This Blog is about education, teaching, parenting and coming of age based on the author’s thirty years as a classroom teacher and as a parent of two.
Lloyd’s third book is Crazy is Normal, a classroom exposé, a memoir. “Lofthouse presents us with grungy classrooms, kids who don’t want to be in school, and the consequences of growing up in a hardscrabble world. While some parents support his efforts, many sabotage them—and isolated administrators make the work of Lofthouse and his peers even more difficult.” – Bruce Reeves
When a topic presents itself, I will work on it until it is ready instead of working toward the Sunday, Monday, Tuesday posting schedule, which I discovered is too rigid.
In fact, as I write this, I’m working on my next post for this Blog and when it is done, I will post it no matter what day it is. I also accept guest posts if they fit the theme and subject of this Blog, which means I may not accept a submitted (potential) guest post.
Lloyd Lofthouse earned a BA in journalism after fighting in Vietnam as a U.S. Marine. Later, he earned a MFA in writing.
While working full time as an English, journalism and reading teacher (1975 – 2005) in California, he enjoyed a second job as a maitre d’ in a multimillion-dollar nightclub in the early 1980s.
His students won regional, national and international recognition for writing poetry, short stories and for journalism while in his class.
He now lives near San Francisco with his wife with a second home in Shanghai, China. His short story, A Night at the ‘Well of Purity’ was named as a finalist for the 2007 Chicago Literary Awards.
His first novel, My Splendid Concubine, won honorable mentions in fiction at the 2008 London Book Festival, the 2009 San Francisco Book Festival and the 2009 Hollywood Book Festival.
The sequel, Our Hart, won honorable mentions in fiction at the 2009 Nashville Book Festival, the 2009 London Book Festival, the 2009 Los Angeles Book Festival, the 2009 DIY Book Festival and was a finalist of the National Best Books 2010 Awards.
He also writes two Blogs at iLook China and at The Soulful Veteran.
June 11, 2013 at 16:23
What an eclectic background and life you have led!
June 12, 2013 at 08:08
The longer you live, the more you do and there are so many factors that open doors for us to walk through. Walking through some of those doors and closing others was a choice. Have you heard of Tom Carter, the author of “China: Portrait of a People”. He’s opened some really interesting doors in his life. You may find him and his work fascinating. His site opens slowly on purpose but the wait is worth it. Once the page finishes opening, click on any of the links for an adventure.
May 1, 2014 at 17:52
Hi man, Philly teacher here. Great blog. Thank you for your service… once in Vietnam, then in our schools. You are a true American and a model citizen.
May 1, 2014 at 18:32
May 22, 2014 at 06:59
Hi Mr Lofthouse,
I believe the key to educational reform on all levels is fostering resiliency in students and staff; it is not about focus on poverty or other social ills. Those are causal agents but distractions nonetheless. I think one needs to work within the constraints given, ACCEPT that, and focus from changing from within (the school environment) and the rest will follow.
I also believe that students, NOT teachers, NOT administrators are actually in the best position to do this. And it is the students MOST disenfranchised, who would be best change-makers! It is too much for me to discuss here, but this strategy is surprisingly easy and affordable. It is simply that most people do not see what is in plain view. This is a common affliction of which I am also guilty.
I penned a comprehensive student-directed reform program (took 6 yrs to conceptualize) with the input of incarcerated youth. The outline fits on a single page. Any school could adopt this strategy. It is yours for the taking, if you wish a copy, just let me know.
Also, I wanted to mention and hope you might review, a rather hard-hitting book titled; “Crosswinds: Memoirs of a Jail Teacher” by DH Goddard. It is not your average Teacher Memoir and not written by English Teacher as so many are. What I found most poignant was that this is a story of a brutally honest, dedicated teacher who is always striving to get out until he finally realizes that in order to have “the freedom to teach” he must remain jailed. He squarely places the blame on schools for paving the path from in-school Detention to Jail to Prison. I am in total agreement and this has to change.
May 22, 2014 at 07:43
Are you a teacher? I taught for thirty years in schools that had poverty levels of 70% or more, and I can tell you from experience that the only solution to the fake perception that the American public schools are failing to teach 100% of the students by age 17/18 so they are all college and/or career ready is impossible to achieve.
I challenge you or anyone else to find one country in the world that has accomplished this anytime in human history leading up to 2014. You won’t find one because there are none.
I suggest you read my Smoking Gun Part 1 and 2, and educate yourself to the fact that poverty is the major problem (but not the only one), because it’s the problem in every country in the world, BUT the U.S. has had more success educating students from this socioeconomic sector than any other country on the planet and that includes Finland, China, Japan, South Korea, Singapore, etc.
Just because President G. W. Bush enacts legislation called No Child Left Behind, and Obama enacts legislation called Race to the Top that says teachers must educate 100% of all students by age 17/18 to be ready for college and/or careers doesn’t mean it’s possible. What if a president passed legislation that said every American had to jump 100 feet straight up (even people who have no legs) or see their taxes doubled becasue they failed to do what the law said?
These two bills are no different than other stupid, unjust bills or political witch hunts in American history like the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, or the McCarthy Communist witch hunts of the 1950s that economically destroyed thousands of innocent families and lives.
May 22, 2014 at 08:11
No not a teacher, MA Sch Guidance. I am in TOTAL agreement with you that striving for 100% of college bound students is not achievable–nor should it be. What happened to the “old” academic, business & vocational split in early HS. A great system and produced many happy, well adjusted students instead of drop-outs. What happened to optional Regents Diploma? Here in NYS, the vocational/technology training at BOCES is available far too late, it should be available by 8th grade. The incarcerated youth kids I knew (those few who didn’t drop out of regular school) absolutely loved vocational training, especially home construction. This is not a “dummy” curriculum, far from it!
