Posted tagged ‘teaching middle school’

Teacher Love and Life

May 6, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                     May 6, 2019

                                     

The PTO at Timberview Middle School sponsored a pretty cool project this weekend. They had students and parents “chalk up” the front sidewalk entry to the school with words of affirmation and thanks for the teachers and staff. I’m sure when the school staff arrived this morning their faces broke into smiles. It’s Teacher Appreciation Week, a welcome event for weary educators as they crawl towards the finish line of another marathon school year. 

Yes, they are underpaid and sometimes under appreciated, taken advantage of by self-centered parents who assume that educators have nothing else to do but watch their children, and discounted by other obnoxious parents who think their children’s poop doesn’t stink!

But let me tell you about some of the things I see teachers do that aren’t stipulations in their contracts.

I see several Timberview teachers eating lunch in their classrooms…along with anywhere from 15 to 30 students. Thirty minutes of quiet between classes is sacrificed so kids can chatter around them.

I see a couple of teachers giving up lunch time to play football or some other game outside with students, who want nothing else but to impress their instructors!

I see teachers staying after school to help students who are having a hard time understanding the subject material. The teachers are “off the clock”, but willing to give whatever time is needed to have things finally click for the student.

I see frustrated teachers sending emails to parents about their children’s academic struggles or unwise decision making…and getting no response. They see it as a partnership with the parents, but some parents seem to be more interested in whatever sports team is playing.

I see teachers giving hours and hours of their time for events like Science Olympiad, Chess Club, Student Council, and food drives.

I see teachers taking heat for the state mandates on testing, like they’re the driving force behind it!

I see teachers giving words of encouragement to crying kids, hope-filled hugs, and listening ears to student stories that seem to have no end or purpose.

I see teachers giving high-fives and inquiring how the past weekend’s hockey game went. I see them showing interest in their student’s lives, not just how well they understand the latest unit of linear algebra.

I see teachers giving their students nicknames that become marks of distinction. In my time as a guest teacher I’ve nicknamed kids “Mary Poppins”, “Braino”, “Beano”, “GOAT”, ‘Steak and Shake”, “Princess”, “Fruit Loopz”, “The Blonde Bomb”, “Dictionary Boy”, and “Kermit the Frog”. 

I see teachers trying to give their all for their students and then experiencing guilt about short-changing their own families.

I see teachers trying to expand their own knowledge and understanding of their subject matter, while staying current on what they are expected to teach in the present.

I see teachers coming to the aide of students who don’t have the necessary supplies, teachers who do things like bring a pair of gloves for a kid who doesn’t have any, shoe laces for a student whose tongues are flapping uncontrollably, and handing a granola bar to a hungry kid who has no lunch to eat. 

I see teachers as being on the frontlines of our society’s efforts to go forward, to prepare the next generation of difference-makers. No one can make more of a difference in a student’s life than a teacher who is passionate about his/her opportunity to teach!

Hopefully, this week you’ll also see teachers for who they really are and what they do!

Middle School Cool

April 23, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                      April 23, 2019

                                   

I was never one of the cool kids in school. It’s hard being cool when you’re a 4 foot 8 inch eighth grader with nerdy looking glasses. I was a cute kid, but eighth grade girls had moved past cute and had started looking for handsome, manly, and hints of voices that had suddenly started getting lower. I was a high-pitched, miniature, buzzcut boy who always wore clothes from the J.C. Penney’s store my mom worked at. Randy McDaniels was cool! He was 6 foot one inch, a great athlete, and the dream of most of the females in our class. Of course, when Randy entered his senior year he was still six foot one! He had just received an advance on his masculinity that the rest of his classmates wouldn’t catch up on for a couple of years.

As I walk down the hallways of Timberview Middle School nowadays I notice cool and uncool. That is, what students perceive as cool! 

For instance, having a cell phone in your hand is a prerequisite to even being considered cool. To be talking to Joey and without hesitation look at your cell phone and text Charley that you’ll see him at lunch…that’s in the preface of the book on cool. 

In fact, up-to-date technology is the first chapter in the book How to Be Cool In Middle School In Ten Easy Diagrammed With Pictures Steps. Cool students walk down the hallways with Apple AirPods in their ears. They are an indication that overpriced merchandise is not an obstacle for them…or their parents’ credit card. Having an Apple Watch is an even greater advance in the Kingdom of Coolness! In saying those things I have to admit that I pull out my gold MacBook at Starbucks with an air of prideful arrogance!

Middle school cool kids stand in the middle of the hallway at the height of student traffic moments and expect everyone else to detour around them. It’s their position of royalty with the feel of their subjects keeping their distance from them. If uncool students did that they would be trampled by the stampeding herd!

