Posted tagged ‘teaching’

When Your Daughter Turns 36

November 8, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                             November 8, 2017

                                  

Today is the birthday of my oldest daughter, Kecia Corin (Wolfe) Hodges. She hit the three followed by the six this morning at 1:21 a.m. Being considerate of her pastor dad, she waited until early that Sunday morning back in 1981 to join her parents. I went to church that day bleary-eyed but on Cloud Nine!

Thirty-six years later she parents three amazing kids who have enormous amounts of energy, teaches fourth graders, and keeps her husband organized.

Kecia has always had a creative side to her. When she was ten she went on a mission trip with me to Keams Canyon, Arizona. We had a great week, but the two of us left a day before everyone else on our team, heading back to Michigan so that I could be there for Sunday morning worship. I’ll always remember her entertaining herself in the long, long, long car ride back making a McDonald’s Happy Meal out of paper, crayons, and a pair of scissors. She was detailed to the point of making individual french fries and inserting them in the made-to-order container. That creativity has also blessed several hundred fourth grade students over the years. Even though teaching has become more challenging in recent years due to dysfunctional families, helicopter parents, and prima donna students, she is passionate about it. Her guiding question is “how can I help my students be fully engaged in learning what needs to be taught?”

Kecia is a great mom. Make no mistake about it, she rules the house! Not like a dictator, but rather as a shepherd leading the flock in the journey that includes stumbles, celebrations, problems to solve, and new adventures to tackle.

And today she begins to tip the age scale towards forty and less towards thirty! Ironically, in my mind she’s still more like twenty-five. Her mind is youthful. She’s more optimistic about life than pessimistic about people. Even though her classroom gets several challenging students each year the frustrations of teaching have not hardened her to the purpose or hazed over the mission.

She’s a great daughter! Carol and I feel that she deeply respects and loves us. She trusts our wisdom and suggestions. We are thrilled by every encounter we have with her.

Thirty-six years ago when she arrived in this world there was a Code Blue that went out. She had swallowed some fluid in the birthing process, and we remember her being treated on the infant table over in the corner of the birthing room. Carol and I held hands and uttered a prayer. This was our firstborn who was teetering on the rim between life and death.

And then we heard the lungs give a cry, and tears flowed from our eyes a few feet away. God gifted her to us and he has used her these past thirty-six years to bless the lives of numerous people.

In fact, I’m tearing up again! Happy Birthday, Kecia!

The Button-Pushing Middle School Student

November 4, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                          November 4, 2017

                         

I’m becoming experienced as a substitute teacher. Everyday I experience new things, am dismayed in new ways, and face intriguing situations that would make good fodder for reality TV.

I’ve come to realize that there is a certain category, a distinct species amongst students that causes a few to stand out like peacocks. It’s not a very large group of students, and they don’t usually cluster together like geese.

They are the button-pushers, the students who would give Jesus a hard time for walking on water. They look for the seeds of distraction and chaos to infect good discussions and teachable moments.

Recently, I had a week with the same 125 students, grouped into four classes and another class period for specialized study. Out of 125 students I discovered “the button-pusher”. Everyday he pushed my buttons in some annoying way. On Day One he asked belittling questions to another student after she gave a report on a current event in front of the whole class. His questions, which I squashed after the first couple, were asked in a way to make her look stupid. Hear the button being pushed and held down! On Day Two he kept bothering the student sitting beside him, saying things under his breath to her, touching her arm with his pencil. I was clueless of what was going on until she finally erupted…which is what he was going for!

On Day Three we had a confrontation. When I asked him to stop making a noise with his ruler, slapping the desk with it, he pushed his button with “What about him?” “I’m not talking about him. I’m talking to you!” He gave me the button-pusher look of defiance. “Don’t give me that look!”

On Day Four he started early and I attacked early. “We aren’t going to repeat yesterday. You either get with the program or take a nice vacation to the assistant principal’s office and stare at his wall posters.”

On Day Five his dad came and picked him up for some kind of appointment five minutes into class. God does answer prayer!

Button-pushers gain reputations amongst teachers. This button-pusher had done a couple of things to other students that were just plain mean, but when the teacher talked to his mom the response was that the teacher must be mistaken. It couldn’t be her son!

