Posted tagged ‘teaching middle school’

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!

Dear Kecia Corin

November 8, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                              November 8, 2018

                               

Dear Kecia,

It’s hard to believe that you turn 37 years old today! What am amazing young woman you are! When you arrived at 1:21 A.M. on that birth day I called your grandfather to tell him that he had his first granddaughter- Kecia Corin Wolfe. Grandpa Faletti was a bit groggy as he picked up the phone and when I told him your name his first response was “What? Quiche Lorraine?”

He soon discovered the blessings of “Kecia Corin”!

I know that you’ll be blessing your third grade students today at Stetson Elementary, as you do every school day. You’ve impacted hundreds of young lives in your 13 years of teaching. Years from now they will encounter something that they see or a situation that they have knowledge of and it will suddenly occur to them that they learned that in a classroom at Stetson from Mrs. Hodges. It’s a sign of the fact that you had been and are a forming influence in their lives. 

Mom and I have so many good memories of your growing up years. Now, not when it happened, we can even laugh at some of the things you did…like when you put a “surprise” in your brother’s dresser drawer! Or how you wouldn’t admit you were wrong! A trait you inherited from my mom, Virginia Wolfe!

And now we see how you guide your kids, our three grandkids, in learning about life and shaping their minds and hearts.

I was emotionally overjoyed when you read my first novel with them, taking a chapter each night at bedtime to get to know “Ethan Thomas” and “Red Hot Randy Bowman”. And then the night when my cell phone rang and the ID said you were calling, but when I answered it was my grandson, Jesse. 

“Granddad!” 

“Yes, Jesse!” 

“We liked it!” 

“You what?” 

“We really liked your book!”

My first critique!

That showed how you value me! You show how you value Mom by entrusting 3 year old Corin to her each Friday. Sometimes kids forget to let their parents know how important they are, but you are always treating us with respect and honoring us. Amazing!!!

We almost lost you on that morning of November 8th! You went Code Blue for a few moments- every parent’s worst nightmare- but then we heard the sweet sound of your cry…and we cried!

A woman of faith who models following Jesus for her children, a spouse who understands that a strong marriage is the merging of two voices…neither more important than the other. 

You were our first, and, therefore, our test project. You hated strained peas, chased your pacifier when we’d throw it across the room and then bring it back to us to throw again, and wouldn’t fall asleep in your crib unless I was laying on the floor beside it. More than once I’d try to crawl out of your bedroom only to hear you rising up and halting my escape. 

You were younger sister Lizi’s mentor and inspiration when you were growing up. She wanted to be like you, and most of the time it brought a smile to your heart to see her scampering along behind. 

You’re also responsible for most of the names our cats were christened with…Tickles, Prince Charming Kisses, Duke, and Katie Katie CoCoa Puffs. They showed your creativity and lightheartedness.

You are awesome! Mom and I wish she had some more time with you…just you! Not to say that we don’t want to see the rest of the family, it’s just that when one of the kids becomes the mom of their own family the opportunities to sit and talk to one of our own children gets pushed to the side. 

BUT we enjoy sitting by the side and seeing how you bring up your own! Happy Birthday! May your day be as amazing as you are!

Why Would You Put Gum In Your Armpit?

September 22, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                    September 22, 2018

                             

Middle school is a time of discovery as eleven, twelve, and thirteen year olds enter a new land of educational challenges, physical awkwardness, and unwise decisions. Like the frightened character in the horror movie who decides to open the door to the room where the strange sounds are coming from (and the theatre audience is yelling “Don’t do it!”), middle school kids do things and say things that make us shake our heads in dismay.

Like the boy last year who told his teacher, “I’m getting tired of looking at your face!” It did not go well for him!

Or the eighth grader who thought it would be cool to body surf down the concrete wall in the stairwell! He got about five feet into his journey and then fell over the side, landing on the steps in the lower half of the stairway! 

