Posted tagged ‘teachers’

Why Teachers Deserve More

March 10, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                            March 10, 2018


When the teachers in the state of West Virginia went on strike for a pay increase I found myself conflicted. I agreed…some, but also was uncomfortable with it. So I had to ask myself why I was uncomfortable with the idea of teachers holding picket signs and demanding more?

The answer I found spoke to the images I held in my own mind of who teachers are and what they are about. When I think of teachers- the teachers I had in my growing up years back in the 1960’s, and the teachers I know today- I seldom think of how much they are paid. I think of sacrifice, impact, dedication, influencers, passionate people, shapers, leaders, and guides to help students discover

I don’t think about compensation and pension plans…and that’s part of the problem! When I look at the whole picture of teaching, compensation is just one of the many colors that are used to paint the portrait. We rely on teachers to do so much that we often forget that they deserve more.

Most of us have heard the arguments. “Well, they only work nine months out of the year! I wish I had a job like that!” Right!!! As a pastor I heard the same jab at my calling. “Must be nice to only work one day a week!” I wanted to reply “If I didn’t have a congregation filled with messed up people I COULD just work on Sundays!” People who are stuck in a time warp of the belief that teachers only work nine months out of the year are as clueless as a first grader in trigonometry class! Summers are now filled with preparation for the next year, reviewing textbooks, continuing education, interview committees, team meetings, getting the classroom ready, strategizing, etc.

Meanwhile, I could almost justify what teachers are compensated…if all they had to do is teach! But, guess what? Now their job description has been compounded and multiplied (I substitute taught 6th Grade math yesterday!). They are now classroom counselors, social workers, expected to straighten out the mess of the increasing number of students who come to school from dysfunctional families, caregivers, educators of students with attention spans resembling hyper puppies, and judges giving rulings about misbehaving students whose parents still think they are angels in disguise.

As a substitute teacher this year I’ve encountered a student who continually fell asleep in the first class of the school day because he’d stay up until one o’clock in the morning playing video games; a student who did not come to school regulated four out of the five school days that week because he, evidently, was not taking his medication; a student who was disruptive numerous times in a class period and, literally, could not help it; and numerous students who came to school without having anything to eat and became more sluggish as the school day went on.

Teachers are expected to be the problem solvers of the messes that many parents drop off at school at 7:30 in the morning. For many parents, teachers and school are seen as cheap child care. Thus, when school gets canceled because of the weather, or even has a two hour delay, the number of irate parents goes off the charts. What are they expected to do with little Johnny on a Tuesday work day?

When I think of my school days growing up I can remember, and see the faces, of my teachers. I remember Mrs. Riley, Mrs. Nuzum, Mr. Cooper, Mrs. Waybright, Mr. Jenkins, Ms. Lewis, Mr. Trent, Ms. Gruber, and Mr. Burcham…fifty years later! I can not remember the names of my banker, doctor, pharmacist, tailor, and others. I can remember the name of my elementary principal, Mr. Morton, but not the name of the town’s mayor or police chief.

Teachers have been taken for granted and taken advantage of. They deserve more, and when I say they deserve more I’m not just talking about compensation!

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!”


“Would I lie to you?”


“Okay! Yes, I’m your sub today.”

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

“She’s not!”


“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.”


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.”


“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.”


“Would I lie to you?”


“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 World Is Filled With Exceptional People

December 15, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                            December 15, 2017


The Today Show, itself in need of a heartwarming story, told the story about the Olds family from Florida yesterday. DeShoan and Sofia Olds had heard of seven siblings whose biological parents could no longer care for them. The children were being split up into three different foster homes. The Olds, as Sofia explained it, felt “a calling” to adopt all seven. She and her husband, both veterans who’s served overseas in Iraq, were childless. To take on seven children at once was a challenge, but when they decided to pursue it the “calling” was either for all seven or none.

One of the children commented that he had never lived under the same roof with all of his siblings, or in the same home with a mom and dad. Now he is!

The story resonated with many people, especially in a period of time that seems blanketed with discouragement, troubling revelations, and political anger. In a season where we speak of hope their story is a story of hope.

