Category Archives: substitute teaching

Stop writing your name in Cursive. You have had Several Warnings.

Megan Zander at She Knows wrote a post with this headline: Teacher’s aggressive note on 7-year-old’s homework goes viral, and many of the comments are critical of teachers and schools for what the alleged teacher wrote in red ink – the title of this post.

First, I was a public school teacher for thirty years, and I required my students to write their first and last name on every written assignment in addition to the period they were in and the date. When they didn’t write all that information, I wrote in aggressive red ink explaining to them why they lost some points from what the assignment was worth.

How can I justify being so aggressive? Well, I worked with almost 200 students in five or six classes often working 60 to 100 hours a week—25 hours teaching and the rest correcting work and planning lessons (not counting all the usually useless meetings teachers have to attend). All the work had to also be done in blue or black ink. Why would I have an aggressive rule like that? Well, the English department voted on it, and it was unanimous, because it made our jobs easier. Work written in pencil was more difficult to read and correct and teachers are correcting papers every night for several hours a night and on the weekends.  To make sure my students knew this aggressive rule, there were large posters on the walls in my classroom reminding them that the work had to be done in blue or black ink, and I reminded them daily at the start of every written assignment.

For those reasons, when my students turned in work written in pencil, I wrote in aggressive red ink that if they wanted to earn credit for that assignment, they’d have to do it over in blue or black ink and turn it in the next school day.

Oh, and there were always kids who didn’t even bother to write their name on an assignment. Guess what happened to that work.

Without knowing all the details I will NOT condemn the ONE teacher who wrote that note in aggressive red ink or—for that matter—the entire education system in the United States.

Why am I refusing to rush in where so many fools have already gone?

The answer is simple—in the United States there are more than 3.5 million public school teachers, more than 15,000 public school districts in 50 states (the states are supposed to be responsible for public education—not the US Congress, the White House, a corporation or a CEO) teaching 50+ million children (not counting the territories), and to use this one incident to condemn everyone else in the public school systems that are not a monopoly is wrong on so many counts.

In fact, corporations build monopolies. Public schools with community based democratic school boards that are state controlled by 50 states are not monopolies. The public school system is made up of more than 15,000 individual school districts that are controlled by the local communities through elected democratic school boards that answer to the voters/parents.

  • What kind of school did this teacher work for?
  • What kind of teacher training did this teacher have—TFA, traditional or a full-time, yearlong urban residency?
  • Was this teacher under contract or a substitute teacher with no teacher training?
  • How many years has this teacher been in the classroom?
  • Was the school an underfunded, transparent, community-based, democratic, non-profit public school, a private school, or an autocratic, opaque, boot-camp like (see Success Academy), for profit (no matter what you call the school) corporate Charter school paid for by taxpayers but allowed to do whatever the CEO/manager of the school wants behind closed doors, and if a parent complains, the child is often kicked out of the school?
  • What state was it in—was it in Florida, Ohio or one of the other states where the public schools are under threat of a hostile takeover by corporate America?

If this teacher worked in a community based, democratic school, then there should be an elected school board and if those elected representatives, who are mostly parents from the same community, want to do something about the eleven words this teacher wrote in aggressive red ink, then they will, because that is the democratic process when it comes to public schools.

But if this child was in a corporate Charter school there is very little that can be done, because parents have no rights in those schools, teachers live in fear because they have no job protection, and these schools have no elected school boards to complain to.  In corporate Charters if a parent doesn’t like the school, their child will often quickly find themselves out on the streets or back in an underfunded public school if there are any left.

A Brenda Hatcher seems to have spread this note on Facebook, and she alleges that the mother is a military veteran.  I am also a military veteran. I served in the U.S. Marines and fought in Vietnam before I went to college on the GI Bill and eventually became a public school teacher for 30 years. I’d like to talk to this alleged military mother.

Megan Zander’s conclusion said, “After all, a child who’s willing to bend the rules in school could grow up to be the one who makes the rules.”

I shuddered at the thought that children who bend the rules will end up being our leaders.

I hope Megan might want to know why I shuddered at that thought.  Megan, did you know that the professions with the most psychopaths in them are the ones who make the rules?

Which Professions Have the Most Psychopaths? The Fewest? –

  • CEOs and lawyers belong to the profession with the most psychopaths alongside journalists and police officers.
  • Teachers are on the list for the professions with the least number of psychopaths alongside nurses, doctors and charity workers.

Megan Zander is a former divorce attorney—a lawyer—turned SAHM to twin boys. She’s written for The Stir, Scary Mommy,, Mommyish and Bustle.



