Kids at Work

I spent an hour of my day out in glorious, crisp sunshine with ten seventh and eighth graders watching them split wood, logs, and I mean BIG ones. When the Career and Technical Education (CTE) teacher tells me that’s what his students will be doing, I think he’s kidding. I have already refused a couple of substitute positions as a PE teacher, simply because I want to avoid that injury-prone area of my profession. I’ve seen kids collide in the gym, and on the field. It’s not pretty!

“Seriously?” I ask. “You mean they’ll be outside chopping wood with like axes, and splitting mauls?” He grins and says, “Yeah, and you’ll be with them. Don’t worry. They’re really great kids!” Take the best kids, give ’em a substitute, and watch how quickly things can go sideways. I’m game though, and it is beautiful. If this is the job I took, then this is the job I’ll do.

We head out, I unlock the shed where the equipment is stored, and the kids grab what they need. There are felled trees in an orderly stack in one area beside some newly-split firewood. One of the boys has explained that this is for a fundraiser for the high school; they’re helping. (This is a 7-12 building in a small community). He’s not sure what the funds are for exactly, but he knows they’ve got orders for ten cords already, so they better get busy.

I am nervous; I’ve had real nightmares of my own involving an ax  embedded in my shin. These are middle schoolers wielding potential weapons. A kid has already tossed an Expo dry erase marker in anger earlier this morning. I am barely breathing. But I watch amazed.

They work in pairs, carefully alternating strikes. They tackle the big ones undaunted. They joke but are not careless. They navigate among their friends casually but aware—while of course pretending not to be. Theirs is sheer artistry. One young man asks if he can go to the forestry section and points to huge logs—log-truck hauled for sure. There are also four shorn trunks towering over the area. “Future totem poles?” I wonder aloud. To which this savvy eighth grader responds, “Nope. That’d be cool though. We practice climbing on those.”

This is not my middle school experience; this is today’s CTE, and I’m going home newly educated. Maybe I should take a PE class or two.

alps barn clouds country
Photo by Pixabay on


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