Jan

30

 'Mr. Keeley, rush to the to the SED room! The students are throwing chairs at the teacher!'

Weekly, at Blythe, CA High School through the 2000s, a frantic version of this blast over the school intercom for all to hear summoning me to put out another fire in the Severely Emotionally Disturbed classroom at the back of the campus between the 4-H pens of pigs, goats and cows and the broad irrigation canal.

Once there, in the spartan SED room, the small group of eight edgy youngsters told how they had browbeat or attacked the sub fleeing the doorway at that second. I would answer, 'Everyone in Sand Valley where I live, and everyone throughout my travels, flies off the handle once in a while. The trick is to identify the cause and correct it. It's the same process as fixing a racquet stroke, where I was a champion.'

Fortunately, as in racquetball where I flung my cover onto the court and was ahead 3-0 before the first serve, my reputation preceded me into this classroom. Sometimes I think the students rioted to summon me, as prison inmates stage food fights to break routine. The kids brightened to reveal the bizarre reasons for their misbehavior that had caused their banishment to this awkward class.

First, I told them, 'We aren't going to use the term SED around here. Labels create identities. You guys are as normal as me and my neighbors in Sand Valley. Next, the goal is to mainstream you back into the normal classes. Third, if you're in here at your parent's order to create a portfolio of being whacky in order to get on welfare for the rest of your lives, think again. There's a long line of students wishing to replace you in this class. Fourth, my methods are unorthodox but effective. I'm not a schooled psychologist, but if you do your work, I'll reward each daily lesson with a related story from the road.'

Their excuses were miserably true. Some were rising with the roosters at 5 am without breakfast to ride a bus for an hour from an outlying farm to the school, and arrived irritated. Or, their parents drank and hit them the night before. A couple were worried about being accosted after school, and showed secreted 10" drill bits slid into their book spines. One albino had unrecognized photophobia. Another was dyslexic. Another painted his fingernails purple and talked with a lisp for attention. These were the campus hard luck cases lumped into one classroom, their last chance before expulsion, and I was their last hope.

When you have someone over a barrel like this, life is actually pretty easy. I dimmed the harsh fluorescent lights, and we did jumping jacks, sit-ups and pushups for twenty minutes. Then I turned down the thermostat to cool the room, a la public airplanes to calm the passengers. I opened the day's assignment from the permanent SED teacher, the gorgeous lady I'll call Ms. Libda, who often was away at business meetings, and so her duty fell on me. She was talented, caring, a former Navy medic, cop, and prison turnkey.

After their work was done, and the adventure story reward, I wrote up a detailed report on what had taken place and the progress of each student in mirror writing. Mirror writing reads from right to left, and early on in my subbing career the principal had called me into his office to explain why many of the students, especially the athletes, were seen reading their texts upside down. He had a boxing picture of himself on the wall from his youth, and I threw a mock left hook at his jaw, while justifying that if he had read print flowing right-to-left then his eyes would be quicker to have caught the jab, as well as the next butterfly, car or ball. My after class reports to the Ms. Libda were a hit, and one day she addressed me, 'The students like you, and so do I. I see you as a male version of myself.' We commenced dating and she, in a mothering way, often slept in late after calling the school for a sub, so I could get a call on the same phone to report for work.

The goals were met with success, the students stopped clawing wallpaper off the walls, were cordial to the visiting sheriff, no more suicide attempts, and the primary object to mainstream the students back into their ordinary classrooms.

The most valuable lesson I imparted to my xenophobic students was on Small Town, America. 'That's normal as she goes in Small Town, America'. Their explanation for everything is, 'We been here a hundred years, and we been doing things this way a hundred years.' Hence the state motto, 'Be part of a group, take and give orders, obey.' The solution, students, is to proceed with patience through your youth, and then strike out to new horizons. You can always take the beaten path back to Blythe.

Ms. Libda finally took a job elsewhere, and I was hired by Riverside County to replace her full time. There was a huge boost in salary to $40,000 with full medical. I began anonymously donating 15% of my salary back to student lunches, good books, pupil doctor bills, and chessboards for the library.

I had a great idea from One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest in which the patient McMurray masquerading as a psychiatrist takes the other patients on outings from the hospital. Securing permission from the principal, who was now my pal from the boxing lesson, I took the SED classes on educational outings to the city library, prison, bowling alley, and for nature walks along the irrigation ditch that blocked their graduation into the real world.

In the coming months, my classroom door was revolving like a barroom on a Saturday night with new students arriving as soon as the former were mainstreamed. Soon the backlist ran out, and the class dwindled to three students.

One day, after being the full-time SED teacher for about six months, I was called during class by the Riverside school administration. The director politely informed, 'I see you have mainstreamed nearly all of your students back into their regular classrooms. Congratulations. We are letting you go.'

I laughed, cleaning the desk. I had worked myself out of a job!

The lesson is don't be a square peg in a round hole without expecting consequence. Heed your inner calling, but be prepared to move on. I hit the trail to world adventure to have more stories to tell to a succeeding class.


Comments

Name

Email

Website

Speak your mind

1 Comment so far

  1. russell on February 1, 2015 12:16 pm

    An enjoyable read.

Archives

Resources & Links

Search