Lloyd Lofthouse is a former U.S. Marine and Vietnam Veteran, with a BA in journalism and an MFA in writing,
who taught in the public schools for thirty years (1975 – 2005).

99 Cent Graphic for Promomtion OCT 2015 Where to Buy

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Substitute teachers in the United States are often paid poorly and treated like trash

If you want to discover what America’s leaders at the state and federal level really think about our public schools and the education of our children, look no further than substitute teachers.

“Crazy is Normal, a classroom exposé”, my memoir, was reviewed on Sincerely as a part of a book blog tour, and Stacie’s review caused me to think about substitute teachers. In fact, I had trouble sleeping the night that review appeared, because of memories that surfaced when I was a full-time, substitute teacher from 1976 – 1978.

What I found especially interesting was that Stacie was a substitute teacher and a mother of three, because dedicated substitute teachers are  valuable to full-time teachers—so rare, that full-time teachers often book the best, dedicated, experienced substitute teachers as far in advance as possible hoping that another teacher won’t steal them away first.

But, most of the time, for me, there was no way to know who the substitute teacher would be, and a few times, even when I had succeeded in booking a substitute teacher that I knew was good at her job, the district might redirect them at the last minute—without my knowledge—to another classroom or school and send my students to the library without a substitute, and my students would miss another day of instruction.

In this era of high-stakes testing with rank and yank results for teachers, every day lost in the classroom might cost a full-time-teacher her job.

What you learn from this post might shock you—and even make you angry—but the qualifications to become a K to 12 substitute teacher in California have not changed for decades. They are the same now as they were during my thirty years in the classroom (1975-2005).

I copied the following information from the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing Website:


Yes. The Emergency Substitute Teaching Permit for Prospective Teachers may be issued based on the completion of 90 semester units of course work from a regionally-accredited California college or university, verification of current enrollment in a regionally-accredited California college or university, and having satisfied the basic skills requirement [PDF].

For anyone who isn’t aware of the minimum number of units necessary for a bachelor’s degree, it’s usually 4-to 5-years of college and graduation requires a minimum of 120 units. Many majors and degrees have requirements that extend beyond the minimum number of units.

What this reveals is that many substitutes may not even be a senior in college or a college graduate.  And if you look at substitute pay on a state-by-state basis, you might be even more shocked.

For instance, in Alabama, the state reimburses local school districts $35 a day for a substitute teacher and that teacher only needs a high school diploma and a negative TB skin test.

If you click on this link, you may see how much each state—for those that list the daily pay—is willing to pay a substitute. I think what substitute teachers are paid is a crime. They should be paid much more—at least $100 a day with benefits.

In Iowa, where Stacie works as a substitute teacher, substitutes have the same licensing requirements as full time teachers—high standards compared to Alabama or California, but the average salary for a substitute teacher in Iowa is $23,905, while starting pay for a full time teacher is $39,200—and the average age of a substitute teacher in Iowa is 50.

When I was still teaching, there was a shortage of substitute teachers in California and often, full time teachers were called on to be substitutes during their planning periods.

I think it’s safe to say that this substitute teacher was a high school graduate from Alabama.

For instance, I was called a few times during the 27-years I worked as a full-time teacher, and once the district was so desperate that after they fired one, new and young, first-year teacher for teaching his students how to cheat on tests, the district staffed his five periods with five, full-time teachers by asking us to give up our planning period. I was one of those five teachers for the rest of the second semester.  The district paid me an extra $45 a day for giving up my planning period and teaching that one-extra class. For the rest of that year, instead of teaching five classes, I taught six. The district could have saved money if they had hired a substitute to finish that year, because the average hourly top pay for a substitute in California runs between $11 to $17. In Iowa, the top hourly pay is $10 to $15, but starts at $7.

If you have already read the “Teacher Wars: A History of America’s Most Embattled Profession” by Dana Goldstein, you might remember that she doesn’t mention substitute teachers in her book, which is sad, because substitute teachers are important to full time teachers, who don’t want their students to miss one day of instruction. Most teachers, who are out of their classroom for a day or more, don’t want baby sitters. They want skilled teachers—who teach just like they would. I know, because I did and the teachers I worked with did.

I now know there is one job in the United States that is more Embattled than a full-time teacher and that is the job of a dedicated, full-time, professional substitute teacher, who gets up early every day waiting for that phone call that will send them to a different classroom, subject and different challenge.

