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The Annual Autumn Teacher Blues – Part 1/3

I retired from teaching August 2005, and every year near autumn, I started losing sleep, which was a direct result of years of abuse/stress dished out by parents, students, administrators, politicians and ignorant idiots that believe everything they hear or read in the media about how horrible public school teachers and their unions are, which is wrong.

Usually, when I complain about the years I taught, one of those ignorant idiots leaves a comment saying I am just another disgruntled teacher that could not teach or I’ve been brainwashed by the liberals.

However, if you are one of those ignorant idiots, I suggest you discover what kind of teacher I was from from the media—a piece published in the Rowland Heights Highlander December 3, 1998, which gives a brief glimpse into the success I experienced as teacher for thirty years.

Starting in autumn and for the entire school year I often lost sleep due to difficult students, mean spirited parents, and administrators pressuring me to inflate grades to pass more students.

Then this week, an e-mail arrived from a younger friend that is still teaching (more than 20 years). I could sense the same suffering in this teacher’s words.  He/she asked me not to write about some of the stuff in the e-mail so I will avoid those topics and keep this teacher’s identity private.

However, I am going to share some of what this teacher wrote.

“I am highly motivated,” the teacher-friend said. “I still want to teach, but I have lost a lot of my passion for it due to the lack of support from parents, administrators, non-motivated students, etc.  Also, American society does not really value education.”

In addition, “The way education is headed, makes our (other teachers at the same school) stomachs turn sour.  There is growing talk among localities, states, etc. about terminating seniority.  Some states have already done it under the umbrella of Right to Work‘.  Some states have a clause that states they are ‘A Right to Work’ state, which sounds semantically awesome, but this was a dream child of big business.”

Basically, the ‘Right to Work’ clause allows businesses and school districts to circumvent unions.

My teacher-friend said Idaho is a perfect example and mentioned another teacher that had a teaching friend in Idaho that said a district in Idaho wanted to equip all of its students with laptops except it didn’t have funding to do that.

To come up with this funding, that one school district in Idaho invoked the ‘Right to Work’ clause and fired the teachers with the most seniority.

Teachers with 20, 25, and 30 years of experience lost their teaching jobs before they were ready to retire on their own.  This saved the district much money; hence, that district had the money to buy the laptops for all of its students.

Note from Blog host, “I’d like to know the name of this district in Idaho.”

In conclusion, my teacher-friend said, “The point here is even if I wanted to teach for 30 years, I might not make it.  I could see my district getting rid of me to save money.”

Continued on August 22, 2011 in The Annual Autumn Teacher Blues – Part 2

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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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The Impact of Aging Public Schools on Teachers and Students

My last sixteen years of teaching took place at Nogales High School in La Puente, California.

Nogales was built in 1961. By the time I left teaching, Nogales was forty-four years old.

During the last few years when I entered my classroom in the mornings, I started to wheeze and sinus infections were an annual school year occurrence.

Years earlier, in the 1990s, the flat roof above my classroom had sagged resulting in a pool of water when it rained, which leaked into the room.

The year the roof first leaked, I taught four sections of ninth grade English and my fifth and last section of the day was journalism. There were tables along the back wall that held journalism’s Mac computers, a printer and scanner.  Because the worse leaks occurred above the computers, I bought a sheet of plastic to cover them and placed trashcans around the room to catch water from the worst leaks.

By then, the brown, industrial grade carpeting was worn and spotted with dark blotches where gum had been ground into the fabric by unruly students. After the rain, a large portion of the carpet at the back of the room became a spongy mass as it absorbed water from the leaks.

One summer early in the 21st century, the school district removed the old leaky roofs, rafters and all, until the classrooms were open to the sky.  Then new roofs that were not flat were built on the old walls.  However, that brown carpet remained.

According to BEST (Building Educational Success Together), school districts in the US have an estimated $271 billion of deferred (which means they don’t have the money and have to put it off) building maintenance in their schools, excluding administrative facilities…

Many of America’s public schools are aging and causing health problems adding another challenge to teaching.

Near the end of my teaching career (1975 – 2005), I often came down with sinus and respiratory infections but not during the summers when I was not teaching.

The last few years, the indoor air quality in my classroom was so bad that minutes after entering the class, I started to wheeze and then get a low-grade headache that stayed with me all day.  Nogales had more than a 100 people working there.  When I asked if anyone from the staff was having health problems similar to mine, about 20 to 25% said yes and the symptoms were similar.

BEST says, “A national survey of school nurses found over 40% knew children and staff adversely impacted by avoidable indoor pollutants.”

I didn’t plan to retire at sixty.  My goals were to teach until I was sixty-five and leave teaching in 2010.  However, I left five years early due to the wheezing, sinus infections and headaches that all happened or started in my classroom.

I left teaching in 2005, I haven’t wheezed or had a sinus infection since.

One study found that unsatisfactory buildings in need of improvements/repairs influenced test scores, attendance and suspension rates. Another study revealed a 4 to 9% difference in achievement between students in schools in worst/best condition and a 5-9% difference between students in oldest/newest schools in addition to a 4% difference in graduation rates between students in schools in worst/best condition. Source: 21st Century School Fund

The quality of school buildings affects the ability of teachers to teach, teacher morale, and the very health and safety of teachers.

Despite the importance of the condition of school buildings, serious deficiencies have been well documented, particularly in large, urban school districts (see for example, GAO 1995). Moreover, since school buildings in the United States are, on average, over forty years old—just the time when rapid deterioration often begins—we should expect problems with school facilities to worsen.

