CRISIS IN EDUCATION
My name is Bo Steven Keeley, and I have been a substitute teacher in Blythe, Ca. daily throughout this school year. I have a Doctorate in Science, Psych Tech Certificate, and taught professional sports for ten years before teaching in Blythe. I prefer sub teaching, as I recently informed the Palo Verde School District Assistant Superintendent who dismissed me, because “A sub sees each of 900 high school students in most of the rooms on campus each month, and this cycles. On the other hand, regular teachers see only 160 students in one room all year long. Subs have their ears to bottom board of education, so if you want to know what’s happening in your schools, ask a sub”.
On Tuesday, November 13, 2007 I was assigned to sub middle school boys’ Physical Education (P.E.). The day was a dangerous shambles in the lockeroom and on the playing field. I was greeted at the start of each class with screams of, “Substitute! Yeah!” Lockers slammed like cymbals to the refrain, “No P.E.! No P.E.!” I asked five boys independently for an explanation, and they replied, “We don’t like P.E. We’re going to get rid of it!”
Three days earlier, over at the high school, the Chemistry teacher was “driven out” and resigned. A week prior, the Spanish teacher went to the principal and was let out of his contract. The kids in their classes gleefully told me, “We drove them out because we didn’t like them!”
Back at the middle school, the uprising fueled throughout the day. Some boys and I were pinned by rocks in the lockeroom for 30 seconds. The scene on the playing field was 35 kids run amok with no means to identify them, and no radio to call backup. They hurled rocks and shoes, cursed, slugged and tackled each other. A boy jumped in my face repeatedly and waved his hands at my nose. An autistic kid cried, “Make them stop calling me a girl or I’ll tell my mother!” Some kids begged to leave the field because it was “too wild”, and more wandered the canal to escape.
I got slammed in the head by a soccer ball. When the goal posts came down I hiked 100 yards to the other boys’ P.E. teacher who had his hands filled on the basketball court. “Coach,” one of his kids yelled, “Those are your boys on the goalposts too,” and he radioed security. Five minutes later, the vice-principal marched out and sat the boys down to deliver an impassioned speech. She left, and pandemonium returned. Down with the goal posts again, and the principal came out shaking a stern finger. He left, and the revolt resumed.
At last bell, I trudged to the lockeroom to be intercepted by the vice-principal apologizing for the “school’s toughest classes”. I said, “No problem, but it doesn’t have to be this way. You can do what high school Phys. Ed. did to turn your crew into a drill team overnight. There are three easy steps: Give each teacher a radio, an aide, and support on referrals.” She implored me to write up the day’s vicissitudes with suggestions so she “can get those things”. I happily wrote a 4-page report.
The next day, November 14, I was pulled from subbing for the first time in my life. It upset me knowing there were teacher absences that day and I was the most requested sub. I went to my boss, the District assistant superintendent, and asked why. He replied, “It wasn’t my volition to remove you.” I pressed for an explanation. “I read your report last night about yesterdays P.E.”. “Yes,” I said, “You were supposed to.” “I also read your Hotmail last night about it.” I was stunned. After school, I had driven to Palo Verde Community College and written one paragraph about the day’s work, and Emailed it to my parents, brother who’s a teacher, and other educators and writers I know across America, but to no one in this community.
Then the assistant superintend asserted, “I’ve read all your Hotmails for two weeks. You have a right to the freedom of speech, but I can’t allow you to eviscerate us.” I asked, “If there was concern then why didn’t you contact me two weeks ago?” He said, “I’ve been busy.” These were private Hotmails, always factual and generally uplifting, sent only to selected people on my contact list. I stated, “I’m sorry you read them, but I stand by everything I wrote,” He retorted that he’d Email me that day about my fate. The question arises, how did the Emails get to the District office? I have no idea.
The following day at 3:30pm I received his Email inviting me to meet on Monday, November 19 at the District office. I went. He stated, “Last night the superintendent and I read your Hotmails. The superintendent’s concern is that you are negative to the students.” I responded that I was the most requested sub by the teachers, and the students like me even better. He continued, “”My concern is the Emails.” I restated the privacy of Hotmail and daily need for subs, and asked, “What’s my future?” He answered, “I have concerns.” I asked for the concerns in writing. He answered, “I’m not required to give it.”
Four days later, on Friday, November 23, I returned to middle school to the vice-principal to obtain a copy of my 4-page report. She cradled a boy’s head in her hands like Mother Teresa. His tiny face was trembled, drained of blood, with tearing eyes. He repeated over and over, “P.E. to office, P.E. to office” until the office called his parents. Then she pointed to the radio that I was to have had on the field ten days earlier, and informed, “It’s dead- The battery still hasn’t arrived.” She cordially provided a copy of the report, and I walked straight over to the high school to gather teacher letters of recommendation, and spoke with the Dean of Students. He stressed the daily need for subs since my dismissal, and that the regular teachers disliked covering classes for me during their free periods because it takes from their normal duties.