As to the poverty issue, I didn’t imply that it is not a problem but the focus there is holding up the works. Work on what you CAN change in a big way with relative ease and as I said, the rest will follow. The greater the poverty, the more those affected students need to build a strong connection to a school climate & school culture which FOSTERS rather than depletes personal resiliency. There are great schools which succeed against all odds (their students are productive and happy) it is because they foster resiliency in so many ways…
May 22, 2014 at 08:37
Thank you for the reply. However—“the more those affected students need to build a strong connection to a school climate & school culture which FOSTERS rather than depletes personal resiliency”—for this to work, the students who live in poverty in the dysfunctional home/or community environment that we are talking about must be willing to take part in the process of building a strong connection to a school climate and I can tell you from experience that without rich and motivation building early-childhood education intervention programs designed to foster a love of eduction and reading starting as early as age 3/4, this is a fantasy because without that outside intervention (carefully thought out, funded and tested to work over a period of generations not a few years), most of these children will not be interested.
Why? For instance, becasue the gang culture in many poverty ridden communities starts influencing children at birth and there is no early childhood education programs to combat this influence. The FBI reports that there are more than 33,000 gangs in the US with more than 1 million members and most of those gangs may be found in communities mired in poverty. These communities are like another country in another world. The perception of life and the world around these children is TOTALLY different from middle class America. Attempting to influence most of these children without these early childhood education programs would be the same as trying to convince a Chinese person who only speaks Mandarin the benefits of a Western style democracy but only using spoken English but that peasant in rural China doesn’t read or speak English.
Mandating through legislation that teachers are 100% responsible to make these changes starting with children at age 6 after those children have been exposed to the dysfunctional family and community environment of poverty is demanding too much. Using that same logic, we might as well pass laws that make the U.S. military and State Deportment responsible for changing the thinking of hundreds of millions of Muslims in the Islamic world to embrace US values and national interests. And when the U.S. military and State Department fails, let’s slash their funding, fire them all and turn that job—and all the tax money that supports them—over to Bill Gates and other private sector corporations like UK’s Pearson.
May 22, 2014 at 09:24
I can’t reply as much as I would like (I’m falling behind on the day job duties) so I have to cherry pick what most stands out to me in your response. I am very sorry about that.
My motto is, look for the common denominator, follow the impulse and re-direct that impulse. Don’t fight the natural inclination–GO with it, use to an advantage and evaluate the exception.
A much quoted statistic is that 1 out of 4 children of alcoholic parents will become alcoholics–that is the “At Risk” paradigm. The Resiliency paradigm asks the question –Why didn’t the other 3 of the children NOT become alcoholics? Why is the focus on the 25%? What is different about the other 75%–how did they overcome?? Now use this as a new lens applied to the topic of school reform…
Gangs are a substitute for family and the need to belong. Schools with proper climate can satisfy those same needs (obviously in a much more productive way). Look at the gang members who have overcome “their situation”–how did they do it? Usually because they realized that education is the life-line; sometimes it just takes the “right book” to change a life, the right person, the right school. INCREASE the odds of any of these things happening, while empowering the student emotionally. These things can happen in spite of the poverty outside. Would it be nice if the poverty was gone, or being mitigated at the same time–of course–but don’t let that stop the process.
Early childhood education can be great but sometimes attempting to teach reading (rather than reading to) at a young age to those not developmentally ready to read can discourage and turn them off from reading altogether. I am sure you have seen this happen in your teaching career, particularly with boys who tend to mature later than girls. Maybe just learning empathy, compassion, morality and feeling safe & comfortable is more important in those early programs–again, the rest will follow…
May 22, 2014 at 15:48
I want to focus on two of the points that you made:
1. the right school — are you saying that school choice is the solution? If so, there is no proof this works and lots of proof that it doesn’t. After 20 years with private sector Charter schools offered as a so-called choice to the public schools, they have failed miserably because most are equal to or worse than the public school option according to two Stanford studies, one in 2009 and a second in 2012—studies financed by the Gates Foundation and Bill Gates supports the Charter school movement. And those few private sector charter schools that are successful have extremely high expulsion rates as they get rid of the very at-risk children we are talking about. For instance, the KIPP Charter chain loses 40% of their black boys who come from poverty between 9th and 12th grade, and then the KIPP chain cherry picks the numbers by leaving out this fact and then promotes their false graduation rate based on the size of the senior class and not the size of the 9th graders of a group that graduates four years later.
2. early childhood education — I didn’t say the children would start out learning to read in an early childhood education program. In fact, I didn’t outline what that program would look like. At age 3, even in Finland, the parents start out reading to the child. A proper early childhood education program would probably work best by having the children read to first and then slowly introduce reading programs designed to be as pain free as possible as if the child were learning at home as most college educated middle class parents do with their children.
Another question we should be asking is: Why it is alleged that the public schools are not serving the 16 million+ children properly who live in poverty?
The answer of course is simple: Teachers in the U.S. don’t make the decisions for the public schools on what’s best for the children and this started with President Reagan. Since then, those decisions have started in Washington DC or a state capital through legislation that forces teachers to follow curriculum standards that often strip teachers of the power to make decisions of any kind in the classroom and/or school setting that would benefit the children most—-something that’s done in Finland everyday where more than 99% of the children learn in public schools where the teachers belong to a very strong labor union, and Finland is considered to have one of the best public education systems in the world built on trust not distrust and mandates from politicians on what teachers are allowed to do in the classroom.
Ever since President G. W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind, the public school systems in the United States have been driven by standardized testing and teachers have been forced to teach to the test to the exclusion of everything else while early childhood education to combat the damage caused by poverty has been ignored.
And Early Childhood education is important. Even the Obama White House admits as much, but the Obama administration put this program a far second behind the Machiavellian Common Core standardized testing regime that punishes teachers for student test results—something studies going back to 1966 say is wrong because teachers may only be held responsible for about 10% of the results of these tests.
You may want to carefully read this page at the Department of Education and then ask yourself why Obama is waiting until 2015 to do what he should have done in 2009.