It also reminds us that despite all the bad news we get showered with that there are a number of exceptional people in this world. They are all around us, rub elbows with us everyday, and are influencers who mostly go unnoticed.

My wife is one of those exceptional people. She works with special needs students who she loves, cries tears for, laughs with, and makes them feel important. She’s Grammy to three children who adore her. She’s the sounding board for her youngest daughter about this, that, and the other. She’ll never be on the front of Time, but most exceptional people aren’t. Time front covers are populated with people who make the news, or the issues that are the news.

Ron McKinney, 7th Grade science teacher at Timberview Middle School, is one of those exceptional people. Having taught there ever since Moby Dick was a minnow, he has influenced and impacted countless lives of kids in the weird adolescent year of seventh grade. He’s coached hundreds of kids in cross-country, track, volleyball, basketball, and softball. Last summer he joined eight other men and me in a mission work trip to a camp in British Columbia that ministers to the children of the First Nations tribes, and he loved it.

Kasey Lucero is an exceptional person. I joined her for three years as her JV Girls’ Basketball coach at The Classical Academy in Colorado Springs. She was more than thirty years younger than me, but wise beyond her years. Her consistency in how she treated people was amazing, a person of grace and fairness. Recently I asked another young woman, who coached alongside me this year, who stood out to her as a person of integrity and she didn’t hesitate in saying it was Coach Lucero.

Sylvia Hale is exceptional! Today is her last day of teaching music at DaVinci Elementary. For years she has been a source of encouragement for young kids as they discover the gift of music. Starting next month she’ll be living in the state of Washington with her husband, Bill, as he begins his first pastorate at the age of 63. It is an exciting journey for them, and one that has demanded exceptional faith.

When I think of exceptional my mind automatically filters it through “character.” Exceptional character is the term. DeShoan and Sofia Olds led me back to the community of hope this past week with their story. Today I look around me at all the other people who will allow me to stay there with their ongoing stories of inspiration and encouragement.

The People Who Push You On or Pull You Down

December 9, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                   December 9, 2017


We have a tendency to not think about it because they breeze by us like a spring gust, but most of us…if we stop to think about it long enough…have numerous people in our lives who have pushed us to keep going, and others who have grabbed us by the arm and pulled us down.

That thought occurred to me recently as I was meeting with two people who have helped me in the editing of the book I had been writing. As we sat and talked they made several helpful suggestions on plot ideas, flow, character development, and other things. I left our conversation with new excitement about the project that caused me to hibernate in my favorite writing spot later on that day.

That’s what “pushers” do! They create an excitement within you to keep on going, to motivate you to move, to create, to take a risk.

Ed and Diana Stucky have been that to me for a good fifteen years. I remember when I doubted my worth as a pastor and a person and they got behind me and pushed me up. Roger Mollenkamp, Steve Wamberg, Thelma Dalrymple, Janet Smith, Chuck Landon, James Voss, Harold Anderson, Rich Blanchette, Mike Oldham, Ben Dickerson, Don Fackler, Dave Volitis, Ron McKinney…my fingers keep pecking out names like there’s no tomorrow. Each name that flows to the page is a quick reminder of how I’ve been blessed, influenced, and shaped.

When I was back in Ohio visiting my dad back in August one of his good friends, Bill Ball, passed away. Bill was ninety-something, an optimist and encourager. I remember when I was in high school and preparing for my senior season of track that he took me aside after church one Sunday and told me he thought I could lower my time in the mile considerably if I did a cope of things with my running form, how I used my arms and the pace of my race. He infused confidence into me and I broke the school record that had stood for almost twenty years. They were just simple words backed by affirmation and belief, and they worked.

For sixteen years I officiated high school basketball. I remember Andy Brooks, my mentor, encouraging me as he imparted wisdom to me. Ray Lutz, an official and mentor of officials for fifty years, recently passed away. At his memorial service in another couple of weeks there will be numerous men and women wearing black and white striped shirts that he pushed to keep on going.

Pushers keep us moving towards our potential.

