“Readers who envision eager students lapping up learning led by a Tiger Teacher will be disappointed. 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.
Throughout this memoir, though, Lofthouse seems able to keep the hope alive that there’s a future for each student that doesn’t include jail—thanks in large part to his sixth period journalism class and its incredible editor, Amanda.” – Bruce Reeves
Lloyd Lofthouse has hit upon the perfect training program for public teachers in the US today - active duty deployment as a US Marine.
Crazy is Normal is a journal kept by the author covering one school year, showing the good, the bad and the ugly about being a public school teacher in the US. The good includes the occasional student who is actually eager to learn. The bad includes parents calling the teacher to find out why their baby is failing. (Maybe it has to do with not turning in ANY assignments?) The ugly includes the lack of support from some administrations (at the school or *ahem* with the federal government). Each student is different; attempting to cram them into a Common Core cookie cutter will just give them suspicious-looking indentation marks all over their bodies.
Lofthouse's book shows how bat-cookie cray-cray has become the norm in public schools today. I almost feel physical pain when I think about it for too long. I don't know how or why teachers do what they do for as long as they do it. There are two choices. They are either crazy - but that's normal today. (In our house, we take pride in our crazy.) Or they have a 'calling'.
If you expect little from people or a lot, they will usually live up to your expectations. Teachers have a LOT of pressure on them. Considering they are preparing our children and other young people to take over our world someday, they are not paid nearly enough.
Crazy is an amazing look into the year of one teacher's life. Now, I'm sure there are as many different experiences as there are teachers. This is not propaganda put out by the Department of Education. Lofthouse gives us his journal from the front lines of the battle on the school front.
After you read Crazy is Normal, DO something! Volunteer at your child's school, or with an adult literacy program. The possibilities are endless. Give of yourself. Get involved. Change the future.
Lloyd earned a BA in journalism in 1973 after fighting in Vietnam as a U.S. Marine. While working days as an English teacher, he enjoyed a second job as a maitre d’ in a multimillion-dollar nightclub. His short story, A Night at the ‘Well of Purity’ was named as a finalist for the 2007 Chicago Literary Awards.
Lloyd has won 15 awards for My Splendid Concubine and 5 awards for Running With the Enemy.
Thursday was parent conference day for the first semester, and we were on a shortened schedule. I hated short days. There was no lunch break; the classes weren’t long enough to accomplish much of anything—twenty-eight minutes instead of fifty-nine—and the school day ended at 11:40. I also had duty that afternoon at a game. It was going to be another thirteen-hour day before I drove home.
Passing through the office on the way to my classroom, I heard that four hundred fifty students had stayed home and called in sick Wednesday as an alternative way to protest Proposition 187.
Scroll never ran a story about it, and I never asked the editors why. The paper was theirs.
Before my first class, I sat down with a calculator to figure out how much the protest cost the school. After taking roll in each class, I said, “Some of you were absent yesterday to protest Proposition 187. I want you to know that the schools are paid only when you’re in school, and that the high school probably lost eleven thousand dollars yesterday. It doesn’t seem smart to hurt the very school you say you want to stay in.
“If you’re really interested in protesting 187, you should join an organized, peaceful demonstration over the weekend. Walking out of school or staying home doesn’t help.”
Mildred stayed after 11:40, calling possible advertisers for the school paper. She also wrote two follow-up letters she planned to mail to businesses interested in buying ads.
I corrected papers until I left for water polo game duty. By then, Mildred was gone. I reached the pool only to discover that the other school had forfeited the game. Even with the cold weather, the Nogales team decided to get in the water and play against each other. I stayed and watched while correcting papers.
That evening, parent conferences took place in the gym. Tables were set up in rows, and, when parents entered the gym, they were given a map that helped them find their child’s teachers. I talked to about thirty parents that night, and most of them only wanted to know what they could do to help their sons or daughters earn a better grade. Most of their children were already passing. Few parents came for the failing students.
But Alexis’s dad was different. “Alexis says she did all the work, and it was at home in her folder because you didn’t tell her when it was due,” he said. “And when she explained, you refused to let her turn that work in late. I don’t like your rigid, unyielding policy of not accepting late work.”
Alexis was lying, but that wasn’t new—too many students lied to gullible parents. She had come with her dad, and I turned to her. “Why is it that so many of the other students know when assignments are due?” I asked.
“That’s not true,” she replied. “Everyone is confused, and almost everyone is failing because you’re so hard.”
“How can they be confused when the due dates are written on the board for every assignment a week or more before an assignment is due, and I read that information to each class every day, right after I take roll?”
“I don’t remember anything being written on the board,” she said.
I studied her dad and could see that he believed every word his daughter was saying. My grade book said Alexis had an eighteen percent average.
“I understand that a lot of your students are failing,” he said. “That doesn’t say much for you as a teacher. I’ve heard some of your students say you’re boring.”
Now I was angry and leaned across the table. “I’m sure there are times when all classes are boring—but in your line of work, do you ever let boredom stop you from getting the work done? I do my job, which I can’t say about a lot of the students in my classes. If you have a complaint, you can take it to the principal or one of the vice principals.” I pointed at one of the VPs, who was talking to another parent on the other side of the gym. “That blond lady over there is one of the vice principals. I want you to know that I work hard to do the best job I can, but that can never make up for students who don’t cooperate or work.”
“Why are you being so hard and demanding when all of her teachers since kindergarten have been easy?” he asked. “It isn’t fair, that after all of these years, she has to get a teacher like you.”
I didn’t believe all of her teachers had been easy, but they may have been pressured by their principals to lower the failure rate. “In three and a half years,” I said, “Alexis is going to leave high school and enter a society that won’t accept the kind of excuses she’s using. And I couldn’t live with myself if I didn’t do the best I could to prepare every student who passes through my classroom for that outside world.”
“Then I want to know why you haven’t called me about Alexis not turning in her work!” He demanded.
“I’ve tried, but either no one answers at home or at work, or the line is busy. I can prove that I’ve already made more than a hundred phone calls to other parents.”
“I want to see that proof!” He snapped.
“I log everything, but that documentation is in my classroom. You can also see copies of my phone calls through the ninth-grade counselor. She gets a copy of each one.”
This was such waste of time, and I wanted him to leave. Other parents stood in line behind him, waiting to see me. I hoped he’d demand that Alexis be transferred to another teacher, who’d give her a passing grade for not working. With a father like him, she deserved to leave high school uneducated.
Every morning on the drive to work, I reminded myself there were good kids in every class who cooperated, worked, and learned. They were the reason I stayed in teaching. I couldn’t blame teachers who were burned out and had lost their edge in the classroom. I understood why.
It was almost 10:00 when I got home.
(Disclosure: I received a copy of this book from the author and publisher via Virtual Author Book Tours in exchange for my honest and unbiased review.)
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