May 22, 2014 at 16:46
Regarding #1: No, not saying school choice–EVERY school should be fostering Resiliency, public, private, charter no matter. As to KIPP cooking the books, that wouldn’t shock me at all.
Regarding #2: Yes, to your comments on childhood education, agree with all.
Regarding #2a: Yes, taking decision making away from teachers was the start of the great decline. It was a Eureka moment for me when I read in Stigler & James’ 1999 book which I’m sure you know well– “The Teaching Gap: Best Ideas From the World’s Teachers for Improving Education in the Classroom” about the replacement of Dewey w/ Judd at the Chicago Lab school in the early 1900’s. When Judd took over, in a move to make teaching more scientific, he SEPARATED the teacher from research. Previously, teachers developed their knowledge of effective classroom practice through experimentation and collaborative planning, then fed this knowledge back into the system. I am sure, you are well aware that the most effective education follows this model, particularly the Asian system. This model also elevates the status of teachers to those who ACQUIRE knowledge rather than the lower current status (in most US traditional education) to those who only APPLY knowledge that others give them. The “others” of course mostly being those who have never be in a classroom–a triple whammy. Returning back to the “Teacher as Researcher” model would be a very good thing.
There are somewhat pitiful attempts to do this from time to time (greater teacher collaboration) but it has to be (in my opinion) done aggressively. Teachers need to actually videotape classes, meet as groups to trouble-shoot,critique and refine. I have been in schools where teachers who have worked together for DECADES don’t even know each others teaching styles! Teachers also need to take greater control to use the knowledge gained, but in our area, are frankly afraid. They are afraid to speak up ( esp since their first amendment rights are more limited) and lose their jobs. Yes that is another issue, the culture of fear and intimidation. I do believe that much of all these troubles however, can be unraveled with simple changes in the right places. And don’t forget the input of students, they know far more than most give them credit for!!
May 23, 2014 at 07:21
But how do we deal with this challenge when our leaders all the way to the White House lie to us constantly while pushing programs that are destroying everything that worked and would work in the public schools while demonizing and stereotyping teachers as lazy incompetents when most of them are anything but that. A Washington Post survey says the average teacher woks 53 hours a week. A Bureau of Labor Statistics study of data from the American Time Use Survey reports that older teachers worked more hours than younger teachers and that teachers were more l9ikely than other professionals to do some work at home including Sundays. In addition, the BLS report said, “Teachers were more likely than other professionals to be multiple job holders.
Then there’s this claim from the fake education reformers that great teachers will earn more in schools run by the private sector: religious, Charter, etc. But a study by the Center for American Progress reports that:
Catholic schools start at $21,000 and the highest is about $45,000
For private sector Charters: starting $26,977 to $48,728 and private schools not using the Charter name paid even worse starting at $20,302 and peaking at $34,348.
Compared to: The median expected annual pay for a typical Public School Teacher in the United States is $52,321.
Then we look at a few of the CEOs of charter school chains and what they are paying themselves out of the tax dollars they are stealing from the public schools and they often approached a half million a year with a budget for advertising and PR that matches. This explains why Hedge Fund billionaires (and Bill Gates who spent billions to control how public schools will work) are spending hundreds of millions of dollars promoting private sector Charter schools to replace public schools and then according to the two Stanford studies paid for by the Gates foundation, public schools are better or about the same as the charters replacing the and the few charter schools that are better are getting rid of the most at-risk kids who usually come from poverty.
The median for a public school district’s superintendent is $145,309 with the highest about $200,000.
May 23, 2014 at 16:17
More complications… Let’s just get the teacher pay thing & perception out of the way because it clouds the real issue at hand. But first I must say, at least In our area, there are HORRIBLE teachers and there are GREAT teachers. This is probably true all over. Generally speaking, school administrators take issue with the great teachers because these are the ones always challenging the system (and also tenured).
In better economically performing regions, where the average job pays well, teachers don’t get picked-on like they do in poorer counties. In economically depressed areas there are limited jobs & many people are self-employed. These people work 12 months a yr, w/ no sick days, no insurance, no pension, no personal days, no snow days, no paid vacation days and even lower pay. Furthermore, these same people pay teachers (via direct taxation) to work with their children–a very personal connection. In our area, school property taxes are higher than village, town or county taxes. As you well know, everyone pays school taxes whether they have children or not. School taxes are a big chunk, they are not hundreds, but most often, thousands of dollars a year especially in low population areas. So forget you were ever a teacher yourself, and imagine instead, you are self-employed or maybe even lucky enough to have a much lower paying county job or you work at one of the State Prisons. You see picketing teachers wanting a new contract and continuous tax levies for new buildings, soccer fields, bus garages or whatever. Oh yes, and the salaries for the public school superintendents are also sky high.
That’s the situation here and my husband is a late career teacher (14 yrs). You don’t even want to consider the resentment towards the double income (married couple teachers). Yes one can say, you can do it too, just get a Master’s Degree but many people do not have the money or opportunity to do this. That is the perception of the other side. Like Poverty, it is one of those constraints that needs to be worked within, trying to change it first is counter-productive. It will change along with other change. It is what it is for now, lets move on…
I believe the first issue to deal with is getting full first amendment rights granted to working teachers. Teachers here (and I suspect in many places) are afraid, afraid, afraid, to speak out about anything!! A while back, the local Teacher’s Union spear-headed a curriculum evaluation survey. I don’t have the details right in front of me but it was over 20 pages long and surveyed (anonymously) many teachers about specific instruction methodology. The survey was fantastic, there were lots of great ideas.
I was so happy that the teachers, albeit via their Union, were doing something proactive, that I wrote to the local newspaper (letter to the editor). The editor contacted the local union rep to get a copy and do more of a story and she wouldn’t give him a copy. He (the editor) called me and I told him that over 200 teachers had a copy of the survey. I don’t know how many teachers he contacted, but not a single teacher would give him a copy! These were teachers who would not have known that he was refused by the Union rep so would have no other reason for withholding the ANONYMOUS survey.
