Teacher Suspended For Giving Zeros: Is He A Hero?
A high school physics teacher in Edmonton recently got suspended for handing out zeros. It was in defiance of school and board policy and it is likely that he will lose his job.
Giving zeros for missed assignments and exams was a policy of Lyndon Dorval's throughout his 35-year teaching career. He knew when he pulled out the red marking pen and jotted down the big goose egg that he would probably be suspended, he had been warned by the Principal.
But he says in an article in the National Post that he felt that he had to do it, that the zeros can be changed if the student make an effort:
“It put the onus on them. I could see some other method working with younger kids. But these are high school students. They are becoming adults. They are getting ready to step out into the real world and it is time for them to start taking responsibility for their own actions.”
Needless to say, that support for the teacher has been overwhelming. The Edmonton Journal ran a poll to which 97% of respondents (over 12,000 people) said students should receive zeros. Even some students have rallied to support the deposed teacher.
It's true that students, especially high school students, need to learn about consequences. And not turning in the work or not showing up for the exam should not be a way to squeak through high school.
But something about this zero debate bothers me. I think that it is the fundamental job of schools/teachers and parents to educate their kids. And that means keeping them in school.
Punishing them (and that is what a zero is, punishment) seems like the antithesis to keeping at-risk kids in school. If you already felt like you were circling the drain in physics, wouldn't a zero just be the push you needed to leave?
Joe Bower, and outspoken teacher and advocate for alternative methods of assessment wrote a column in the Edmonton Journal entitled "Giving Zeros Is A Power Trip " in which he says:
The more you use power to control someone, the less real influence you will have on their lives. As a parent and an educator, reducing my influence with my children and students is unacceptable...It takes courage not to punish students with zeros, and it takes real effort to see problems as an opportunity to teach and to learn.
He believes that education is a conversation between student and teacher -- one in which there is respect on both sides. He admits that the students who need you the most are absolutely the hardest ones to teach.
These are two starkly opposed visions of teaching. I don't doubt that they both care education and their students and want them to succeed in "real life".
But Cheryl-Lynne Oloth says on Bower's blog: school isn't real life. A teacher's job is to prepare kids to be good citizens and good learners -- hopefully a job is an extension of that. Her post is long, but if you are interested in moving beyond the idea that Dorval is a hero, it is worth a read.
All that said, I know that the teachers that were the toughest were the ones that I respected and worked hard for. They were the ones who forced me to move beyond my comfort zone and actually apply myself. But that was because we had a relationship where the expectations were clear.
I could use a good English teacher right now, to help me come up with a conclusion because I'm sort of waffling in the middle. But here goes: a good teacher cares about the outcomes of the students, they don't grade students based on some kind of power trip or take the easy way out. But teachers need as many tools possible to help students to learn, and if zeros (that can be changed) are part of their toolkit -- as a last case scenario -- then I suppose that seems reasonable.
Do you think the physics teacher should have been fired? Do you think zeros are a good teaching tool?
Want more chaos? Last year, I asked what your home said about you? Aspirational or dysfunctional?