Posted tagged ‘teaching’

The Blessing of Cluelessness

December 12, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                       December 12, 2017

                            

Recently I was sitting on the bench waiting for my 8th Grade boy’s basketball team to begin their game. The 7th Grade team had played right before us, and, after a post-game meeting with her team, the coach came out of the girl’s locker room, where the boys had been assigned to dress, and sat down beside me. She was laughing…one of those “I can’t believe I heard that” laughs.

“What’s going on, Coach?” I asked her, wanting to be clued in on the humor behind the chuckling.

“I just heard one of the boys say to one of his teammates as they stood in front of a machine anchored to the locker room wall, “Twenty-five cents! Who would pay twenty-five cents for a napkin?”

Sometimes middle school kids bless us with their cluelessness. The head librarian at the middle school where I coach told me a story about another 7th Grader who was reading an article about the Easter Island’s famous stone statues. He called across the library to her and asked her, “What does defecation mean?” She let him know that it means to poop. A strange look came over his face as he stared at the picture in the article. She watched for a few moments and his expression of confusion did not change. It was as if he was trying to figure out a math problem, so she walked over to see what was puzzling him. There was a man in the picture standing in front of the statues showing their massive size in comparison to him. Then she saw what the wording was underneath the picture. It said, “Easter Island stone statues are thought to be the result of deification.” The librarian chuckled as she realized the student’s confused look was because he was trying to figure out how the man in the picture had been able to poop out the statues?

Cluelessness leads us to moments of humored blessing!

One of the reasons I love teaching and coaching seventh graders is the heightened level of cluelessness that appears in their midst. I was the same way growing up! Perhaps my enjoyment has some connection to some of those past personal experiences. I see myself in the rear mirror of some of the seventh graders I’m walking by.

We often limit our understanding of blessing to the serene, the peaceful, the surprise gift in the mail, but some of the pimply cluelessness of adolescent life also falls into that category as well.

In fact, last week as I was substitute teaching seventh grade a couple of students were updating me on some of the middle school lingo that I was clueless about. They taught me what a couple of words meant and challenged me to use them in some way in my next class. When I did they burst out laughing! There’s something refreshing to students to be able to view cluelessness in their instructors.

God blesses us through wisdom and revelation, but he also touches the tickle side of our spirit through the innocent moments of cluelessness.

The People Who Push You On or Pull You Down

December 9, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                   December 9, 2017

                         

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pushers keep us moving towards our potential.

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

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

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

Mr. Wolfe'(“Wolf-ay”), Substitute Teacher

December 6, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                          December 6, 2017

                               

Almost a year ago I had an unusual bonding experience. I got a phone call asking if I would do a long-term substitute teaching position for a month at the middle school I also coach at. The call came on Friday and I started the next Monday. I was as green as week-old guacamole when I arrived at 7:15 that morning of January 9th. The principal’s granddaughter was in my first class!

It was 7th Grade Social Studies and I admitted to the class that there were a lot of things that I DIDN’T KNOW as I started the journey. On the board in front of the classroom I made three columns of marks to indicate all the things I didn’t know…and then to the right of that a column of things that I did know that included about three tiny marks under it.

The class was held in one of the portable classrooms outside the school building, and on the first day high winds that registered as much as 110 miles an hour in the area made the classroom shake like a 7th Grader standing in the middle of the principal’s office. The school district cancelled afternoon bus transportation because a couple of trucks had blown over.

That was the first day of my new experience…and it was awesome! We laughed together each day in our pursuit of knowledge and figuring out the world. Each day the 125 students that entered my classroom taught me as much as I taught them. They knew things would be a bit different when I showed a Duck Tales cartoon to introduce our study of how inflation worked.

And then one day a couple of the girls were playing around with how to pronounce my name and they suddenly made me French. Wolfe became Wolfe’, pronounced “Wolf-ay”. To be fair, I had turned a couple of their names into French-sounding mademoiselles first and they returned the favor.

After my month-long stint I was a bit depressed at no longer heading to the portable classroom each morning. The other three teachers on my team asked me why I hadn’t applied to be the new teacher and were a bit surprised when I told them that I did not have a teaching degree. I was simply a state certified substitute teacher.

Those three teachers would call me to sub for them, and for the rest of the school year I was in one of the portables several times each month.

Now…Year Two…word has spread about the substitute with the French name and the new seventh grade students have joined the parade of students who have made me a French-Canadian. I walk down the hallway and have students yell my name. Yesterday I was subbing for Physical Education, today I have seventh grade language arts, tomorrow eighth grade science, and Friday seventh grade science.

And it’s awesome!

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!