Conspiracy theorists believe button-pushers have been inserted into middle school classrooms to sabotage the education of the masses, but, even more than that, to become detriments to the preparatory process for the state assessment tests. There’s rumors that they have taken summer training in “argumentative classroom behavior” and “creating crying teachers who start mumbling to themselves”. Like the four celebrity judges on The Voice they have learned how to recognize opportunity and hit the button at a moment’s notice.

Oh, that button-pushers would be a dying breed heading towards extinction, but unfortunately they seem to be repopulating every year. Perhaps it has something to do with the growing number of helicopter parents, absentee parents, clueless parents, and the natural order of disorder. THEY would have you believe that! And if you do you’ve just had another button pushed called “gullible!”

Going Back To School

October 28, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                     October 28, 2017

                                  

My parents would testify to the truth of this statement.

I was not a very good student!

Actually, I was not a very motivated student. I was motivated to get to physical education class, but I can not remember another class in middle school or high school that I was motivated to excel in. Each day was a trip to Boredom in a vehicle named Mediocrity.

I remember a number of my teachers, but not necessarily for what they taught me. I remember “earthquake drills” in Health class where we laid our heads on our desks. An earthquake drill meant that our teacher hadn’t had time to plan a lesson. I remember my chemistry teacher saying that if an atomic bomb was going to be dropped by Russia it would be aimed at a place within an hour of our location. I don’t remember the chemical symbols of the periodic chart, but I do remember that we’d be the first to perish on doomsday!

I substitute taught seventh grade all five days this past week. The techniques and methods of teaching have changed, but the students are still the same. For many students the legal requirement of being in school seems to cast a looming shadow over the opportunity to go to school. Since they HAVE to do it there is a lack of WANTING to do it!

I was the same way…or worse! I now wonder what my teachers said to my parents during those parent-teacher conferences. I doubt that it included statements about my academic achievements and prowess.

And now…forty-five years after high school, I often wish I could return to the role of student and sit under the tutelage of some of those teachers that I rarely gave a hearing to. I wish I could actually sit in one of those desks and hear about dangling participles and plane geometry theorems. I’d like to sit there with my laptop and type out notes as my teacher lectured on the Spanish Inquisition.

Why is it that we are too often late in appreciating what we’re a part of, and left to sadly reminisce about lost opportunities?

Of course, that’s how it is with other area of our lives, also! We take for granted the presence of family and friends, talk about visiting that certain aunt someday soon…that never seems to come…and then it’s too late! We commit to getting out of debt…next month! We’ll make that doctor appointment for the physical exam we’ve been dreading…sometime soon! We’ll take the family to a movie…as soon as we get that major house project done that we keep putting off!

I wish I could go back to school. Maybe I will! My Great Aunt Lizzie took art classes at the community college in Paintsville, Kentucky when she was in her mid-nineties! I still have the painting she gifted me with of her log cabin birthplace. Maybe I’ll sign up for an American History class with young adults and risk being called Grandpa!

Funny, isn’t it…my longing for education when I used to long for it to be over!

Assuming Knowledge

October 19, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                             October 19, 2017

                                       

Much of our lives are based on assumptions. Assumptions are as basic as assuming that the next time I inhale there will be air around me to breathe in, and when I get out of bed in the morning that there will be a solid floor under my feet to step on.

We assume certain rules of order. Close to the middle school I teach at there is a four-way stop. When the car on my right proceeds through the intersection I assume that I am the next vehicle that will go. Yesterday, however, someone behind the first car did a quick stop and stepped on the gas. My assumption of courteous and orderly driving was false. Irritation did a quick circuit through my body as the wild woman driver turned in front of me and gave me a non-conforming look.

Yesterday I was teaching a class of sixth graders about the homesteaders of the latter part of the eighteen hundreds in our country, the push to settle the Great Plains and the West. I began by talking about the Civil War and was taken back by some of the blank stares that communicated ignorance of the topic.

“Who knows what century the Civil War was fought in?”

A raised hand. “1900’s.” I gasped.

“No. Anybody else?”

Another raised hand by a confident young man. “1700’s?”

“No.”

Another hand. “1800’s?”