How do I know this?  Well, my first year in education was as a full-time, paid intern in a residency program with a master teacher in her fifth grade classroom. My second and third years, I worked as a full-time substitute teacher waiting for that 5-to-6 a.m. phone call, and I taught in seven different school districts in Southern California. I never knew what district would call first and what grade, subject, or school I would be sent to.

In conclusion, think of the differences between—for instance, me or a dedicated, full-time, experienced substitute teacher like Stacie versus a young K-12 substitute teacher with only a high school degree or even 90 or more college units but no BA degree and little or no experience or training as a classroom teacher.

The only teachers who might have a little bit more experience over that high school graduate or 90-unit, wet-behind-the-ears substitute teacher, who might not even be 21, would be a Teach For American (TFA) recruit with a BA/BS degree and 5 weeks of training in a summer workshop without any experience teaching children in the classroom before they started their first, full-time teaching assignment. This might explain why only a third of TFA recruits stay in education as teachers and 85% of those TFA recruits who stay in teaching, after two years, transfer into more affluent schools and away from schools with high rates of poverty leaving less than 3-percent of the original TFA recruits where they were needed most—with the at-risk children.

In fact, I think TFA recruits might be a better source for substitute teachers in some states—but not Iowa where the substitutes must meet the same qualifications as a full time teacher—than that high school graduate in Alabama or the 90+ unit non-college graduate in California.

When I was a substitute teacher, I already had a BA degree in journalism and a teaching credential earned through a full-time residency program in my master teacher’s fifth grade classroom. When I walked in a classroom as a substitute—no matter where or what—I knew what had to be done. At the time, my California teaching credential was a life, multi-subject credential.

I think the time has come to bring this issue into the open. Dedicated, full-time substitute teachers deserve more support, respect, benefits and pay, because they are a vital link in a child’s education when the regular teacher is out sick or attending a district workshop or meeting.

If our elected representatives and the corporate-driven, fake, education reformers really cared about our children’s education more than profiting off tax dollars that were meant for the public schools, substitute teachers in every state would at least match the requirements found in Iowa, and be paid the same as a professional college graduate instead of poverty wages with no benefits.


Lloyd Lofthouse is a former U.S. Marine and Vietnam Veteran,
who taught in the public schools for thirty years (1975 – 2005).

Crazy is Normal promotional image with blurbs

Lofthouse’s first novel was the award winning historical fiction My Splendid Concubine [3rd edition]. His second novel was the award winning thriller Running with the Enemy. His short story A Night at the “Well of Purity” was named a finalist of the 2007 Chicago Literary Awards. His wife is Anchee Min, the international, best-selling, award winning author of Red Azalea, a New York Times Notable Book of the Year (1992).

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Detachment: a film review and commentary on public education

My wife and I watched Tony Kay’s Detachment on DVD last week—a film that came out in 2012, with a substitute teacher as the main character. Henry Barthes was played by Academy Award winner Adrien Brody—who in the film struggles to keep others at a distance.

Henry’s mother was a sexually abused alcoholic who committed suicide when he was a child. His grandfather, who raised Henry, has dementia; lives in a home for the elderly and is haunted by guilt for sexually molesting his own daughter.

The schools where Henry substitutes are labeled failing schools by President Bush’s No Child Left Behind that—like President Obama’s Race to the Top—always places the blame on teachers, and the few teachers we meet in the film are burned out, depressed hulks. I can’t blame them, because I taught in schools for thirty years that were very close to the one we see in Detachment.

Detachment offers a depressing story that counters—with a serous dose of reality—the message we see in films like “Waiting for Superman” and “Won’t Back Down”.

“Waiting for Superman” was a 2010 documentary filled with half-truths and distortions that also had the benefit of a heavy marketing campaign. This propaganda masquerading as a documentary analyzed the so-called failures of the American public education system. When I saw this documentary, I left the theater boiling with rage.

I was also angry after seeing “Won’t Back Down” (2012) starring Viola Davis and Maggie Gyllenhaal—another film full of lies and distortions.

There’s a lot of information out there about the funding behind films like “Won’t Back Down” and “Waiting for Superman” that traces the money back to Hedge Funds and billionaires who have one goal: destroy public education in the United States and profit off the more than $1 Trillion in tax dollars spent by the states on public education.

Stephen Holden wrote a review of Detachment for the New York Times, and he concluded that “Ultimately, ‘Detachment’ blames parental indifference for everything: students who hurl profanity at their teachers, teachers who collapse in histrionic despair [I recall only one scene like this, and the character was played by Lucy Liu who was not a teacher but a frustrated counselor], and total classroom dysfunction. I also didn’t see “total” classroom dysfunction in the film. There were scenes where learning was taking place and the students behaved.

