Tag Archives: Nogales High School

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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The “Wanna Be” Natural – Part 1/3

When I decided to write this post about one of the students I taught at Nogales High School in La Puente, California, I thought of The Natural, a baseball movie starring Robert Redford, Robert Duvall, and Glenn Close, where an average baseball player comes out of seemingly nowhere to become a legendary player with almost divine talent.

This is what Hollywood does best—the stuff dreams are made of.

Then I Googled “baseball movies” and discovered a Site listing almost 200 from A to Z (there wasn’t one for “Z”, but “Y” had Yankees West and The Yankles.

If you love baseball as many Americans do, you may want to visit Boston

I even searched for “Baseball Movies” on YouTube, which resulted in more than five-hundred thousand hits, and I was sucked into watching a few clips.

I could have watched baseball videos for hours on YouTube. I suspect entire movies are there ten minutes at a time.

However, that wasn’t what I wanted to write about.

I wanted to write about one student of the thousands I taught.  He was in one of my ninth grade English classes.

He hated water as many Americans do, and often started school with a liquid breakfast followed by a liquid lunch and a bag of greasy French fries. Then he arrived at his English class—my fifth period.

Continued on April 27, 2011 in The “Wanna Be” Natural – Part 2


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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Bush and Obama’s Ignorant Gaff – Part 1/3

Study after study show that the “average” American parent talks to his or her child less than five minutes a day and that 80% of parents never attend a parent-teacher conferences during the thirteen years his or her child is in school.

The “No Child Left Behind Act” became law in 2001 and it was ignorance personified since nowhere in the Act were parents or students held responsible for anything.

Two presidents have pandered to the popular myth that bad teachers are the reason so many of America’s children are not learning what they should in school. George W. Bush was the first president and then there is Obama.

I’m writing this as a protest about Obama’s words concerning underperforming schools that should fire teachers. When schools do not perform, politicians have always looked for scapegoats and teachers make good targets.

Yes, there are poor teachers but no more than any profession. Most are hard working and dedicated. I should know. I taught for thirty years and my weeks were often one hundred hours of work, because I often worked at home correcting papers or planning lessons.

This reaction to fire teachers when students do not learn is wrong. Why not punish the students and the parents instead?

When I was a child and educators said I would never learn to read or write due to severe dyslexia, my mother taught me to read at home. Both of my parents were avid readers, and my parents were my role models—not my teachers.

Continued in Bush and Obama’s Ignorant Gaff – Part 2 or View as Single Page


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 iLook China, there is a “Subscribe” button at the top of the screen in the menu bar.


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Solving the Sparkplug Caper

Thanks to Sauron, I carted the surveillance system home where it was shelved and powerless.  I considered using it to watch my driveway and front door but was too depressed to install it. 

After my anger and depression faded a bit, I had another idea.  I called the auto shop teacher and explained my problem with the sparkplugs.  He said someone had been stealing sparkplugs from the shop.  They had been vanishing from the supply cabinet.

I asked if he would cross check the roster from my class with his classes and see if he could come up with a match. Bingo, he came up with two names.  When the auto shop teacher confronted the two, they denied everything.

Next step.  I went to the office and checked their schedules. Both, it turned out, were in baseball, so I called their coach.  He didn’t ask them if they were doing it. He just told them they would be tossed off the team if the sparkplugs kept flying. Problem solved without help from Sauron.


Who would have ever guessed that teachers had to become Sherlock Holmes too?

Missed the first episode in the Sparkplug Caper –

Or you are a teacher in need of sharpening your sleuthing talents –


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Big Brother in the Classroom

I was going to be George Orwell’s Big Brother from the novel, Nineteen Eighty-Four. I bought a complete security system for several hundred dollars and went to school over the weekend to install the two cameras and the video recorder in a back cupboard that could be locked to keep out sneaky fingers.  I ran cables out the top of that cabinet to the cameras that I installed near the ceiling— high enough so kids couldn’t reach them. I was going to record what was going on behind my back. 

George Orwell-author of 1984

I figured that I’d point out the cameras and tell the kids what I was doing. The chances are that the sparkplugs would stop flying since they would be afraid of being caught on film. My nightmares of some kid being blinded by a flying sparkplug or ending up in a hospital with a concussion would end.

One of the raptors (think kid) ratted me out to a parent who made a phone call to the district office. Before I had a chance to use the system, I was told by one of the VPs that Sauron had called and said I could not install that system because it would infringe on the privacy of the kids.

Privacy!  What privacy?  There were more than thirty kids in a public classroom—not counting the teacher.  And I thought I was going to be Big Brother. Sauron must have been jealous.

The solution to the flying sparkplugs will be revealed in the next post.