Needless to say, I was stunned. This gives you an example of the level of fear. In the past, I have tried to get anonymous Pedagogy Newspapers started within the local HS, and a “Education Today” type discussion column in the local newspaper (specifically set up to accept anonymous submissions) to no avail. I know RETIRED teachers who are afraid to be interviewed! It is worse than the CIA, FBI and Homeland security combined. To get back to the “Teacher as Researcher” Model, teachers have to take a stand to challenge their State DOE’s. They have to at least unite in this effort and would probably have help from their unions to do so. Maybe the Common Core Curriculum will be the last straw… I honestly don’t know what it will take.
May 23, 2014 at 19:09
I sort of but have a problem understanding this fear but maybe that’s because I learned the only thing to fear was fear itself [FDR said that once] and that was in Vietnam after having survived several close calls with snipers I never saw—but I knew they were shooting at me with bullets, rockets, mortars. When we fear, fear itself, we then become the slave of those who generate that fear. Instead, it should be the fear generators who fear us.
I’m a retired teacher and I do not fear speaking out. In fact, I have a memoir coming out soon. It’s called “Crazy is Normal, a classroom expose”. About twenty years ago I decided to keep a detailed daily journal for one full school year of what was going on in my daily life as a teacher. Of course I changed the names of all the students, most of the teachers and all of the administrators. The student who I wrote about would be all in their 30s by now anyway.
I even talked to a lawyer who specialized in libel cases and he said it would be interesting to have someone sue me for libel when I have a daily journal that I wrote the same day, each day, before slept and I took notes that I brought home to help me get the facts straight. Needless to say, I keep the original journal that was my primary source for this memoir in a fire proof safe just in case. Hopefully, it will be out in a month or two.
I taught in a school district with poverty rates above 70% in communities dominated by street gangs.
May 24, 2014 at 06:13
If you look hard enough you will always find teachers who do not measure up to whatever standards someone might set for them. But that doesn’t mean they are so incompetent, they can’t teach. That’s just a personal opinion of the parent who doesn’t like them for whatever reason. That is also a complicated area. I’m convinced that out of the 6,000 (give or take a hundred or so) students I taught over thirty years, that there were parents who thought I was horrible because their special, perfect child earned a failing grade in my class and ended up in trouble a lot because I wrote referrals on them for their behavior. I certainly ran into these parents every year but the fact was the children who failed did so because they didn’t do the work that led to learning and the reason children earned referrals was because they didn’t follow the rules—they didn’t cooperate; they didn’t pay attention—that were designed to create a learning envinroment where children who came to learn could learn.
You see, not every child comes hungry to learn—no matter what anyone thinks, The evidence is clear that the higher ratio of poverty there is in a school or classroom, the more children there will be who hate reading and what it takes to learn and they resent being their and fight back resisting. The root cause is usually because they were born into poverty and not into an enriched environment where parents started reading to them at an early age starting at least by age 3—this is cultural in Finland. By the time most children in Finalnd start school at age 7, their parents have been reading and then teaching them to read starting on average by age 3 and Finland has a poverty rate of 5% compared to the US that has a poverty rate that’s almost 23%—#34 out of the thirty-five developed countries. And this fact holds true for every country in the world including China and the rest of Asia. Even in Finland, the average test results for children who live in poverty is lower than the average for children who live in poverty in the United States where the rates are much higher. I’m sure we won’t find schools in Finland with poverty rates above 70%. In fact, I think it’s safe to say that we won’t find poverty rates in Finland’s schools above 10%. But I taught in a district where the poverty rates were above 70% and sometimes as high as 80%, and every day was a battle to get kids to cooperate, pay attention and do the work. If you want to read about what it’s like to teach in a school with that high of a poverty rate, my “Crazy is Normal” memoir should be out in a couple of months. Because I kept a daily journal for the year that memoir covers, there will be very many documented details that were documented the day they happened.
As for what teachers are paid, that is a perception problem. There’s nothing we can do about what people want to think and who they have been manipulated to be jealous of and resent. When it comes to what teachers earn, that perception has been encouraged and manufactured over a period of decades and that perception was given a generous shove by the likes of the Walton family who have spend hundreds of millions to destroy the public schools so educating our children would be turned over to corporations like Wall-Mart. I read that the Walton’s spend an avearge of $165 million annually in their war against the public schools and they have been doing this for decades.
Then there is the tax issue. Education is a vital part of the infrastructure of this country. Yes, about 45% of our property tax in California goes to public education but do you think that will change if the public schools are replaced by corporate owned, for-profit charter schools. Again, the perception that teachers are paid too much by those self-employed people you talk about that live in your area was helped along by the fake education reformers who have spent literally billions of of dollars over several decades to manufacturer this fake concept that teachers are overpaid, lazy, incompetent and don’t deserve to earn that much. I’m sure that CEO’s, who have seen an increase in their average pay of 354 times the average worker, prefer that ignorant people continue to be fooled so they scapegoat teachers instead of them. In 1980, before the Reagan era of trickle down economics that persists to this day obsessively pushed by the GOP, CEO pay was 42 times that of the average worker.
But when we actually take the time to do a little research and get past the lies and cherry picked facts that are pushed on the public to fool them, how much do teachers really earn compared to the rest of America?
According to a recent study by the National Association of Colleges and Employers, the teaching profession has an average national starting salary of $30,377. Meanwhile, NACE finds that other college graduates who enter fields requiring similar training and responsibilities start at higher salaries: Computer programmers start at an average of $43,635, Public accounting professionals at $44,668, and Registered nurses at $45,570. Our daughter, a case in point, who graduates from Stanford this year with a BS has already been offered a job in the health care industry starting at $65 thousand annually with benefits that include vision and dental health in addition to a month long paid annual vacation—more than twice what the average teacher starts with. And if the company that hired her makes a profit, a bonus is built in above the annual salary.
