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Friday, October 31, 2014

CRAZY IS NORMAL: A CLASSROOM EXPOSE (A MEMOIR) by Lloyd Lofthouse

  An Honest Look at Urban Schools

Published in 2014

Throughout the 1994-95 school year Lloyd Lofthouse, a veteran high school English and Journalism teacher teaching in a rough "inner city" type of environment in California, kept a daily journal of his experiences. Finally, he worked them up into this book.

First, I think that I need to tell you that I am a 25 year teacher and I have spent 15 of those 25 years teaching in what some would euphemistically call "urban" schools. I also agree with Lofthouse's comments about so-called education reform and fads in education like the self-esteem movement.  For those reasons I found this book to be compelling - I simply flew right through it.


The book is mostly a set of journal entries with the occasional expanded commentary and, rarely, a reference to an article or a study about education. The way the book is set up is its greatest strength and its greatest weakness. The book rolls along day after day just like a real school year does - unrelenting,  seemingly unending yet with never enough time. Each class has its own distinct personality, some kids improve but most bad students just remain, sadly, bad students. Quite simply, he nails the day-to-day grind of teaching. 

But, the lack of elaboration on the school, its students, its staff hurts the book. Lofthouse leaves out almost all details about his family. When he mentions he has a wife I was shocked. When he mentions his son at the end of the book I was even more shocked. The home vs. work balancing act is a tough one for most teachers and deserves a lot of exploration. 

Lofthouse's commentary on district-level administration and the way they forget what it is like in the classroom is dead-on correct. I would have loved to have read what Lofthouse thought about some of the new trends in education like Common Core.

Lofthouse's confession that he found himself attracted to one of his students makes for uncomfortable reading. Thankfully, he never acted on those feelings but it leaves an taint on the book. 

Despite that, this book is one of the very few serious descriptions that I have read about education in the real world by a real teacher with real students over the long haul. That makes it worth reading.

Note: I was sent a copy of this book at no cost in exchange for an honest review.

I rate this book 4 stars out of 5.

This book can be found on Amazon.com here: Crazy is Normal: a classroom exposé

Reviewed on October 28, 2014


2 comments:

  1. Thank you for your honest review. I'd appreciate it if you would post your review on Amazon.

    I'm not sure what kind of information a reader might want to know about Nogales High School in the Rowland Unified School District.

    When I retired in 2005 and left Nogales, there were about 100 teachers and maybe 2,600+ students. However, when I transferred to Nogales from a middle school in the same district for the 1989-90 school year, there were more than 3,000 students at the high school and portable classrooms seemed to fill every available space between the original brick and mortar buildings.

    At the time, more than 70% of the students were Hispanic/Latino and more than 70% were on free or reduced meals that included breakfast and lunch. About 8% were black, 8% white and 8% Asian.

    I visited the Nogales Website recently and the school report card reveals that the Latino/Hispanic student population has increased to 80% and the black and white student population has all but vanished, while the Filipino/Asian student population has increased to about 14%.

    You might find this interesting. One of the history teachers, who retired a few years before I did, actually did a comparison of student standardized test results in relation to teachers based on time spent teaching, and the results revealed that students in classes with more experienced teachers who had more time teaching had the most gains on those annual tests year after year, while the newer teachers with less experience in the classroom had the least gains.

    It’s too bad that the corporate reformers who are attempting to destroy the democratic public schools to make a profit off tax payers will not admit that veteran teachers are more skilled and valuable than the average teacher starting out. I read somewhere that it takes about 5 to 10 years for the average teacher to develop the best classroom management and teaching skills, and it helps a lot when there are veteran teachers around who are willing to help teachers starting out.

    As for my personal life at the time, I didn't write much about it in the daily journal, because I thought that if I focused on the marriage and the growing discord and challenges that eventually led to a divorce several years later, it might have overshadowed the teaching. And now that so many years have gone by since then, I’ve forgotten many of the details that would make my life outside of school meaningful and worth reading. Both my wife and I were teachers and our lives were dominated by our jobs in and out of school. It’s very difficult for most teachers to leave the job behind when they go home---even during those summer weeks away from the classroom.

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  2. Thanks for taking part in the tour. I'm glad you enjoyed 'Crazy Is Normal'.

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