Uncool kids wear things like hair headbands with cat ears attached. Cool kids wear hair apparel with a Nike swoosh prominently displayed!

Cool kids have their parents deliver Chick-Fil-A to them for lunch. Uncool kids bring Lunchables or sandwiches made with white bread. 

Cool kids go to school athletic contests and sit in the upper corner of the bleachers with their cell phones and make inappropriate remarks about uncool classmates. Actually watching the game that is being played is not cool, unless someone they are infatuated with is playing.

Cool kids moan and groan about going to Language Arts and Math. Depending on whether the teacher is considered cool or not, it may be acceptable to seem interested in the Science and Social Studies classes. 

Cool kids ask to go to the restroom at least twice a day and take their time in the venture. Cool kids have cool looking water bottles, also. 

Cool kids run for student council and get elected even though they have no interest in making any decisions or planning any initiatives. Uncool kids, who would be awesome in getting some things done, never get elected! 

Cool kids show up in the morning with their Starbucks Frappuccinos. Uncool kids have juice boxes.

Middle school coolness is the predecessor to high school cockiness. It’s like the incubator for developing distorted perspectives on what’s important in life. Into the mash of that heated setting teachers try to lead students to deeper life understandings and principles. 

And, you know something? Bottom line, middle school teachers are the ones who are really the cool ones! 

Middle School Passing Period

April 13, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                   April 13, 2019

                             

It’s like an 8:00 A.M. corridor in an O’Hare International Airport terminal…many people rushing and others in no hurry at all…people on a mission and others who look like they’ve been beaten into submission…people all put together and others who are frantic as they seem to be coming apart.

Instead of an airport terminal, however, it’s a  middle school hallway…between class periods. It’s the four minutes of bedlam where a thousand students are required to navigate slimmed down hallways to get from one classroom to the next. 

I stand with two of the awesome sixth grade teachers, Dan Ferrante and Stephanie Wilcox, against a railing watching the mixture of personalities and temperaments pass us by. 

Some use it to ask one of their teachers a quick question or to plead their case for grace.

“Ms. Wilcox!” whines one girl, as she sticks her lower lip out and speaks in a tone that conveys the world is coming to an end, “I didn’t get all of my math homework done…but it wasn’t my fault! My little brother was sick and I had to do his jobs around the house, PLUS my own!” She punctuates the agony of injustice in being the overworked child of the family with a deep sigh.

Ms. Wilcox is very understanding of the inconvenience and tells her that she will send an email to the mom to express her concern for the illness of the brother and her understanding of the daughter’s inability to complete her math assignment.

Eyes wide open greet the teacher’s response. “Oh, you don’t have to do that! He’s…he’s fine today! Our…ahhh…internet is down anyway!”

Ms. Wilcox knows the talent this student has for avoiding work. She’s heard it all before. As the student walks away she enjoys a giggle of satisfaction over the terror she has created in someone who’s been prone to be the terror!

Several eighth graders walk down the crowded hallway with their noses in their cell phones, oblivious to the mass of bodies around them. 

A couple of sixth grade boys with an obsession for looking cool walk by with AirPods in their ears, as if their social status has been elevated. AirPods are the middle school version of a high school student driving a Maserati GT Convertible to school. They think people notice! They overestimate their peer group. Little Tommy, who has so many papers sticking out of his folder that it resembles the aftermath of a tornado, notices only the obstacles in his path to science class. His coat, which he never takes off, flaps in the hallway breeze and one shoelace is untied and so loose the tongue of the shoe looks thirsty! AirPods mean as much to him as hominy grits!

A small herd of seventh grade girls roam down the way in unison. Their conversation is so fast-paced they sound like Alvin and the Chipmunks. Never once do they acknowledge the three teachers. We are obstacles in the midst of their verbal jabber.

The boy I sent to the office last week passes by and I sense a scowl. He may have just spit on me…in his mind! His preference is to have the inmates run the asylum. Teachers are like prison guards. Someday he may find out from first-hand knowledge that prison guards are different!

“Mr. Wolfe, who are you subbing for today?” asks a cute sixth grade girl who still isn’t tall enough to ride the carousel merry-go-round by herself. 

“No one! I just decided to come and hang out in the hallway for a while.”

She giggles and goes on to her Language Arts classroom, not sure if I’m serious or trying to fool her. 

Another sixth grade girl. “Mr. Ferrante, do you want to read my speech?”

“Sure, but maybe at the beginning of our lunch period…unless I can read it in 15 seconds!”

There are the few who seek to take five minutes to get to their destination. They are in no hurry…with the exception of the 2:45 bell at the end of the school day. Jet propulsion empowers their feet at that point!

The crowds lessen and the teachers turn towards their classrooms. For the next 57 minutes the terminals will be quiet until the next class period’s flights begin boarding. 

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!