Ands then there was yesterday when a boy decided to put his chewing gum into his armpit…underneath his shirt! Just as gum gets stuck on the underside of desks for eternity this boy’s armpit was stuck with some Dubble Bubble!

As with the actions of many middle school students the first question that comes to an adult’s mind is “Why?” Why would a student who can understand algebra put bubble gum in his armpit? Was he trying to keep it moist? Did he not know where else to store it and his armpit wasn’t doing anything anyway? Was it a class where the teacher doesn’t allow gum and he thought he could sneak a few chews in from time to time?

And what did this boy, who by the way did have some armpit hair to help create a situation that gives new meaning to the term “bubblicious”, tell his parents? Where did he get the idea that putting gum in his armpit was a good idea? Did he see his dad do it once in the midst of an elk hunting trip?

Is an armpit gum crisis a disciplinary problem that requires the security guard to be called; or a medical situation for the school nurse to handle; or a custodial situation with some stain remover; or a wood shop problem solved with a little bit of sawing…kind of like cutting some small trees down!

It happened on Friday afternoon. For some middle schoolers Friday afternoon is when they get a distorted understanding of American freedom and think anything is okay. For teachers and school administrators Friday afternoon is like the end of a marathon race. Energy is low, muscles are cramping, their cardio system in at its max, but the finish line is in sight! They are stretching for the tape just about to break it and throw their arms up in triumph…and someone comes into the room or office and says “Jimmy wanted to see if he could fit in his locker and now he’s stuck inside it!”

There is the urge to respond with “Well…he will still be there on Monday when we come back!”, but…then the teacher or administrator remembers that their job description includes something like “rescues students from themselves!”

Substitute Teacher Day Off

September 18, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                     September 18, 2018

                                    

I did not get a too-early call this morning from Timberview Middle School. No phone ringing at 5:30 with urgency! I get did four phone calls from another school, but I ignored them. It’s gotten to the point where I rarely substitute at any other school besides Timberview. I’m like Andy Griffith in the midst of middle school Mayberry. Everybody knows me there! I coach three sports there, with this being my 18th year of coaching boy’s basketball.

So today is a day off! Yesterday I corralled 7th Grade language arts students the whole day, keeping them focused on verbs, mis-spellings, and the green grass of literature. I’ll giddy up the same herd two days from now. 

Today, however, I’m relaxing…kinda’! When I leave Starbucks this morning I’m going up to the school to take care of a couple of details and surprise a coaching teammate with a cup of Americano with a little bit of cream. She deserves it for having to teach 8th Grade math all day.

Since retiring from being a church pastor close to three years ago (Doesn’t seem possible!) my understanding of “a day off” has been altered. It used to be that Monday was the designated day off after the hyper-speed pace of Sunday. Now it’s whatever day I’m not substitute teaching. 

Could be Monday, could be Thursday, but it’s almost never Friday! 

And what do I do on whatever day it is that I’m off? I think about what’s going on at the school, wondering which students will make unwise decisions and which teachers will be ready to pull their hair out. I’ll wonder what new color of hair will appear in a classroom that day and what 8th Grade girls will look like their jeans were vacuum sealed around them. I’ve noticed- and maybe you have also- that my middle school experiences are filtering more and more into my writing. In the first month of the school year I wrote 7 blog posts related to middle school. Today I’ll write 1,000 to 2,000 words in the third fiction book I’m writing and the story will have been influenced by my recent middle school experiences. One of the two main characters is a 7th Grade boy! That’s what I do on my day off! I write about middle schoolers.

I’ll also eat a more substantial lunch today, maybe a luncheon date with Carol. I won’t need to “wolfe down” a Tupperware bowl containing cottage cheese and cucumber, or a PB&J sandwich while gulping a bottle of water. Today I won’t even have to use a plastic fork!