“Is it really this bad?” Holden asks, “Or is ‘Detachment’ a flashy educational horror movie masquerading as nightmarish reality?”

I’m going to answer Mr. Holden’s questions but first let’s meet this New York Times reviewer and learn something about him.

Holden is an older white man [born in 1941] who earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in English from Yale University in 1963. He worked as a photo editor, staff writer, and eventually became an A&R executive for RCA Records before turning to writing pop music reviews and related articles for Rolling Stone, Blender, The Village Voice, The Atlantic, and Vanity Fair, among other publications. He joined the staff of the New York Times in 1981, and subsequently became one of the newspaper’s leading theatre and film critics.

Nowhere does the Wiki piece mention that Holden ever worked as a classroom teacher, and I doubt if he grew up in poverty or lived in a gang infested barrio.

The New York Times should have had someone else review the film—someone like me who was born in poverty and taught for thirty years in public schools that were close to the high school depicted in Detachment.

Mr. Holden asked, “Is it really this bad?” My answer: It’s very close with an emphasis on very.

Mr. Holden’s second question: “Is ‘Detachment’ a flashy educational horror movie masquerading as nightmarish reality?”

No, Mr. Holden. I’ve attended many parent conferences as a teacher and usually only saw parents of the students who were passing my classes but saw few of the parents of failing kids. In fact, the fail rate in my classroom fluctuated between 30 and 50%. But on parent conference nights, I saw maybe 10 – 15% of the parents of my students. No parents attended the parent conference scene in Detachment, but it wasn’t far from the truth.

Detachment takes place in a community and high school that seems worse than where I taught for thirties years but not by much. Where I taught, burned out teachers usually left and the survivors supported each other but students I worked with behaved as a few of the worst students in the film did. I know, because I dealt with this type of behavior almost daily as a teacher. Teen gangbangers verbally threatened me every year, and I’ve known teachers who were physically attacked by students. I also was an eye witness to a drive by shooting while standing in my classroom doorway. And one night, while I was working late, a student on expulsion was shot dead by shotgun at point blank range a few feet from the classroom where I was working with several student editors of the high school newspaper.

Mr. Holden, if you had actually paid attention, you would have noticed that in the background there were kids who were not threatening their teachers; were not disrupting the classroom and actually paid attention and turned in work. Detachment’s weakness was focusing on the worst kids and ignoring those who were closer to average or normal, and the film focuses on a handful of teachers who were burned out.

We even see one young teacher working after school helping a student.

At the one meeting where the entire staff gathered there were many teachers in attendance who we didn’t get to know in the film. There could have been a better attempt to offer a balance but what the film shows is not a flashy educational horror movie masquerading as nightmarish reality—that description fits misleading propaganda films like “Waiting for Superman and “Won’t Back Down”.

A 2009, study out of Stanford sets the record straight. The study found that, on average, charter schools performed about the same or worse than traditional public schools. The Stanford study reported that 46% of Charter schools were the same; 37% were worse [which means 37% of public schools were better], and only 17% of the Charter schools were better.

In conclusion, I think Detachment is an honest film that shows the harsh reality of public education in an inner city high school surrounded by poverty and neglect. In no way should anyone think this is the way it is in the other 98,816 public schools spread across 50 states with 13,600 school districts that are run by democratically elected school boards made up mostly of parents. Trust me, concerned parents who are involved are not going to abandon the schools their kids attend.

If you learned anything from the Stanford study, 83% of the public schools are not failing and are equal to or better than Charter schools funded by vouchers.

Why should we punish all of the public schools because of the few that are suffering like the high school we see in Detachment? Instead, we should be supporting public schools that are seen as failing—not attacking and condemning them and their teachers as if they were prisons and the teachers criminals.

Added on December 24, 2013:
How do private schools compare to public?

This information comes from a study reported by the National Center for Education Statistics:

The goal of the study was to examine differences in mean National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) reading and mathematics scores between public and private schools when selected characteristics of students and/or schools were taken into account. Among the student characteristics considered were gender, race/ethnicity, disability status, and identification as an English language learner. Among the school characteristics considered were school size and location, and composition of the student body and of the teaching staff.

From the Summary:

For Catholic and Lutheran schools for both reading and mathematics, the results were again similar to those based on all private schools. For Conservative Christian schools, the average adjusted school mean in reading was not significantly different from that of public schools. In mathematics, the average adjusted school mean for Conservative Christian schools was significantly lower than that of public schools.

