Posted tagged ‘teaching’

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!

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!

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!

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!

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!