I’ll be able to talk in a normal voice, use the bathroom when I want to, wear a pair of shorts and a tee shirt, and sit in the swing on our back deck and read Vince Flynn. I’ll be able to enjoy a third cup of coffee on my writing stool- the last stool on the right looking out at Pike’s Peak! I can stop at the supermarket and check out the “day old food” discounted rack and play Words with Friends. I may even run by Penney’s and see if they have underwear on sale!

And in the midst of all those opportunities and “down time” I’ll be thinking about Timberview, like a kid wondering what might happen in the next episode of my favorite action TV series. 

Crazy, I know, but it brings a smile to my face! And I’ll ask myself “Was I that dorky when I was in middle school?” 

Absolutely!

Having A 3 Second Delay For Life

September 15, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                          September 15, 2018

                                 

In my growing up years I used to love watching Japanese science fiction movies from the 1950’s and 60’s. Most of them were still in black and white, a bit cheesy, but very entertaining for a ten year old on Saturday mornings before the normal cartoon line-up shows came on, like Johnny Quest.

The plot for some of the films must have been thought up by half-crazed people under deadline duress. Curse of the Mushroom People, Invasion of the Neptune Men, Frankenstein Conquers the World, and Evil Brain From Outer Space are just a few of the films that came out of the minds of some disturbed film folk.

One thing I noticed as I watched these movies was the fact that the dubbing of the sound with the picture was almost always off. Perhaps it was a result of the movie being translated from Japanese into English,  but it was always noticeable. 

The lips were still moving but all the words had already been said. Sometimes it was as much as three seconds. The words of the next dialogue line were being heard, but the picture on the screen was still the previous speaker. 

In later years as I’ve watched some of those old films it has become a feature that amuses me!

The last three days I’ve been substitute teaching seventh graders for a science class. It has made me realize that in this day of apps for everything under the sun there is a need for a “three second delay app!” That is, an app that would allow a person’s common sense to catch up to the words before they are spoken. 

It became apparent amongst the seventh graders because of their tendency to “blurt”, “spew”, and “verbally twitch” without thinking. One student spewed so much nonsense that his own classmates were greatly relieved by his being asked to leave class. Amazingly, no one else needed a three second delay app for the rest of the class. 

Seventh graders aren’t the only ones who need a rewind or delay button, although they would be the main consumers of such an invention. There is a prime market of adults who could use the three second delay as well. With people’s words being recorded on someone’s cell phone and social media, what we say without thinking seems to be coming back to haunt us more and more. 

And whereas, it kind of adds more entertainment value to the viewing of Curse of the Mushroom People, it causes apologies and some serious backpedaling for us today. 

I would have liked that three second delay app back in 1970 when I had taken a young lady to our high school’s homecoming dance. After the dance I took her home and walked her up to her front porch. The porch light was on and as we stood there she asked me if I would like for her to turn the light off. And I said, “No, that’s okay!”

WHAT????????

If there had been a three second delay so that my common sense could have caught up to my words I wouldn’t be reminding myself that I was an idiot that night…48 years later! 

The Warts of Seventh Grade

August 28, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                     August 28, 2018

                               

Today, Tuesday, is my day off this week. I substitute teach the other four days of the week. Last week I manned a classroom Wednesday through Friday. Most of my days so far have been spent being the sheep dog for seventh graders. You know, chasing behind them and barking loud enough that the ones threatening to become wayward from the flock correct their perilous destinations!

Seventh graders in August are like caterpillars who haven’t cocooned yet. They are still wobbling around trying to find their way. The incredible thing is that most of them will evolve by the following May into beautiful butterflies of various brightness. Resisting temptation, their teachers will abstain from squashing a select few! 

Last week most of the seventh grade flock headed towards the green acres of educational grazing, but there were a few who seemed drawn to the brier patch. I’ll call them “the warts of seventh grade”, the oddities who stand out like a bald man wearing a petticoat and drain teachers of energy and patience.