Not only do teachers start lower than other professionals with college degrees, but the more years they put into teaching, the wider the gap gets. A report from NEA Research, which is based on US census data, finds that annual pay for teachers has fallen sharply over the past 60 years in relation to the annual pay of other workers with college degrees. Throughout the nation the average earnings of workers with at least four years of college are now over 50 percent higher than the average earnings of a teacher.
A report from NEA Research, which is based on US census data, finds that annual pay for teachers has fallen sharply over the past 60 years in relation to the annual pay of other workers with college degrees. Throughout the nation the average earnings of workers with at least four years of college are now over 50 percent higher than the average earnings of a teacher.
There’s a lot more information that clearly proves teachers are not paid what they are worth and are often judged harshly because that is the perception resulting from decades of criticism in the media due to hundreds of million and possibly billions of dollars spent by the fake education reformers who want nothing more than to destroy public education and turn all of those taxes over to corporation who will profit from them as teachers get paid less than they are now.
There are two main ways to escape poverty: by joining the military and making a career of it (and gamble you don’t die in combat somewhere in the world) or going to college and working hard to earn an education. But for this to happen, the child has to be willing to work hard regardless of the occasional boring, or burned out, or rare incompetent teacher. There is no evidence to prove how many teachers are incompetent but there’s plenty of evidence that teaching is a challenging and difficult profession with a very high turn over rate compared to other professions. The stress in teaching is high and the way teachers are treated by far too many Americans thanks to the constant bombardment of lies, misinformation and cherry picked facts makes it a profession that few should want to work in. In fact, almost half of the younger teachers who go into the profession naively thinking they can make a difference quit within the first five years when they discover the truth—that the problem has nothing to do with incompetent teachers but with poverty and/or dysfunctional home environments with dysfunctional supportive parents. God knows—if no one else is willing to—what the truth is.
May 24, 2014 at 07:46
I can’t write much now as I work two jobs but I must say the story I told you about the teacher pay scale and our local area is not a perceived perception so much as it is a reality. It is of course not the case everywhere in the country. As to fear, you are retired so you can’t lose your job. The fear that our local teachers have, is generally that of working teachers.
Horrible teachers do abound, some are made so by the system and some are just born that way and unfortunately go into teaching rather than some other profession.
Great teachers can have very different styles and personalities but I have seen some common denominators. These teachers are (1) AUTHENTIC (teach through “who they are” which also adds to the charisma factor as well), (2) SELF-ACCOUNTABLE (if students, intellectually capable, are not learning,such teachers will dissect & restructure their teaching strategies rather than blame the student (3) NEVER TAKE PERSONAL INSULT (this way behavioral issues never escalate) and most importantly, (4) PERSEVERE in the face of all adversity (what happens on the outside is the outside). They recognize bad things like poverty, dysfunctional families, drugs, gangs, special education labeling & insane State Ed policies exist but know what they are up against and keep going. They have their down moments when they dwell on all of this but re-group and continue the fight. These teachers are the Resilient ones. These teachers have the Oasis classroom. That’s why I was hoping you could read Crosswinds:Memoirs of a Jail Teacher by DH Goddard.
May 24, 2014 at 17:57
You say, “Horrible teachers do abound, some are made so by the system and some are just born that way and unfortunately go into teaching rather than some other profession.”
Where is your evidence that this is true. I take exception to the use of “abound” as if the majority of teachers are horrible. Even though I taught in one school district for the thirty years I was in the classroom, my experience is that “horrible teacher” do not “abound”. I also asked our daughter after she graduated from high school and was attending Stanford where she graduates this year, how many incompetent (horrible) teachers she had during her thirteen years in the public schools. She took her time thinking about the forty to fifty teachers she had during that time and replied “Two”. Our daughter attended school in, I think, five different school districts before she graduated from high school and those two “incompetent and possibly burned out” teachers had no impact on her ability to get into Stanford where about only 7% of students who apply are accepted.
I suggest you replace, “horrible” with “burned out” for those teachers who were made that way by the system because it does happen. The stress is intense from abusive parents, students, administrators and witch hunting politicians who would have done well in the inquisitions of the Middle Ages, and studies show that a high percentage of teachers risk burn out after about 10 years with no support system in place to help them cope and recover. And in most states, it isn’t that easy to earn the proper credential to teach in the public schools. The program in California is rather rigorous and demanding because teachers, to keep their credential, must reapply to extend their credential, I think, every five years with proof that they earned a given number of credits from classes that improve their teaching skills. In addition, disricts often send teachers to in-services to improve their teaching methods.
The few teachers I met who went into education because they had trouble keeping a job in other professions often didn’t last long. The kids can usually recognize teachers who are this type and ruthlessly drive them out or break them. I saw that happen to a few. In one case, a new hire didn’t last past lunch, because at lunch he walked into the principal’s office and dropped his room keys on the desk and quit. Another one bragged to his students how he cheated on tests in college. He lost his job after two weeks becasue some of his students filed a complaint that he even taught them how to cheat on tests.
I suggest strongly that this claim that “horrible teachers abound” comes from the constant flow of propaganda and lies from the fake education reformers who have their greedy black souls locked on the $700 billion in annual taxes that the states spend to fund public education.
And that’s another issue. Just where does most of this money go that comes out of taxes to fund the schools? Did you ever stop to think that teachers, unlike billionaires, put that money back into the economy paying rent, mortgages, going out to eah, buying clothing, etc.
Teachers belong to the middle class and it’s the middle class that props up the US consumer driven economy. I wonder how many jobs are supported from all the money 3.3 million teachers spend across this country to support their middle class lifestyles. Most of the taxes that support the public schools is recycled right back into the economy supporting jobs, business and industries across the country.
The great recession of 2007-08 caused the US auto industry to almost go bankrupt but was saved by the feds because they were too big to fail—too many jobs at risk.
Well, there are less than 800,000 workers in the auto industry but more than 3.3 million teachers. Is it possible that public education is too big to fail?