But there are others who pull us down, also. Pullers are those folks who hold us back, torment us with their words, minimize us with their disdain and attitudes. Pullers are people who would keep reminding Jesus that he was only the son of a carpenter. They are the people who would keep whispering to Michael Jordan that he hadn’t made his freshmen basketball team. They are the present-day scribes and Pharisees that seem to enjoy making other people’s lives miserable.

If someone has more pullers than pushers in her life she will be the Cinderella that never made it to the ball, the fourth grader who will never learn to read because to many people had already convinced him he never could.

I’m fortunate! I’ve had many more pushers than pullers in my life. And for that I say “Thank you, Lord!”

The Saints That Go Before Us

June 16, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                             June 16, 2017


I’ve been blessed with many of them! Saints, that is! Saintly people who didn’t know they were saints, just men and women who were walking steadily with God, stepping humbly forward in daily obedience.

They didn’t know they were making an impact, impressing young lives, and marking out a trail for those of us behind them. They just lived a day at a time, but another pebble would be placed in the vase of wonder each of those days. Over time the pebbles crowded out the uncertainty and marked the life with weighted consistency.

Yesterday I took my dad, one of those saints, to see another saint who has impacted my life. Bill Ball, with a nine in front of his age, has been an encourager of me and many others for years and years. I remember his words of encouragement when I was a high schooler trying to break my school’s record in the mile run…and that was 45 years ago. My record has long since been broken, but Mr. Ball’s words of encouragement have stayed with me. Now in the final lap of his journey he would be awed by the number of people who have been impacted by him.

Saints are like that…hesitant to believe they are making a difference and convinced that they are no one that is anything special. When I asked my dad what he would like to do and where he would like to go while Carol and I are visiting from Colorado his response was quick. “Go visit Bill Ball!” The number of times his friend has visited him during my dad’s hospital stays have been numerous. Yesterday was my dad’s chance to visit Bill in the care center he has recently become a resident of.

We’re all familiar with the official saints. St. James, St. Paul’s, St. Mary’s, and St. John’s…the names mark the places we worship at and the school’s we attend. My dad has resided many times these past few years at St. Mary’s Medical Center in Huntington, West Virginia. “Saints” is a term we relate to locations and a professional football team.

For me, however, saints have graced my life all along the journey. They appear in my memories and stories…Ken Bystrom, Russ Vincent, Rev. Gale Baldridge, Rev. Floyd Norton, Rev. Chuck Landon, Rev. Tom Bayes, Irene Voss, Marie Lyons, Glenn Fairchild, Ben Dickerson, Rex Davis, Virginia Welsby, Charles Slusser, and Pauline Jones. Names that don’t mean anything to most folk, but conjure up adventures and appearances in my life.

A tragedy is a life that never realizes or recognizes the appearance of the saints, never understands the gifts that they are. In a culture that is very much self-absorbed there are a lot of people who are blind to the saints around them.

The thing is…a life that is blind to seeing the saints that have graced it is a life that lacks guideposts and clarifiers. It is a life without teachers, a vessel without a rudder.

I’m increasingly thankful for the footprints of the many who have helped me stay on course, encouraged me to keep on going and redirected me when I wandered. As I said at the beginning, I’ve been blessed with many of the saints.

Adventures of a Substitute Teacher: Keeping Control the Last Day of School

May 25, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                             May 25, 2017


Today is the last day of another school year. Well, actually…most of the eighth graders’ last day was a couple of weeks ago! They checked out about the time “May” appeared on the calendar.

Today I’m substituting in the afternoon for a teacher friend of mine who is attending her daughter’s fifth grade graduation ceremony. So…what would be practical bits of wisdom to have written on my hand for the last day of school. Here’s what I’ve come up with!

1) Don’t let anyone get killed! Keep an eye on the school roof. Don’t let anyone jump from there just because they wore their Superman t-shirt. Also, if someone has been noticeably uncoordinated the whole school year playing “Frogger” across the street in front of the school most likely will end up badly!

2) Use your common sense. If something that is being done may very well end up with a police report being filed…that’s probably not good! Remember! “Common Sense” is a middle school elective that most students choose not to take. They prefer woodworking with sharp objects and piercing tools instead.

