Friends and Neighbors

Keith Baty: Hands on learning


It is not every day that your teacher sets his arm on fire in class, on purpose. It was certainly a lesson that will be talked about for some time.

It was just another normal day in Keith Baty’s AP Chemistry class at Whitehouse High School. Hands on presentations and experiments are not uncommon in this class. Baty makes learning more than books and papers.

“I was explaining to my class the high heat capacity of water with a demo where I light my arm on fire,” Baty said. “Water has the capacity of absorbing a great amount of heat without changing temperature very much.”

Baty went on to explain.

“I soaked my arm in soapy water, then added methane gas from the gas jet to the water. This covered my arm in soap bubbles filled with methane gas. When I lit the bubbles with a lighter, the gas ignited, but the water on my arm absorbed the heat and I was not harmed.”

After the shock and awe presentation Baty got several reactions from his class.

“Most of my students thought it was cool and wanted me to let them try it,” Baty said. “They asked me if it was hot or warm. I explained how the heat was absorbed by the water and my arm stayed cool.”

As the excitement turned back to calm, the questions continued.

“Tess Hamilton asked if this is why the deck around a pool is hotter than the water in the pool,” Baty added. “I said yes and asked her what that meant about the heat capacity of the concrete. She correctly stated that water must be able to absorb more heat than the concrete.”

Of course every day is not quite that exciting but his students describe Baty as “good, fun and chill” and say he makes learning a real experience. 

“His demonstrations and chemistry and cheesey dad jokes are what make this class fun,” junior Samantha Hauver said. “I keeps us wanting to learn more about the processes.”

Baty is quite aware of the heavy load that many of his students carry when it comes to school work, extra-curricular activities and home life.

“He’s understanding when it comes to work loads of other classes,” junior Skylar Jones said. “He will allow you to turn in homework a day late if the work is piled up from other classes.”

Students often times need a teacher like Baty who can go beyond the pencil and paper to bring learning to the class, to reach them at alternative levels of learning.

“He’s not one of those uptight teachers who scared you,” Hamilton said. “He’s more of a friend who helps you out by making sure you understand.”

Baty has been in education for more than 25 years and is in his seventh year at Whitehouse High School. He and his wife have lived in Whitehouse since 1996 and have a son that graduated from WHS in 2014. Outside of the classroom Baty teaches an adult Sunday class at his home church, Friendly Baptist Church.

Baty has fans in the front office at WHS as well.

“Basically, Mr. Baty cares,” WHS principal Dr. Jonathan Campbell said. “He is passionate about our students here at WHS. Not only is Mr. Baty a dedicated professional in the classroom, but he manages our UIL academic competitions with tireless hours after school and on weekends.” 

As Campbell said, Baty is also the UIL Academic Coordinator and science coach. That’s right, WHS has a science team.

“Keith has been a great leader for us in the five years he’s been coordinator,” Paige Dyer, journalism teacher, publications adviser and academic coach, said. “On average we participate in about a dozen meets per year, which is a lot more than most schools. He does this because he wants our kids to have every opportunity to get better by competing against some of the best schools in the state.”

His fellow UIL coaches say he added greatly to the UIL experience for them as well as the students.

“He’s done a great job as coordinator and implemented new elements to our program, one being adding a dinner to our annual meeting at the beginning of the year,” Leah Stanley, Computer Applications Coach said. “This traditional meeting informs students and parents about each event and the meets we will be attending.”

“Mr. Baty is very encouraging to the students and coaches in UIL academics, and he works hard to create a fun, competitive atmosphere,” Grant McDonald, ready writing and literary criticism coach said.

Along with the hard work at school, UIL academic competitions take the group all over the state. While it is additional time away from their families, usually on weekends, these teachers are all up for it, especially when there is a good dose of fun thrown into the mix.

Dyer says one of their favorite “road trip” stories has to be the trip to Sulphur Springs last year. She tells it best.

“Last year we took two buses to a UIL meet in Sulphur Springs. The bus that we had brought up the night before had luggage from the coaches that stayed the night due to a late night of competition. Once over half of the students had competed, Baty sent one of the buses home.  Two of the four coaches who stayed the previous night got on the overnight bus to retrieve their luggage and ‘dummy locking’ the bus back the way it was when they entered.

About three hours later when the rest of us were loading to go home, we couldn’t get the ‘dummy lock’ to unlock. Baty, Coach John Nichols (debate) and myself climbed in from the back exit to see if we could unlock the bus from the inside. We tried everything and finally resorted to calling our transportation director who felt it best to call a locksmith.

While waiting for the locksmith to arrive from a neighboring town, Mr. Baty and Mr. Nichols allowed me to ‘document’ us being stranded by jokingly creating a video about how we had run out of water and food (even though it had been less than an hour).  The video ended with Baty turning into a crazed man and dumped the remaining bottle of water all over his head. 

The videos have become a good reminder of the fun we have. The kids will occasionally bring up the event so we dig through our video and photo library to get a good laugh.

I know to an outsider who wasn’t involved in the three hour delay, it probably isn’t as funny, it’s more of a ‘you had to be there’ story. Needless to say, we still pick on the few coaches who were able to ride home on the early bus. All have been accused of sabotaging our ride home by ‘dummy locking’ the bus. One even says he (ahem, McDonald) tried to lock it with a dime, he always tells that story with the biggest grin and chuckle so we know he’s just picking on those of us stranded.”

Do you ever remember science class being this good when you were in high school? Me neither.