May 24, 2014 at 18:49
No, I do not believe the majority of teachers are horrible and please be aware that I am an advocate for teachers but not for those who should have never chosen the profession. Again, in areas with fewer job choices people often chose professions out of convenience not necessarily out of enthusiasm or talent. Burned out teachers are abundant but they are not the horrible teachers, they are burned out–big, big difference. Teachers need to foster resiliency just like students.
When I saw your blog, the real point I wanted to make was that it is more effective to try to change the things we can and not get distracted with the things we can’t. More teachers should be writing books about their experiences and supporting each other in this effort–to give greater voice to a common cause. That is all I wish to say, good luck with your future book…
May 25, 2014 at 06:13
Thank you for your understanding.
My experience over the years revealed that many of the worst teachers ended up hating the classroom so much that they returned to college taking night classes that would qualify them for administration and then they move up to run the schools and tell the teachers who had a passion for teaching how they should teach. And for those who wanted to rule from the start and had no real desire to teach, having a few years of experience as a classroom teacher helped them reach their goal to the top faster because classroom experience creates a false picture that they were a teacher first and knew what they were doing. After all, administration pays more than teaching without a lot of the stress that comes with teaching. Why stay and suffer in the classroom doing a job you aren’t suited for when you can become the boss, get paid more. Don’t get me wrong. There are good administrators. I had maybe two of a dozen or more in thirty years. Most of the best administrators never made it past vice principal because they wouldn’t compromise their honesty to sell out to the fake administrators who end up joining the ranks of the fake education reformers.
And how do we identify and get rid of the teachers who have no passion to teach to discover if they arethere just for the paycheck? Do we take away all legal due process job protection and punish all of the teachers for the few we want to identify and get rid of trusting those administrators who may also hate teaching and were never good at it themselves or do we trust the results of the Common Core student standardized tests that have already been revealed as a fraud when used to identify incompetent teachers?
May 25, 2014 at 06:55
Regarding paragraph #1, that’s exactly where I was heading in the discussion. 110% agreement there. A strategy might be to look to the insight of students (MS & HS age). What is great about students is that they are not politically, egotistically or economically motivated, know the intricacies of schooling, have time and are available in large numbers to help–yet (around here anyway) they are rarely consulted in any real or meaningful way about educational instruction, school governance or other related matters. The other benefit is that this type of meaningful participation is akin to a civic duty internship which can build knowledge, confidence, respect and other traits that schools should foster–Yes?
Regarding paragraph #2, I’m thinking that maybe shame alone may weed out the “discontents”. If the numbers of “true teachers” of whatever category (born, latent or re-born after burn-out) start to grow and/or become more visible/vocal it will become more uncomfortable for the naysayers.
You well know the power of the pen. I just started reading Marybeth Zeman’s book, Tales of A Jailhouse Librarian: Challenging the Juvenile Justice System One Book At A time. I believe we need more hard-hitting books penned by educators and related personnel which appeal to the mainstream public. Once VOTERS take interest it has a way of influencing politics pretty fast!
May 25, 2014 at 14:55
I have no problem including students and even parents in teacher evaluations but this must be thought out and the process must be approved by teachers to make sure it doesn’t turn into a witch hunt. Like any job, students who are interested in being part of a teacher evaluation formula would have to apply, go through an interview process, be accepted and then receive free training to learn what to look for when evaluating the defectiveness of a teacher.
Teaching is not the same as learning.
If students fail because they didn’t put in enough effort to learn, that does not indicate the teacher is incompetent.
As for shame, if we institute shame for teachers, then we must also include shame for students and parents. In Singapore, for instance, it is common to shame students in addition to punishing them with caning on stage in front of the entire student body. Does it work? Look at Singapore’s PISA scores.
May 25, 2014 at 17:09
Actually, I didn’t explain that well enough. I would include students not so much to target teacher evaluation but in a more general way (which would be part of a teacher evaluation) including instructional methodology, curriculum development and many, many other areas of school policy.
But speaking more directly to how that might affect teachers in an individual level…I once convinced an administrator to convince 3 math MS teachers to hand out instructional evaluations to their students. Every teacher was upset and said the students would just say mean things about them. When I reviewed all the evaluations, there was NOT ONE disparaging comment. What the MS school students said about how they best learn was amazing. At the time, many indicated that the text book was the worst resource and the overhead projector was the best,( now quite a few yrs later, I would image Khan’s Academy would be pretty popular with teacher acting as facilitor rather than lecturer.) They indicated the particular math topics which were most problematic and those which were not, and much more.
I once had a HS student raise concerns about the construction of a new addition which could cause students (during the construction period) to be trapped in a particular corridor prone to the back-draft phenomenon if there was a fire. This led to a discussion with the project foreman and fire chief.
I convinced another administrator to allow HS students a Public Forum Uncensored school newspaper. I heard there were teachers who freaked and said it would be a filthy rag if the district did not approve the content. I explained to students that THEY would have total first amendment rights but would also be LEGALLY liable for slander etc… not the school district. The newspaper ending up being fantastic and went on to win state awards and dealt with serious topics along with lots of light journalism. When a much beloved student was killed in a car accident, I was to learn, after the fact, that it was the newspaper committee students who contacted the principal to open up the school library on the weekend so they could access the computers. Apparently they compiled a 15-20 page tribute issue to their friend which they handed to his parents at his funeral. These are just a few examples.
The types of things that happen when we give students the opportunity to participate in an active, meaningful way can be very surprising to some. I really believe that teachers and students should ally together. Students (like everybody) will have more of an interest in learning if they have more of a vested interest in their experience. This is true of all of us. As to the shame thing, I don’t think we need canning, but seriously, schools are both the best place to foster personal resiliency and yet can so effectively deplete resiliency for both students and teachers. You must understand that I have worked intensively with incarcerated youth many of whom could have been “saved” in schools with such MINIMAL effort. My focus is on in-school detention reform which actually helps everybody in the end by changing the school climate entirely. Students I have worked with go from jail to prison and some commit suicide. Most of the time it was so easily avoidable and the best environment to prevent it all was in school.