For example, poor indoor air quality (IAQ) is widespread and many schools suffer from “sick building syndrome” (see, for example, EPA 2000), which in turn increases student absenteeism and reduces student performance (see EPA 2000; Kennedy 2001; Leach 1997; Smedje and Norback 1999; Rosen and Richardson 1999).

Since current student-focused asthma studies show that students lose considerable school time because of the poor conditions of schools, it is not surprising to find that poor IAQ also affects teachers’ health. In one study, fully two-thirds of Washington teachers surveyed reported poor indoor air quality in their school. Source: ncef.org

In my school district, teachers were given 10 sick days a year.  By the time I had taught 25 years, I had about 180 sick days saved.  I used up about half  the last three years I taught.

Discover how Sewer Teaching is a Smelly Art or learn from HEPA Filters Do Not Work Miracles

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Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of The Concubine Saga. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too. This is the love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.

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Putting the Blame where it Belongs — Part 4/6

To make this new Academic Index work, most if not all teachers use computer grading programs.  All teachers need do is make sure there are categories for homework, class discussion, students asking questions related to the work, class work, quizzes and tests.

I taught for thirty years and kept track of all of those categories easily.  I also fed that information into a computer-grading program. I knew who wasn’t doing homework—the same goes for class work and in many cases no matter how many phone calls I made or how many failure notices I mailed home to the parents, little changed.

For example, if the parent of a failing student came to a parent conference, I could tell them that his or her son did eight of 23 homework assignments and what the average grade earned was.  I could do the same for class work, students asking questions, quizzes, tests and for class discussions.

Since most of my tests on literature in the English textbook were open book, it was easy to see who didn’t read the story or study.  After all, I handed out study guides before each quiz and test.

For class discussions and questions related to the class work, I carried a clip board with a seating chart where I kept track of who said what by putting a mark next to the name of the student that was involved.

I transferred that information into the computer-grading program and at parent conferences, I could tell parents every facet of their child’s grade.

Students that never asked questions or took part in discussions had no marks next to his or her name for those categories and I could easily tell parents that their child never asked questions or took part in discussions.

In fact, I could tell them how many classroom assignments had been turned in and the grade for every assignment or the average grade.

Continued on May 19, 2011 in Putting the Blame where it Belongs – Part 5 or return to Part 3

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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.

To subscribe to “Crazy Normal”, look for the “Subscribe” button at the top of the screen in the menu bar, click on it then follow directions.

 

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A Ten-Year Old Named Oscar (viewed as single page)

After my nine-month internship in a fifth grade classroom, I was not offered a contract to teach full time and had to substitute teach for the next two years.

A ten-year old called Oscar (not his real name) was the reason. It was May 1976, and Ms. Stepp was gone. Instead, a sub was in the room. I was the student teacher. Oscar had an anger issue. He could blow with the force of a five-hundred pound, roadside bomb.

On that particular day, for no reason, Oscar started to use a thick-black marker to draw Xs across the pages in the history textbook used for Yorbita’s fifth grade. As he finished marking a page, he tore it out and tossed it on the floor.


Another teacher’s experience.

The substitute teacher said to stop. Oscar ignored her. Oscar kept marking the large, thick X and tearing the pages out. The students sitting near him knew he was capable of flying into a rage and attacking them so they started to slide their desks away until he was an isolated island.

As I finished this post, I thought of Where are the Parents, a post I wrote at iLook China.

Since I had been in the class as a student teacher since September, I thought Oscar might listen to me. I knelt on one knee at eye level and calmly asked him to stop. He did not make eye contact as he marked another page.

I asked him to hand me the book he was systematically destroying page by page.

Oscar was on a behavior modification contract. When he lost control, he was supposed to leave the classroom and walk home.

The teacher was to call the mother and let her know Oscar was on his way. When Oscar reached home, he was to be isolated in his room until he calmed down. Once calm, he could return to school.

I reached for the thirty-five dollar textbook. He yanked it out of my reach, and his face bloated with anger. “That’s my book,” he said. “Don’t touch it.”

I asked him to come to the office with me. He refused. I went to the phone and called, but the principal was not available.

What I did next was the reason why the principal did not recommend me for a full-time position in the district the next school year.

My next move was to pick Oscar up and carry him to the office.

He fought all the way.

It was like trying to hold onto a live fifty-thousand volt wire. Like a giant anaconda, Oscar twisted, turned, and slugged me in the torso. He knocked my glasses off.

When we reached the office, I called his mother.

On the way back to class, I was fortunate enough to find my glasses undamaged. Later, the principal told me that I shouldn’t have touched Oscar, and that I wasn’t ready to teach full time.

As I was finishing this post, I remembered reading the trauma of joblessness in a Blog about Education and Class. The author wrote, “I’ve read and heard little about how school are helping children to understand what is happening to their parents, how they’re trying to articulate for children the reasons for becoming educated in uncertain times, how they are teaching children to be deeply proud of struggling parents.”

When are most Americans going to wake up and realize that the schools have been so burdened with “powerless parenting” that teachers can’t do the job of teaching reading, writing and arithmetic?

Instead, teachers spend far too much time dealing with the Oscars of the world.

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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.

If you want to subscribe to “Crazy Normal”, there is a “Subscribe” button at the top of the screen in the menu bar.

 

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