“Correct!” Of course, the student, using his inflated amount of common sense, had figured it out by the process of elimination.

I had assumed that sixth grade students knew about the Civil War. In quizzing them on why there was a Civil War only about twenty per cent knew the primary reason as to why it happened. Of course, about eighty percent of them knew the names of the most popular video games out right now and the words to several of the top ten songs on the “hits chart”!

It occurred to me that part of the confusion of these times that we live in goes to the uncertainty of assumptions. There’s the greying of guidelines, the haziness in unwritten rules, and the fog of expectations.

For instance, my daughter who is a fourth grade teacher can no longer assume that a parent who is sitting in front of her at a parent-teacher conference is on the same page with her in seeking to help the student have academic success. She now, too often, runs into parents who see her as their son’s adversary. The conference becomes a battle where she is viewed as the problem as opposed to little Jimmy’s reading level still being that of a second grader. She can no longer assume that a conference will help the parents understand where their child is in his schoolwork, and how they can help him.

Today before my 8th Grade basketball practice I will draw the team together and talk about the importance of selflessness in creating a strong team. I can no longer assume that players that I coach understand that the game they are playing is a team sport. I still remember the halftime locker room several years ago where the team I was assistant coach for was trailing by ten points. One player suddenly said, “Coach, I’ve got eleven points!” It was almost as if she didn’t understand that the purpose of the game was to win it, not keep track of personal stats.

We sometimes assume too much, assume things are the way they’ve always been, and assume people have a basic understanding.

Ohhhh…..for a clearer time when people understood the way life worked better!

Re-entering The World of First Grade

September 20, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                         September 19, 2017

                               

The six year old boy stood beside my desk and looked at me. “I’ve never had a boy teacher before. I’ve always had girl teachers.”

“Oh, is that so?” I replied.

“Yes, and I’ve always wanted a boy teacher. If I didn’t have a boy teacher by the time I’m eight or nine I was going to be really upset!”

“Okay! Well, I’m a boy!” He smiled and walked back to his desk. My morning of teaching first graders was beginning with one young man’s personal agenda being fulfilled.

Being a substitute teacher in first grade is a delightful experience…mostly! There were the moments when movement in certain students legs required them to get out of their seats and wiggle for a few seconds, and there’s always a student who wants to answer everything, be the one who is always chosen, and the one who is always first in line…but, for the most part, it’s an enjoyable experience. Someone’s pencil falls on the floor every five seconds, but no one ever throws a pencil at another student. That doesn’t become a problem until like…middle school!

Being a man…or a “boy teacher” in first grade causes the mouths of first grade students to drop open as they see the teacher of the other gender standing there as they arrive.

Some people who know me would say that my maturity level is similar to a first grader’s. At the school I subbed at a classical piece of music is played over the speakers in the classroom to begin the school day. I could not help myself as I swayed and moved my head from side-to-side in front of the classroom. The students giggled at my gyrations! In my opinion first grade needs to include a lot of laughter and giggling. Each day needs to be an experience in education, not a task in learning.

I led them on a journey with a nomad tribe, as we studied history. I made a fool of myself by intentionally saying the months of the year incorrectly and having them tell me when I messed up. I told them about my family as they enjoyed their mid-morning snack. My granddaughter is in first grade this year, and they thought that was pretty cool!

But this first grade class steered me back on the road when I was straying off-course. For example, at the beginning of the day the date is written on the board and I was forgetting to do that. STOP! As we were heading out for recess I had not taken the whistle that was hooked to the wall right by the door. One cute girl with a very serious look on her face corrected me. I repented of my omission and grabbed the whistle. I believe she has a future in law enforcement.

At noon the teacher who had been at training that morning…a girl teacher!…returned and I turned the rest of the day’s journey over to her…a little sad that I was leaving and blessed to have been a part of it!

The Stupidest Question In Seventh Grade Science Class

September 16, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                           September 16, 2017

                                     

In my other world of substitute teaching I entered a seventh grade science classroom for three days this past week. The teacher, Mr. Williams…”Dean-O” to me…had called in July to schedule me for several days this fall. This week included Days 3, 4, and 5 of that journey…so I knew the students already. I knew who the studious students were, as well as the suspect students. I knew the “go to” students- the ones who the teacher can always call on for help- and also the ones who were familiar with the furnishings inside the assistant principal’s office.