May 26, 2014 at 08:23
I thought about your comment some more and I think that for what you describe to work depends on the dedication and quality of the students in addition to the cooperation of the district’s school board and administration.
You said, “You must understand that I have worked intensively with incarcerated youth many of whom could have been “saved” in schools with such MINIMAL effort. My focus is on in-school detention reform which actually helps everybody in the end by changing the school climate entirely. Students I have worked with go from jail to prison and some commit suicide. Most of the time it was so easily avoidable and the best environment to prevent it all was in school.”
I’m not exactly sure what your job was, but I can tell you that most public school teachers who teach academic subjects—especially those that are measured by standardized tests used to evaluate teachers and/or schools—don’t have much time beyond instruction, planning and correcting work. The work load and stress verges on the overwhelming. My work week often ran 60 to 100 hours and that lasted for the 27 years I worked full time under a contract. My first year was as a full-time paid intern while I was working toward my teaching credential and the next two years were as a substitute who worked every day but seldom knew what school or district he would be in. The calls came very early and I was signed up to work as a sub in seven districts. I always took the first call and was on my way within a half hour. I got up earlier and waited for the calls.
In addition, in the district where I worked in the secondary schools, the principals had little power and had to clear everything through a horrible man who was the assistant superintendent in charge of the secondary schools for most of the time I was there and he had a limited number of years of classroom experience before he miraculously leaped from the classroom to administration to become the super ass of an AS. For instance, he’s the one who forced the closure of the basic English/reading classes and also forced the Whole Language approach to teaching reading and English on all the secondary English teachers and forced us to throw out and trash our grammar books (several of us defied him by hiding a class set in our rooms. Later he would get principals to recruit student spies to discover who defied him and I was caught and called on the carpet where I was threatened with job loss if I was caught teaching stealth grammar and punctuation rules again). This ass of an AS was the one who said if kids misbehaved it was our fault becasue we couldn’t control them; if kids failed it was our fault because we couldn’t motivate them, etc. When I was the journalism adviser during my last decade, some of my editors and reporters had this discussion about the ass of an AS and how he always accompanied the honors and AP kids on trips where they competed in academic competitions and how the ass of an AS freaked them out by the way he stood too close to boys and the way he touched them with the palm of his hand at the small of their backs. This ass of an AS never married and lived with his mother.
The man he replaced (his name was Dibbs) was even worse in that the prior ass of an AS was morally and criminally corrupt and when the depth of his crimes and moral corruption were discovered, he quickly resigned and then fled the country ending up running an American school for the children of diplomats and businessmen in Syria where Dibbs died a few years later of cancer or heart disease.
For a time, a couple of decades ago, I lived next door to the second-in-command of a juvenile prison boot camp school (California) that was run like a military boot camp and the kids were sent there to serve time by judges—by the courts for crimes they were convicted of. The way to get out usually meant the kids had to show exceptional gains in their reading and math skills. My neighbor said kids would often show gains of two or three years in one school year so they would be eligible to get out early and go home. He also said 70% of those kids who educated their way out were never sent back by the courts again and one of the stipulations of their parole was to maintain a 2.0 GPA in all their academic classes in the public schools they returned to. One of my editors said he was with some friends when ran into this ass at an AS at a swap meet and he saw him with a younger man. When the ass of an AS saw my student and recognized him, he leaned over, whispered to his companion who then made a hasty retreat.
May 26, 2014 at 08:31
You may want to watch this video to understand what teachers are up against in some districts where administration isn’t interested in what teachers think. I didn’t work in the district in this video, but I know someone who does who left the district where I taught for thirty years. He left becasue he couldn’t take it anymore. He now says, the district he relocated to has become as bad as the one he left, but it didn’t start out that way.
You see, the fake education reformers are spending billions (hundreds of million annually) to influence and buy elections at the grass roots level so they end up controlling school boards, mayors and governors that then hire administrators who support the fake education reform movement. This way they are taking over public school districts from the top down and destroying them so the teachers can be accused of incompetence, fired and then have the public schools closed to justify letting corporate controlled, for profit charter schools move in and take over.
This pattern is emerging in states, cities and districts across the country.
May 25, 2014 at 19:14
I had similar experiences working with students to what you have shared here, but I have also had the opposite. There were a lot of problems in that district because administration made all the decisions and created a climate where students who read far below grade level were not allowed to work at their level but were forced to take college prep English classes even if they read at a second grade level.
Those kids should have been in reading classes designed to raise their reading level with an offering of vocational classes, because most of them would never go to college. We had those classes once, but they were all closed by the district when they decided that one size would fit every student and if the students wanted to graduate they would have to catch up on their own.
Between 9th and graduation 35% of the students would usually drop out, but the district never reported the real drop out rate. They juggled the numbers by only reporting the total size of the senior class compared to how many graduated and never referred back to the number who started four years earlier.
The entire English department protested but we were forced to work out of grade level textbooks and teach to the state curriculum. To make sure we did as we were told, students were recruited to spy on us and report back if we weren’t using the assigned books and material. I got caught deviating from the district mandate and was called to the office and threatened that if I didn’t fall into line I might lose my job. And like the Soviet Army district administration had policy to rotate principals every few years to make sure they didn’t bond with the teachers and staff. We lost some principals and vice principals because of that who would quit and go to work in other districts.
And I don’t think that what works for one will work for all. There is no one size fits all and all teachers can’t teach the same way. We are individuals too.
As for the canning, I don’t see a need for it here. It wouldn’t fit in our culture. There would be an uproar that would probably cause riots in the streets.
During the last decade of my thirty years in the classroom, I was the journalism adviser for seven years and ended my school day with that class which over those years earned international. national, state and regional recognition for their work and the high school paper they produced.