There’s been a continual cry for substitutes at the schools in the ensuing two weeks to date, and I’m in need of work. I hadn’t missed a day prior to November 13, nor worked a day since. Two teachers have requested me to fill in their long term pre-planned absences that weren’t honored by the District. This is my sole means of income. I lost money during November because I got canned on the 13th, and had paid a monthly motel tab on the 7th. Basically, I’m washed up as a teacher in Blythe during its biggest educational crisis in history.
My two questions for the School Board are: 1) Exactly why was I dismissed as a substitute when subs are direly needed? 2) Exactly how did the District read “All your Emails in the past two weeks?” Seen no sub pay raise in a decade, and why the District can’t attract and hold subs?
It’s too easy to say that the middle school boys’ P.E. class “got rid of ” me as, in fact, earlier at the high school the students forced out the Chemistry and Spanish teachers. The pupils in these latter instances broadcast their successful strategy of “giving the teachers hard times until they quit”, and purposely flunking to send the teachers begging. However, in my fiasco the kids didn’t dislike the P.E. teachers, but hate P.E. class. I was not canned by the kids, but by the District.
I still like the kids, even the one who almost blinded me with a soccer ball; he made a mistake and tomorrow is another day. Blythe students are the most remarkable youngsters I’ve encountered in traveling to 96 countries for the simple reason that nowhere else do they treat me warmly as a human being.
So why are the kids a handful? From the teaching trenches of the Blythe public school system, my theory is that education is in a state of three year flux. For the first time in history, the town’s young citizens are being held accountable for their performances via exit exams. During the next three years, I believe the students will remain disenchanted and rebellious. It’s their nurture to take it out on the nearest object, their teachers. I can tell you that the one thing the District does well is recruit teachers. I’ve observed educators across the nation and the best are here at Blythe. These dynamic teachers within the powder keg student body, forceful administration and ivory tower District during state intervention, made each teaching day for me a revelation. I looked forward to school each morning, and more than once offered to sub during my free periods for free, or to go to any school where there was a jam, as on November 13 at middle school Physical Education.
I love education, and to understand it in this town formed a simplified model, as follows. The teachers are one point of a triangle, the principal and District are the other two points. The students are within the triangle, and outside it are the parents. These parties react dynamically, it may surprise you, from my viewpoint. The teachers in general don’t trust the new high school principal because, “He’s bringing city school to a small town.” The teachers think less of the District, and will elaborate if you sit with them. The principal (whom I honor) sides with the District, according to his faculty. What about the students? They dislike the principal for raising the bar, but an October student petition to oust him didn’t go far. The majority of kids view school as social, badger the first year teachers mercilessly, and sit happy as larks mass flunking classes to get their way knowing they can make up classes in air conditioned summer school. From speaking with hundreds of high school students and half their teachers, I estimate that 35% of the school is flunking, but the statistic should be verified by the District. The parents, for the most part, apparently don’t know the score which is the grounds for this model.
I’m not familiar with the School Board’s role in the model, which is another reason for this letter. It was supposed to have been my speech to the Board on December 4. You may ask, “Why didn’t you deliver the speech?” The reason is that on November 19, a week after being let go, the District office told me, “You have to get on the agenda before November 26 to address the Board.” I returned before that date and was told, “You aren’t allowed on the agenda, but have three minutes during the public session.” So I gave up on the District and transcribed the speech into this Letter to the Editor.
Here is the crux of our town’s educational crisis that no one seems to address. For the first time in history, Blythe students are being held accountable for their performance via exit exams. It dawns on the pupils that if they don’t learn, they don’t earn the diploma. That’s only the byline of the great news story!
The headline is that Blythe public schools face grand days ahead in about three years. This is the transition for the incumbent students who have come up through the old school system of no accountability to be replaced by the younger students presently held accountable in grammar and middle school. Soon there will be a bright student workforce making correct change at the town businesses who shall graduate to universities. Call this turnaround compulsory education and expect the result: Palo Verde Schools Shine!
Meanwhile, there is a fast evolving Home School movement in Blythe, and I’ve observed the serious group at the library working quietly at task and expanding their horizons. The Blythe public schools, I feel, are experiencing growing pains within a beautiful campus, new faculty and principal, and state intervention, but with a rosy future once the present troubles are behind us.