Note: Why has Congress and two presidents, Bush and Obama, persecuted the public schools and blamed public school teachers for cultural problems they are not responsible for? Who gains?  Who loses?


Lloyd Lofthouse is a former U.S. Marine and Vietnam Veteran,
who taught in the public schools for thirty years (1975 – 2005).

His 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


Lofthouse’s first novel was the award winning historical fiction My Splendid Concubine [3rd edition]. His second novel was the award winning thriller Running with the Enemy. His short story A Night at the “Well of Purity” was named a finalist of the 2007 Chicago Literary Awards. His wife is Anchee Min, the international, best-selling, award winning author of Red Azalea, a New York Times Notable Book of the Year (1992).

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Substitute Teaching is not a “Tea Party”

During the 1976-77 school year, I subbed daily in a half-dozen school districts during the first semester.

Substitute teaching is not easy.

Whoever called first at five in the morning — that would be the school district where I taught.

I taught in Arcadia, Monrovia, San Dimas, Rowland and a few other Southern California school districts I’ve forgotten. Most of the time, I worked in Rowland Unified in La Puente, where I interned the previous year.

When some of the teachers in Rowland knew they were going to be out, they requested me in advance and my calendar quickly filled up.

After the Winter Break, I was called to sub at Romier Elementary for a fifth-grade class.

Watch the video and discover what it is like from another substitute teacher more than thirty years later.

The teacher had a heart attack and was in the hospital. Two weeks later, the principal offered me a long-term position for the rest of the year when the regular teacher died.

I consider that fifth-grade class as the one from Dante’s Inferno, and I worried that this would end in me losing my teaching credential while landing in jail for murder and mayhem.

I asked, “Why me?”

After all, there were many substitute teachers with more experience. This was my first year. However, I needed the job.

That’s when I learned that I had been the thirteenth substitute teacher for that class — not a good omen. The other twelve left after the first day and refused to return.

However, I survived two weeks and discovered why the regular teacher probably had his heart attack and died — a rather drastic way to escape those kids.  He should have quit or retired.

In addition, I knew why I had survived — a combat tour in Vietnam as a United States Marine had prepared me for this teaching job.

This video shows a substitute teacher that lost control. With students like these, I cannot blame her. Do you know that half of new teachers quit within three years and never return to education? This is one example that explains why.

That fifth-grade class had thirty students in it. Half the boys were hyperactive, which probably isn’t the politically correct term to call them but too bad since over the years, political correctness has become a language bully.

One boy, James, would attack anyone that stared at him for more than a few seconds. It didn’t matter if the student staring at him was a girl or a boy. He jumped the other students and his fists started flying.

James should have been America’s secret weapon in Vietnam.

Another example why it is so challenging to teach in America’s public schools may be found at Narcissism at its Best.

As a substitute teacher, it would have been nice to have a black belt in judo or karate. I knew one sub that did, and he started every a class with a demonstration of his skills to tame the wild beasts.

Once the class from Dante’s Inferno was mine, I moved the desks around to create a better arrangement for controlling the hyperactive gang.

I moved the teacher’s desk and placed two bookshelves behind it to form a space in a corner large enough to hold one desk so no one could make eye contact with James.

Another recent substitute experience.

The problem was, James wouldn’t sit still, and I had to keep my sonar turned on. When I sensed he was moving, I’d throw my arm up as if it were one of those arms at a railroad crossing to keep James from getting out and causing a train wreck with the other students he attacked.

At times, when it was too quiet in that cubbyhole hemmed in with bookshelves, I’d discover James on top of his desk spinning on his head like a top with his feet in the air.

If I saw any child from that wild bunch lifting a fanny off a chair, I’d fling myself across the room twisting my face into a Marine Corps drill sergeant‘s evil, killer mask.

“Don’t move another inch,” I’d say in a menacing tone that threatened bodily harm. There was never a dull moment. It was in that class that I perfected the killer sociopathic stare that would serve me well until 2005 when I was paroled from the classroom after thirty years.


Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of the concubine saga, My Splendid Concubine & Our Hart. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too.

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  Note: This revised and edited post first appeared as a three part series on January 31, 2010 in Substitute Teaching is not a “Tea Party” – Part 1


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Parenting 101 — the Amy Chua Controversy

I’m sure that Amy Chua had no idea she was about to light a Baby Boomer fuse that would explode when she wrote her essay published in The Wall Street Journal about Why Chinese Mothers are Superior.