There are the warts that LIKE to be noticed. When the attention of a class gets too focused on knowledge and away from them an outburst deadens the pursuit of discovery. One wart’s stainless steel water bottle redirected the attention of her class half a dozen times as she dropped it, tipped it over, and kicked it. Each drop had the same effect of someone raking their fingernails across one of those old chalkboards we used to have…back in the old days! the student squealed in glee at her ability of distract.

One boy, resembling a bad rash in the midst of academia’s complexion, must not only be ADHD, but a few more letters added onto that. Like a bug headed for a zapper, he doesn’t seem to be able to keep himself from being sent to the principal’s office. 

And then there are the few who mistake their warts for being adorable freckles. Like a bad case of acne on the teenager’s face, their teachers will be applying steady applications of disciplinary Clearasil to help their classroom complexion. For an even more select few there is now Clearasil Ultra that applies even deeper forms of correction.

In August “the warts” stand out. By next spring the beauty marks will, thankfully, command more of the attention. It’s why teachers teach! They teach for what they believe will be the result towards the end of the nine month journey, the vividness of their students’ discoveries, and the hope that warts can even be transformed along the way.

Why I Substitute Teach

August 18, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                    August 18, 2018

                                     

School began again this past Wednesday in our area! At Timberview Middle School four hundred or so sixth graders waited outside the doors that first day. Seventh and eighth graders came back on Thursday.

The school staff waited inside the doors and cheered them on as they entered the building for their first middle school experience.

And I was one of the cheering high five-ing staff members!

I’m a substitute teacher, but had been asked to teach the first three days of school by a teacher back in April because of a family wedding she would be attending out-of-state.

Other staff members asked the question: “Mr. Wolfe, subbing already?” Yes, in fact, out of 13 August school days I’m scheduled to sub 10 of them for 7 different teachers. 

I often have people ask me why I substitute teach? Am I a masochist? Is it the appropriate level for how mature I act? Will no one else hire me? Am I reliving my junior high days?

Truthfully, I substitute teach because I enjoy it! I’m serious! One of the best months of my life was when I was asked to do a long-term 7th Grade Social Studies teaching position. I had to work like crazy that month preparing for each day of instruction and interaction, but I was a bit sad when the new teacher was hired. She’s a great teacher (who I have subbed for several times since!), but I missed the kids who I was privileged enough to teach, challenge, and converse with each day. 

That experience has probably influenced my feelings on substitute teaching more than anything else. It imparted confidence in me and brought me to the point where each school day was seen as being an opportunity to influence and educate, as opposed to enduring and dreading.

I don’t substitute teach because we need the income. We’re okay regardless of whether I decide to take the month off or appear in a classroom every school day of that month. The pay, in my mind, is simply a side benefit for doing something I enjoy doing. 

I substitute teach because of the relationships with staff, parents, and students. A few of my best friends are now teachers, who are on staff at Timberview. One of them has been on two mission trips with me. I officiated at the funeral service for another teacher friend who succumbed to cancer two years ago. 

I substitute teach at middle school because it’s an impressionable time for the children who enter there and three years later exit as teenagers. It’s an uncertain and confusing part of their life journeys. I remember my junior high days. They were not that pleasant. I was the smallest kid in my whole class. Other boys in my eighth grade class were beginning to sport facial hair and armpit hair that was dense and long enough to take a weed whacker to. I didn’t even have peach fuzz! I was still like a facial hair desert, void of signs of adolescence!

As a sub I have the opportunity to give a word of encouragement, bring a class to laughter, and grace students with nicknames. I have the opportunity to make a school day more than just books and study sheets. I’m able to make it an experience.

It’s a bit flattering to hear good things being said about me. I’m scheduled to teach 8th Grade social studies for two weeks at the end of October and beginning of November. The teacher came up to me on Thursday and told me she had shared with her classes that I’d be subbing for her during that time. 

“They were so excited!”

Wow! Putting the pressure on me! But, you know something? I’m also excited! I am a blessed man!