3) Stay with at least two other teachers during the last hour when most of the school is outside. Like packs of wolves, students will look for “lone teachers” to pick on. It’s their nature! In case you as a teacher get separated make sure you have plenty of candy in your pockets. Throw the candy away from you while shouting “Candy!”…and run in the opposite direction!

4) When the final bell sounds…get to the side of the hallway or into a classroom. The running of the bulls is about to happen. If you feel brave run in front of them, but just remember…another stampede is coming from the opposite direction and you most likely will be the meat in the bun!

5) Expect the emotional! There will be the students who will say that they will miss you greatly…wish that you could come to high school with them…want to visit you this summer…tell you that you’re the best teacher they’ve ever had…that you have inspired them to become teachers…and all kinds of other nice comments. Simply nod your head in acknowledgement and give high fives. The students you truthfully inspired have been known to you for a long time. They are the ones who never have to look at their cell phones the whole class period.

6) Understand that some of these students will be sitting across the table from you in less than twenty years as the parents at parent-teacher conferences! As your body shudders uncontrollably…remember the same thing was true for you…back in the day! Miracles still happen, just as they did long ago with you!

7) When you get in your car immediately lock the doors! Students like to pretend they are zombies!

Seventh Grade Cynicism

February 12, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                      February 1, 2017


I’m becoming a seventh grade substitute teaching fixture. Two more days this past week to follow closely on the heels of the three weeks of seventh social studies. I’m starting to begin sentences with “Dude!”, and trash-talk with seventh grade athletes about sports teams.

Dude! It is making me see things in new ways!

One of those “new views” is the unmistakable seasoning of cynicism amongst the young audience. Although they are not proficient in understanding politics they are cynical about politics. They’ve picked up on the unrest of the nation from the recent political campaign, and wrestle with the confusion of the allegations hurled from each side of the arena. Perhaps part of their misgivings grow out of a statement that they’ve been hearing for a long time; that we live in the best country in the entire world, and have the best governmental structure. They’ve been hearing that, but are wondering why the citizens of this best country spout so much venom at one another over politics?

In fact, much of seventh grade cynicism emerges in questions that begin with the word “Why?” They don’t quite get it! Of course, neither do I! I just try to look like I understand!

Their cynicism is a foggy picture that reflects their parents beliefs and unbeliefs. They’ve heard the resistance towards immigrants, the absurdness of building walls, the plight of the poor, the dangers of terrorism, and the 4,000 piece puzzle that’s a picture of health care and insurance.

Seventh graders have become cynical about the world so they turn their attention to their immediate situation and environment. Yes, they heard that the unemployment rate went up, but there’s a school sock hop this Friday night that needs their attention. They heard about a school shooting in Oklahoma, but the new Chick-Fil-A opened up down the street. The President is coming through town for a speaking engagement, but the seventh grader just realized that he forgot to put a pudding cup in his lunch bag!

Schools stress an understanding of what is going on in the world…and rightfully so…but thirteen year olds yield to what their friends think. Their cynicism makes them skeptical of pure motives. They live in a world of hidden agendas. If I cut my neighbor’s lawn because he’s out of town these newly-arrived teens are wondering why I did it? What am I getting out of it?

In essence, we have made them who they are. They are the “Mini-Me’s” of our lives!

Sounds hopeless. And yet, there are certain people that have the distinct privilege and opportunity to ground our young people in social responsibility, compassion, and lives rooted in principles and purpose. For example, as a middle school coach for close to twenty years I understand that my players look to me for guidance, but also what my life conveys is truly important. Last week I told my 8th Grade basketball team that any detentions or behavior problems that require school administration involvement will automatically carry at least a one game suspension for the player. I told them that character is more important than athletic ability. I expect them to act responsibly and make wise decisions. I realize, on the other hand, that they are looking at me to make sure I’m acting responsibly and making wise decisions.

A few years ago I was camp pastor for a middle school church camp. One night we washed each other’s feet. It was a silent act. No words were said and it was strictly voluntary. For about thirty minutes, after I and another leader began the humble act, students would invite one another to the front and serve one another in a way that humbled the washer and honored the one whose feet were being washed.

In some ways that’s where we need to take seventh graders more often…to a place of service and humility. Dude! Wouldn’t that be awesome?