In 2000, Paul Begala, a political strategist for President Bill Clinton, wrote in Esquire, “The Baby Boomers are the most self-centered, self-seeking, self-interested, self-absorbed, self-indulgent, self aggrandizing generation in American history.”

Begala was right.

Starting in the 1960s, the Boomers also gave birth to the narcissistic, self-esteem generation.

When Amy Chua’s memoir, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother went on sale, my wife and I went to the local Barnes and Noble and bought a copy. It took us more than a week to read the book. My wife went first.

However, the morning that Chua’s memoir went on sale, dozens of one-star reviews appeared on condemning the book before anyone had time to read it.

Later, deleted many of these critical reviews that were bitter, caustic, personal attacks on Chua’s parenting methods and had nothing to say of the memoir. It was obvious that most if not all of those early one-star reviews were based on the essay in The Wall Street Journal.

Nancy (not her real name), who works for Barnes and Noble (where we bought a copy of the memoir), told us of an experience she had substitute teaching in a girls P.E. Class. She said there were about 150 girls. Half were Asian and half were Caucasian. When Nancy told them to sit and read or do what they wanted, the Asians took out books and studied. The Caucasians started to text, do makeup and gossip.

Studies show that the “average” American Boomer parent talks to his or her children less than five minutes a day and more than 80% never attend a parent-teacher conference. Boomer parents are so self-absorbed with other interests that TV, the Internet, video games and other teens become substitute parents to their children.

However, when most Chinese mothers (or Asian American) come together, their conversations focus on their children and education, which explains why studies show Asian-American students have the lowest incidence of STDs, teen pregnancy, illegal drug and alcohol use and the highest GPAs, graduation rates from high school and highest ratio of college attendance.

What do you think the “average” Caucasian Boomer mothers talk about when they get together?

A close friend of mine, who isn’t Chinese, read Amy Chua’s essay and many of the comments attacking Chua for her tough stance as a mother. He said it is obvious that Chinese mothers love their children and American mothers don’t because love means sacrifice.

Discover Recognizing Good Parenting


Lloyd Lofthouse is a former U.S. Marine and Vietnam Veteran,
who taught in the public schools for thirty years (1975 – 2005).

His 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


Lofthouse’s first novel was the award winning historical fiction My Splendid Concubine [3rd edition]. His second novel was the award winning thriller Running with the Enemy. His short story A Night at the “Well of Purity” was named a finalist of the 2007 Chicago Literary Awards. His wife is Anchee Min, the international, best-selling, award winning author of Red Azalea, a New York Times Notable Book of the Year (1992).

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Failing by Half

At the end of the school year, the principal asked why half the kids I was teaching were failing. Easy answer. They didn’t work. Half the boys were hyperactive. James was either spinning like a top or picking fights. Hardly any of the kids did homework. Most the boys failed miserably and everyone was below reading level except a few of the girls.

I suspect that the word hyperactive is one of those words that political correctness disapproves of. Calling a kid hyperactive was replaced with ADHD, because it doesn’t sound as negative. Boosting self-esteem means changing words even if they mean the same thing. I never did agree with the self-esteem movement.

The principal said a fifty-percent fail rate was unacceptable. I refused to lower my standards so kids that hadn’t worked would be given passing grades. The principal wrote in my annual evaluation that he was not recommending me for a full-time position, because I hadn’t learned to be a team member.

USO Show, Chu Lai, Vietnam - 1966

I wouldn’t see Marshall Kahan for several years. The next time we met, I would be teaching at Alvarado Intermediate with Grendel as the principal. Marshall had transferred from Romier looking for a school without razor wire and bullet holes in the doors.

See Grendels Closed Door Policy


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Explosive Father

I took a step away from James’s father and moved behind the desk. While keeping an eye on him, I started looking for objects I could use as a weapon.

Lloyd Lofthouse at least ten feet underground in the comm bunker (Chu Lai, Vietnam - 1966).

The reading specialist appeared along with Marshall. They’d heard the yelling. After stopping the father’s tirade, the reading specialist explained that I was not responsible for assigning the book to James.

The specialist then took James’s father to his office. There was no apology for the outburst and the insults. I had discovered where James’s anger came from. He’d inherited or learned it from his explosive father.

I wondered where the father had been for most of the semester. I’d called the house a number of times and left messages. He had not attended parent conferences. In fact, I contacted all the parents when homework wasn’t turned in. I spent hours on the phone running into dead-ends and hearing empty promises from lousy parents.

See Razor Wire


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