Tag Archives: K through 12

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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Due Process – Part 2/4

Lawyers are extremely expensive and even if a teacher accused of a crime or of incompetence was innocent, without the union to pay legal fees, most teachers would be helpless victims.

In addition, legal assistance from the teachers unions is not automatic.  When a teacher is accused of being incompetent, and he claims to be innocent and goes to the local branch of the teacher union seeking help, legal experts that are retained by the NEA or AFT will usually consider if the case has merit.

You Pay for what You Get!

If the union’s legal experts feel the teacher deserves a defense, then the union will stand behind that teacher. What I mean by evidence may be twenty years of satisfactory evaluations by more than one administrator, which is often the case.

However, if the union’s legal experts say there is not enough evidence to defend the teacher, the union will not defend them.

I taught in the public schools for thirty years and know of cases where teachers went to the union and were denied legal support.  I also know of cases where the union’s legal experts ruled in favor of teachers and recommended the union assist them.

To demand that teachers accused of incompetence be fired without due process is undemocratic and un-American. If Wal-Mart can have its day in court when accused of discrimination, then teachers should have the same privilege when accused of incompetence.

How many teachers are we talking about that may be incompetent? A possible answer will appear in Part 3.

Continued on September 20, 2011 in Due Process – Part 3 or return to Part 1


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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Dumping Teachers due to Standardized Test Results and Student Performance – Part 3/7

In the August 2011 Costco Connection, Norm Scott, the founding member of the Grassroots Education Movement and one of the producers of “The Inconvenient Truth Behind Waiting For Superman”, said, “The fact that I was able to develop long-term relationships with parents, siblings and even children of former students, who were in my class, created a stable and secure environment for many of these students.”

I found this to be true.  Several years before I retired from teaching in 2005, I started to receive the children of former students that were now parents. Some of those former students had been a challenge to control and teach but maturity comes with age and by the time they were parents, they understood the value of an education and dedicated teachers.

My experience with the children of former students was always rewarding.

As a teacher that taught for thirty years and more than 150 classes (between 5,000 to 6,000 students), I had only one class where every student passed because so many studied and did the homework—one of more than 150.

Often, in most of the classes, when I walked around the room to collect homework, which reinforces the lesson I taught, of thirty-four students maybe three to five would turn the work in.

In addition, I made phone calls to parents as my friend does. Each day after school, I’d spend an hour or more calling parents asking them to make sure their children did the work assigned and studied or talk about a behavior problem.

Even with the phone calls to parents, few of the challenging students did the work and the bad behavior often continued.

I am at a loss why this fact never seems to come up in media discussions of public education. It is as if the entire burden of education rests with the teacher while the role of students and parents in the educational process is ignored or doesn’t exist.

One other factor is the stress that teachers often face daily.  When I was a U.S. Marine serving in Vietnam in 1966, we did not see action daily.  In fact, days might go by before we would go into the field on patrol, on a recon, an ambush, a field operation, or our camp would be hit.

In fact, thousands of public school teachers are phyiscally assaulted by students each school year and some end up in the hospital.

During the thirty years I taught, not a day went by that there wasn’t a behavior problem with a student. I witnessed drive by shootings from one of my classroom doorways once as school was letting out. On another evening when I was working late with the editors of the school newspaper, the member of one teen gang was gunned down outside my class by a rival gang, and not a year went by that I wasn’t threatened by a member of a street gang that was also a student in my class.

He would say, “What would you do if we jumped you, Mr. Lofthouse?”  This was one of those times when it paid to stand at six foot four and weigh 180 pounds without much fat while being a former U.S. Marine and Vietnam Veteran.  I also had this cold-eyed “killer” stare.

What happens when a student doesn’t perform, which means he or she does not participate in class, doesn’t ask questions when he or she is confused about a lesson [correct me if I’m wrong, but teachers cannot read minds], avoids class work, avoids homework, avoids reading assignments, will not read independently, will not study and/or misbehaves in class?

Is that the teachers fault?

Continued on September 7, 2011 in Dumping Teachers due to Standardized Test Results and Student Performance – Part 4 or return to Part 2


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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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:

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


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.

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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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


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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Avoid the Mainstream Parent Trap – Part 5/9

Parents are a vital element of a child and teen’s education. Parents must be involved even if the children are attending public or private schools.

Teachers cannot do it all.

Students must read daily at home, do classwork, homework, and study for tests.  The job of a parent is to make sure the student does that work.  If a student fails a class while attending school, the main reason is he or she was not doing the work or studying while in class or at home and the parent failed in his or her job.

According to the U.S. Department of Education, there are about 64 million students in primary through secondary schools in America, while It has been estimated that 1.5 million students were homeschooled in the United States in 2007 (with a confidence interval of 1.3 to 1.7 million), constituting 2.9% of students.

It’s obvious that if a parent is teaching his or her children at home, the family is spending quality time together instead of watching too much TV, playing video games, sending text messages, or social networking on the Internet (see Recognizing Good Parenting – Part 2 for the average breakdown of time for each activity).

Instead, home taught students talk several hours a day with parents, and it pays off.

Academic statistics for home-taught students is impressive.

In 1997, a study of 5,402 home school students from 1,657 families was released. It was entitled, Strengths of Their Own: Home Schoolers Across America. The study demonstrated that homeschoolers, on average, out-performed their counterparts in the public schools by 30 to 37 percentile points in all subjects.

This was confirmed in another study by Dr. Lawrence Rudner of 20,760 homeschooled students, which found the homeschoolers who have been home taught their entire mandatory school years had the highest academic achievement.

Another important finding of Strengths of Their Own was that the race of the student does not make any difference. There was no significant difference between minority and white homeschooled students. For example, in grades K-12, both white and minority students scored, on the average, in the 87th percentile.

The motivations for home schooling are based on a concern about the school environment (85% of parents that teach at home); a desire to provide religious or moral instruction (72% of parents); and a dissatisfaction with academic instruction at schools 68%.

There are other reasons but these three areas make up the majority.

In addition, reports, “For the third consecutive year, ACT college admissions test scores are higher for homeschoolers than for other students. Homeschoolers’ average composite score was 22.8, compared to the national average of 21, out of a possible 36. On the SAT, homeschoolers, who comprise less than 1 percent of test takers, earned 568 verbal and 532 in math. The national average…was 505 verbal and 514 math.”

A few more facts from Home School Resources may clarify the picture more.

– 71% of homeschoolers actively participate in the community. Traditionally schooled students averaged only 37%.

– 76% of homeschoolers were more likely to be involved in civic affairs, compared to only 36% of their public-schooled counterparts.

– 58.9% of the homeschoolers surveyed reported they were “very happy” with life, in contrast to 27.6% of traditional students.

If you are a parent that is home teaching your children, breathe a sigh of relief, because the odds are that you do not fit the definition of the American “average” or “norm” for a parent.

Another factor that plays an important role in being a parent is peer pressure among teens, which I will deal with in Part 6.

Continued on May 9, 2011 in Avoid the Mainstream Parent Trap – Part 6 or return to Part 4


Lloyd Lofthouse is a former U.S. Marine and Vietnam Veteran.

His latest novel is the award winning Running with the Enemy. Blamed for a crime he did not commit while serving in Vietnam, his country considers him a traitor. Ethan Card is a loyal U.S. Marine desperate to prove his innocence or he will never go home again.

And the woman he loves and wants to save was trained to kill Americans.

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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.


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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