If you didn’t read “Sparkplugs are Not Sparrows”, you may do it here –

Watch the 1954 BBC adaption of Orwell’s 1984 here –

Or, find out more about home security at:


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Sparkplugs are Not Sparrows

I don’t remember the year—probably the 1990s. However, I do remember the incident. Someone in one of my English classes at Nogales High School was throwing sparkplugs inside the classroom.  If you don’t know what a sparkplug is, go to your local auto supply store and see.  They are heavy ceramic, metal objects used to fire a spark of electricity into a cylinder of gasoline. That spark ignites the gas, causing the explosions that drove pistons that moved cars. That’s the simple explanation.

You don’t want to be hit by a flying sparkplug. Sparkplugs are not sparrows.

Doesn't it remind you of a missle?

I couldn’t’ catch these kids.  Every time I turned my back, answered the phone or opened the door when someone knocked, one of those sparkplugs became a blur and whacked a wall.  There was no way I could keep both my eyes on thirty-five kids every second and teach.

To solve this problem, I decided to buy and install a surveillance system so I could record what was happening behind my back and catch the culprits on tape.

I had no idea at the time that I was going to bring Sauron out of his tower. To learn more about Sauron’s brilliant leadership, check out this post.

The next post will continue this tale of Sparkplugs are Not Sparrows


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The Guilty Dead

Building services eventually discovered a family of dead possums inside the wall between my room and the math class next door. It seems that a possum mother found her way into the building’s attic.

When built, the classrooms could be opened so all the rooms on one side of the building (about six) became one long noisy hall. The first dividers were double thick plastic curtains. 

Years earlier, there was a theory about open classrooms where teachers could work together cooperatively. That failed like most educational theories that work great in controlled labs or selected schools.

The noise from more than two hundred students was too much for the teachers’ sanity, so partition walls (wood and drywall) were built between the classrooms and the top of the walls were left open—no top plate to seal them.

The possum mother with a pouch full of babies fell into one of the cells at the beginning of the Winter Break and died a horrible death without food or water. Possums are marsupials and carry their young in a pouch like kangaroos do.
The first post for this tale of woe was Teaching is a Smelly Art.


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HEPA Filters Do Not Work Miracles

I brought in the first HEPA air filter on the third day.  That lonely machine chugged away keeping the air somewhat breathable while custodians and building services struggled to discover where the stench was coming from.  One man thought maybe a sewer line ran under the building and had broken.

By the end of the week, the stink was outpacing the HEPA filter. I started buying more until there was four humming away losing the battle. Now, I had a noise problem too. With the HEPA filters humming away, most of the kids couldn’t hear me, and I couldn’t hear them—maybe a blessing in disguise.

We abandoned the classroom and fled to the school library (see school libraries quietly rock) leaving the workers behind to solve the problem.

This tale of a tail will conclude with The Guilty Dead—the last post for this smelly story.
The first post for this tale of woe was Teaching is a Smelly Art.


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Innocent Math

On the second day, I started to suspect that the smell might be coming from the math class next door.  Since math was a “pure” subject, I didn’t think it could smell but …

Then the math teacher fled with her students.  She had immigrated from Vietnam and didn’t weigh a hundred pounds, but her students were terrified of her—accent and all, which might explain why the Vietnamese defeated the Japanese, the French and America while fighting wars with China before and after all the others. I’ll tell you some of the creative things she did to maintain classroom control another time.

When she left her room, she stuck her head in my room and stared at me with an accusing, killer look that all teachers who survive must develop. The white strip down my back grew longer.

This tale of a tail will continue in HEPA Filters Do Not Work Miracles—the next post.
The first post for this tale of woe was Teaching is a Smelly Art.


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Sewer Teaching is a Smelly Art

Teaching in a sewer is sort of like being in a volcano—impossible to escape the heat. Who said teaching wasn’t like a real job?

One year, I returned to Nogales High School from the Winter Break (what used to be called Christmas—this change came about due to a court case linked to political correctness) and the classroom smelled of death. In no time, it felt as if I had grown a white stripe down my back.

Industrial Pollution

When my first period arrived, the first kid in the door asked, “Mr. Lofthouse, what did you do?”

“It’s not me.”  I protested, but no one listened—nothing new there. Rumors spread and kids went out of the way to avoid me in the hallways.

In another period, a girl said, “Take a bath, Mr. Lofthouse.” She pinched her nose and went outside refusing to return. I picked up a referral and told her I would give her a tardy and send her to the office. By then, most of the students were in the room–some complaining.  A fortunate few could not smell anything—the benefit of a stuffy nose.

Any one tired of reading my tale of woe may want to visit Australia at Teacher Challenges.

This tale of a tail will continue in “Innocent Math”—the next post.


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