and the attention of their discussions. If she could disappear into the carpet she’d feel better. She kinda’ likes tests because each classmate is focused for a few minutes on their own work, not somebody else’s business.

“The Organizer” guides the class in doing a get well card for its teacher. She makes sure the chairs are stacked at the end of the day and helps the class get over the hurdles caused by the annoyer and Miss Probation. If the classroom was filled with students like her they might be able to cure world malnutrition. BUT there’s only one of her and the teacher is bummed out by that. The hope is that some of her classmates might see the purpose and passion in how she lives, but most of them can’t see past their cell phone screen.

BUT no one cheated, and that’s different from when I was in high school! Seventh grade test personalities are as diverse as the jelly belly’s in the teachers candy jar. It makes it…very interesting for the substitute!

Dictionary Education

November 3, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                     November 3, 2018

                          

It has been a full week of substitute teaching- one day of 7th Grade Language Arts and then the last four days in 8th Grade Social Studies. I love teaching in a class for a number of days in a row. Next week I’ll have the same 8th Grade Social Studies for four more days.

8th Graders crack me up! They are as diverse as “Jelly Belly” jelly beans, but also with many similarities. They want to be liked and kinda’ cool without having to announce to everyone that they ARE cool! Most come to class not expecting to receive anything but homework and in-class assignments. So I like to do the unexpected with them!

For the 8th Graders on one day we closed class with a quest to find who could create the most stupid question with the answer being “Cream Cheese”. Call it “Dumbed-Down Jeopardy!” The winning stupidest question received a roll of Smarties! 

On another day this week a few students were finishing their classroom work early. 

“Mr. Wolfe, I’m done. What can I do now?”

“You can study for the test you’ll be taking next Wednesday.” (To tell an 8th Grader that he can study for a test that is a week away is like telling him that he can start preparing for the Graduate Record Exam to get accepted into Grad School.)

A non-verbal facial expression communicates that my idea is lame! 

“Or you could read a book.”

“I don’t have a book with me.”

“I’ll take care of that!” Twenty seconds later I come back to his table and put a dictionary in front of him. “Here.”

Confused eyes dart back and forth. “It’s a dictionary!”
“Yes, it is! A mind is a terrible thing to waste…especially the mind of an intelligent 8th grade student like you. Here’s what I want you to do! Start with the “J’s”! I think we may be “J-deficient” in our vocabulary, so expand your understanding for the next few minutes and tell me one word that is like a new discovery for you…okay?” I help him find “J” just in case!

His mouth is wide open and nothing is coming out of it. The other two students at his table who are still working on the classroom assignment are snickering.

Two minutes later another student falsely believes that he’s going to camp-out for the rest of the class period and pop Sweet Tarts as he does nothing. 

“All done?”
“Yes, Mr. Wolfe.”

“Okay, well…you can study for the test or read a book that you have.”
“Ahhh, I don’t have a book and I’ve done all the studying I need.”

“Well, that is awesome about the studying aspect of things, but since you’re so advanced I have something else for you to read.”

“Ahhh!”

“I’ll be right back!” A few seconds later I return with the Geographical Dictionary. “Here you go! Start with the ‘K’s’! I don’t think there are many places that we’re familiar with that begin with the letter ‘K’!”

“Huh?”

“An 8th Grade mind is a terrible thing to waste!”

Later on in the day a couple of other students discovered the treasures in “Q” and “X”. 

“Mr. Wolfe!” says the boy who is immersed in the letter ‘X’.

“Yes!”
“The word ‘xylo’ indicates something made of wood.”

“Really!”

“Yes! Like xylophone has the different keys made of wood.”

“Wow! I didn’t know that!” He seemed excited by the fact that he shared something with an old guy that wasn’t known.”

The next day another student asked if she could READ the dictionary! And I stood there with my mouth wide open!

The Hang Arounders

October 10, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                   October 10, 2018

                                     

At the middle school where I coach and substitute teach there are a few students who are like fertilizer. When you have them in class you can feel the gray hair growing in abundance!

They are the students who don’t function well in a structured classroom situation, or relate well to teachers and authority figures. They are the ones that consume 90% of a teacher’s attention during a class period, but refuse to do more than 50% of the assigned work. 

It’s not that they’re bad kids and prepping to be juvenile delinquents. They just don’t have a problem with being the problems!

When I substitute teach in a class where there is a student who falls into this category I don’t go easy on him or her. I’ve sent a few to the office or had them join me for lunch that day away from their peer group. BUT…I always seek to greet them in the hallway in a welcoming manner. In other words, no matter what their transgression has been they’re still kids to be valued. The educational journey with some students just has a few more bends and curves in it than the rest! Some students don’t slide easily from A all the way to Z!

In the last few weeks I’ve noticed some of these students who scowl each morning as they arrive at school…hanging around after school! When the 80% of the student body who aren’t involved in after-school activities has exited the building and headed quickly away as soon as that dismissal bell sounds, these few students DON’T leave! An hour after school, if they can avoid notice, they’re still roaming the hallways or hanging out somewhere on the building perimeter. For kids who dread entering the building at 7:30 in the morning they seem to have a hard time exiting by 3:00.

They hang around. 

I’ve gotten to know some of them, their histories and stories. The story is never the same. It would make for a good read if all of the personal episodes were combined together. There are students from single-parent families and students who would be going home to an empty house. There are students who live in two different households, one week with dad and one week with mom; and there are students whose parents would prefer that they stay at school for as long as they are allowed so that the parent doesn’t have to deal with them at home. 

School has become their safe place and their place of consistency. In a good way it doesn’t change. It can be counted on when the rest of their lives are in chaos. 

The teachers that they seem to enjoy terrorizing during class periods after 3:00 become the trusted adults that they gravitate to. A teacher that one of the “hang arounders” wouldn’t add two plus two for in class suddenly becomes the teacher the student is willing to run errands for, wipe down classroom tables, and share a snack with.

I don’t have any substantiated research data for this statement, just a feeling…an inkling…that school is where they feel valued and safe, that school is the place they can count on in their worlds where they’ve been disappointed and discarded too many times. 

And so they hang around for an hour, an hour and a half, not wanting to leave and, oddly enough, in a few hours not wanting to come back. 

Well…come back for class, that is! There’s work to do, new gray hairs to create!