During those seven years, we also had three principals and the last one was a monster who destroyed the paper by censoring it and attempting to control the content by taking away the privileges the students had had before he arrived.
Before that Hitler arrived, the students ran a paper that was an excellent example of high school journalism and the previous two principals trusted us to do a job that wouldn’t embarrass the school district. Eventually, he was let go before his five year contract ended because half the staff quit during his first three years and went to teach in other districts. Then for the last few years I was teaching, we had no principal—only several VPs who took orders directly from an Assistant Superintendent who was a micro manager responsible for many of the morale problems in the secondary schools in that district. He’s the one who decided to force kids reading way below grade level into college prep classes.
“Crazy is Normal” takes place during my second year as the journalism adviser when we had a much better principal, who would be fired that same year for having the audacity of supporting the teachers too much, and almost every school day in that memoir ends with journalism. The senior who was the editor-in-chief that year was incredible. She went to Berkeley and eventually earned a law degree.
July 24, 2014 at 18:09
Lloyd, I definitely plan to read your novel. I am sure you have had many of the same experiences I had.
July 24, 2014 at 20:05
Thank you. I suggest you also consider “The Teacher Wars, A History of America’s Most Embattled Profession” by Dana Goldstein. It comes out in September 2014. I read an advanced galley of the book and posted the review on this blog today.
Here’s the link:
July 24, 2014 at 20:38
Yes, I read your review. It is on my list. Being retired is giving me the time to read what I want to read. In my school, we had book studies. Let’s just say I was very good in having my colleagues believe that I read about how to apply graphic organizers to common core!
October 17, 2015 at 20:57
Interesting blog. I relate. I’m a ca teacher targeted out of my profession. I’ve relocated to Maryland. I declined several teaching opportunities because the thought of being abused by incompetent administrators, re mediated students and parents just made me imagine that I rather scrub toilets. I am looking for part time employment now, but I know there are thousands of teachers in this category.
Another key finding in my experience is to discover that there is zero oversight on fiscal matters of education in CA. None what so ever. I discover the true reason why I was targeted out of my position was because I hit spot on that the board of trustee and the associate supe were misappropriating state funds. The highest authority is the governing board. The FBI only investigates federal funds stolen. Criminals run our schools.
October 18, 2015 at 08:12
I agree that criminals run our schools, but it wouldn’t matter if they were elected by the people or hired by a corporation because the odds would favor that both would be crooks. In the district where I taught, we had a few math teachers who watched the budget carefully and often discovered funds being moved into accounts where that money was not spent and then at the end of the year before that money was moved back into the general fund, the district would report that they didn’t have any money left and were near broke, but that was never true. That district always had more than the legislated reserve to use for pet projects that probably resulted in kickbacks to the people at the top or some of those on the elected school board. Kickbacks happen in the private sector too. In fact, it is almost always a CEO of a company who offers the bribe in the first place.
This type of corruption exists in every country at some level in one or more sectors and the crooks seem to gravitate toward professions where it’s easier to be a crook, and in today’s educational environment in the U.S., there’s more money to be made in corporate Charters then in the public schools were the books must be made available on request for anyone willing to plow through all the numbers looking for signs of fraud. The public schools, by law, must be transparent and provide the information when requested, but the corporate schools in the private sector do not have to do that—they are opaque until the laws change and the billionaires funding corporate education reform are pouring money into political campaigns to get their stooges elected to see that doesn’t happen.
How long did you teach before you decided to escape that U.S. educational gulag?
June 6, 2016 at 23:08
Hi Mr. Lofthouse,
My name is Nejron Zeko and I am the executive producer of Still(REX) Entertainment. I am doing a feature documentary on the Millennials and would love to set up an interview in regards to the topic. I came across your website and I am very interested in what you have to say about the generation. Please let me know if you are interested. We begin shooting in July, and I would really appreciate to hear your views and opinion in regards to the Millennials.
June 7, 2016 at 06:49
When I was teaching, for 90% of those thirty years, I worked in schools that had minority student populations of 90% or more and 70% or more lived in poverty in a community that was mostly dominated by multi generational violent street gangs. I think the stereotype of the Millennials that the media focuses on is white and middle class, and most of the students I worked with were nowhere close to that lifestyle and/or mindset.
But between 1986 -1989, I did transfer and teach out of a Middle School on the other side of the freeway where the student population was mostly white and middle class, and too many of them fit the stereotype of the self centered, narcissistic, me first generation with dreaded, aggressive, arrogant and over protective helicopter parents. That’s why I transferred back to the other side of the freeway to teach mostly minorities and children living in poverty, because I couldn’t stand some of the white, middle class Millennials.
I preferred workign with teens that threatened to jump me or refused to cooperate than children who were raised to think they could do no wrong and if they did because they didn’t read, do the work or study, it wasn’t there fault. It was the teacher’s fault. In the schools with majority minority populations mostly living in poverty, the parents were so busy working two or three jobs for poverty wages that it was almost impossible to reach them by phone because they were never home,m and it was too dangerous to do a home call in the evening because of the street gangs. And when we did reach the parents we wanted to talk to the most, they agreed to help get their child to do what it took to learn, but nothing seldom ever came from it. Most of those parents didn’t blame us teachers when their children didn’t learn, but the media did relentlessly for decades. If children were not learning, the corporate media has almost always blamed the teachers for the children who would not cooperate for whatever reason.
I retired from teaching to leave that world behind. I have no interest in being interviewed for a film documentary on the Millennials unless it focuses on the fact that most of the stereotypical narcissistic, stuck-up Millennials came from the white middle class thanks to their overprotective parents and not from America’s minorities.
Am I angry, yes. I’m angry as only a former U.S. Marine and combat vet can get, and it is best that I stay away from this topic to remain as calm as possible.
Thank you for thinking of me for your documentary on the Millennials. It’s a complicated subject if one wants to go outside the carefully scripted stereotype created and cultivated by the corporate media.