Wednesday started with questions spoken with a whine. “Do we have to do this?”, “Can I just sit here and not do anything?”, “Why does Mr. Williams give us so much to do?”, and “Do we have to do ALL the definitions?” (No, just the ones you know, so you don’t have to tax your brain too much!)

Other questions followed closely that were lacking in intelligence. It became a pattern…questions asked about terms that were right there in the reading.

“What’s the labrum? I can’t find it in the reading.”

“First paragraph under the section entitled Digestive System in bold print.”

“Oh!”

So on Day Two I made it a contest! I told them that during the last three minutes of class I’d listen to stupid questions, and the stupidest question would receive a bag of Skittles candy. You talk about excitement! The kids with the highest IQ’s were all over it. They used their extra intelligence to craft extremely dumb queries.

Some of the questions were more like problem-solving situations that required me to think…and thus were disqualified from winning! Others tongue-twisters, like the woodchuck riddle that creates muscle spasms in your mouth.

A few tried to plagiarize “stupid questions”, sneaking their smart phones under their desks and googling “stupid questions.” Most of them were nabbed. Like the boy who asked the stupid question, “Why does an alarm clock ‘go off’ when it’s actually ‘turning on’?” Questions such as that got class responses of “You got that on the internet!” I was amazed later on when I googled the category that there were so many links to “stupid questions”! Stupidity is in abundance!

There were the stupid questions that included no creativity, such as “Is this a stupid question?”, or “How do you spell “a”?”, and “Am I smart?”

The winners were usual the ones that were so stupid that I had to stop and think about it for a second. They will appear in the midst of the dialogue of the next Dumb and Dumber movie. Questions like, “How does brown work?”, “Since the moon is made of cheese is it true that astronauts can not be lactose intolerant?”, and “What do they feed the cows to make the milk come out chocolate?”

Let’s face it! In the midst of seventh grade science classes there have been a lot of stupid questions asked over the years, but on a couple of days this past week thought-through stupidity was celebrated!

Nicknaming Middle Schoolers

August 24, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                           August 24, 2017

                                 

This week marks the beginning of my second full year of substitute teaching. I have settled into enjoying my role as a mostly middle school substitute teacher, although I do have two days of kindergarten physical education coming up soon! When I mention to some people about subbing for middle school they look at me like I have a flu virus or a tattoo on my face…diseased and disturbed!

Last week I stood in the middle school entry way waiting for football practice to begin and in the few minutes I was there I was asked by three different teachers to be their subs for a total of 14 days in the coming two months. One teacher called me in July to schedule me for late August (today and tomorrow) and September.

Call me a “strange-o!”

One of the ways I connect with middle school kids is by gradually giving them nicknames that sometimes make sense, but often don’t! The nicknames, however, stick to them like flies on honey! This morning one young lady reminded me that I had nicknamed her “Georgia” last year, because her name is Savannah. One of her classmates then asked me to call her “California” for no apparent reason.

Last year Bryson became “Bison”. Another young man whose initials are “A.B.” became “Arby’s.” A young lady who requested that I give her a nickname became “The Professor”.

Nicknames make kids feel special in a funny kind of way. My nickname in high school was a takeoff on my name…Bill Wolfe. We were studying Beowulf in English and someone picked up on the similarity in pronunciations. To this day I can go back to Ironton, Ohio, see an old classmate from forty-five years ago, and be called Beowulf, or “Beo” for short!

To be honest, a lot of first names these days are hard for me to pronounce. I look at the class roster and don’t see many students named Bob, Jane, Susan, or John. Instead I look down the class list of young boys and girls who have more syllables than Mississippi. Pronouncing the names are like running obstacle pronunciation courses, each syllable ready to trip my tongue up.

Last year some seventh graders that I subbed for quite a bit even gave me a nickname. Instead of “Wolfe”…one syllable, they named me “Wolfe-a”, like I’m French. The “a” is sounded  like it’s flying into the ozone! It made me feel good, that a bunch of seventh graders felt me worthy enough for a nickname. I remember a few nicknames we had for some of my teachers back in school and they were not French, but definitely not very flattering!