When you become a teacher in a small town you are crowned king overnight. The children are the communities’ gold. Bankers, mechanics, and every shop owner come out of the cracks sooner than later showering gifts and offers. They aren’t bribes, but rather thanks, to the teach, and in the majority of cases with a guilty conscious from their own school days. I went out of my way in small town Blythe, CA, and later Brawley (population 20,000), to avoid the offers of low interest loans, burgers, cinema tickets, and police and fire ride-alongs.
The first rule of small town teaching is never to live in the same town as you teach. The reason is, once you’re approved in the eyes of the students as a teach, and soon their parents, the favors and graft begin until you’re beleaguered. A whistle from girls on the corners, merry pranks like soaping my VW windows and changing the distributor wires, gang members came silently from behind and tapped me gently on the shoulder, and then passed. I bought a Halloween wig in order to attend athletic events without the student body rising from the bleachers and shouting my name during the warmups for the big games, ‘Mr. Keeley!’
It wasn’t me. Five of the thirty faculty at Blythe High were singled out for the preferential treatment. Kids respond to good character, and you may identify any classy permanent teacher by the steel gray in his hair. They never get heart attacks, but their hair turns gray after about the fifth year like a crown. I was only a sub teacher so the change was temporary.
It doesn’t end at last bell 3:10! Each night, I went to one of the four fast food restaurants around town to avoid a routine that the kids could follow. Nonetheless, some found me in their own evening rounds, even past midnight (despite a town curfew), to ask how to solve for X. It was often a personal dilemma that challenged, ‘Should I rat on Ron who’s starting to use Ecstasy’, ‘My dad is starting to hit little brother Jimmy, what should I do?’, ’Fred the fullback groped and tried to rape me down at the river yesterday’, ‘What should I be when I grow up?’
The day of a small town teacher is rise and shine early to make the morning 7:05 bell. In my case, arrive at 6:30am to get assigned a room – ‘Today, Mr. Keeley, put on the English/gym/history hat. You’ll find his mail and lesson plan in the mail box.’ As often as not, there was no lesson plan; and you winged it. There was NEVER a day of teaching I didn’t look forward to, because it was an adventure of unknowns. I learned that teaching is a combination of running a kennel, show business, and professional sport, all of which I had done.