What a Zero Really Says

A story was recently reported about an Edmonton teacher being suspended for giving his students zero’s in class in a school that has a no zero policy.  (Incidentally, this article is located in the “news” tab and should be moved to the “opinion” tab.  I always taught my kids that reporters should refrain from putting their personal bias into a news article.  So if you read it, read it with a grain of salt.)

Many of my friends have had conversations about this controversial subject and I have stayed out of it.  I have not written anything back on Facebook as people have made comments (mostly in support of the teacher) but in the past 24 hours as I have stood in groups of people who know me, many have turned to me and said, “You’re a teacher.  What do you think?”

Oh boy.  Deep breath in.

Ok, just remember… you asked for this people.  My response is long so you might want to grab something to drink and a snack before you settle in to read this.  My response comes in four stages.  If you think this is a simple issue, it’s not.  It’s very complex.  And it’s about far more than giving a 0.  I wrote a blog post back in February about Lates, Deductions, and 0’s but I obviously need to elaborate in my response to this difficult issue.

Issue #1:  School Should Be Like The World Of Work

I get it, I really do.  Many people equate school to having a job.  If I don’t do my job I get fired.  So a kid should get a 0.  This works great if it’s not YOUR kid and it’s not HIS zero, doesn’t it?  I caution you to think about this a little further before making such a snap decision.  There are many things about school that have no equivalency to the world of work.

a)  If you don’t do your job, you get fired.  This doesn’t happen to kids.  As a teacher I cannot “fire” a student.  So many people say that the 0 is the punishment then.  Well be careful here.  As a worker someone has hired you.  You applied for a job you thought you wanted and someone hired you because they believe you offered a skill set that would make you a valuable employee for the position.  As a teacher I have not hired anyone to be in my classroom.  You gave birth thirteen years ago and that’s why your child is in my classroom along with the other 26 kids I have.  There was no choice involved.

b)  Grades are like earning money.  To anyone who says this, you clearly don’t understand my legal and professional obligation as a teacher.  Grades are not money.  John Scammel wrote an excellent blog post that says in the world of work effort is often related to increase in pay or promotion.  As much as I would like to say that it’s the same for school, it isn’t.  I have kids that do pretty much nothing in class but on the final project they show me they know their stuff.  I have to give them a mark that reflects that.  Consequently, I have students that put in ridiculous amounts of effort but still haven’t grasped the concept.  As much as I would love to give them a high grade for their effort, that isn’t a true reflection of what they are capable of.  As a teacher my job is to assess what your child knows about the content the Alberta Education Curriculum has set down for me.

c)  If you don’t like your job, you can quit.  Kids don’t have this option.  They are LEGALLY obligated to attend until they are 16 (this will be changing to 17 in the near future).  You job involves choice, attending school does not.

d)  My job is to prepare them for the world of work?  No.  My job is to teach them how to think, how to learn, and how to problem solve.  I am preparing them to be a responsible and contributing citizen to their country.  This doesn’t always involve work.  Ask a stay-at-home mom.  She’s not working (in the traditional sense of the word that everyone seems to be talking about).  Does this mean school was a pointless waste of her time?  Not everyone goes on to “work” in the traditional sense.  Not everyone will have a “job” after school.  If this were the case, high school would separate kids into vocational classes and start training them right then and there.  Why don’t we do that?  Because your kids get to make that choice AFTER they graduate, when I’ve given them (hopefully) the skill set they need to make such a huge decision.


Issue #2:  The Suspension Itself

This is a dicey one because I only know the details that have been reported in the newspaper.  So I’m going to make a couple of assumptions here.  It appears to me that the principal/administrator of the building has set down a policy of not giving out 0’s.  The teacher violated this policy.  This is an issue all by itself, forget WHY he was suspended.

For those of you so quick to equate school to the world of work…..if you work for a company that used to start at 10:00 am in the morning and you get a new change in leadership that says work will now start at 8:00 am but you basically ignore that and continue coming in at 10:00, what would you expect to have happen?  Exactly.

As teachers we always have a choice.  I remember several years ago I got a new principal and he laid out his vision of how the school was going to be.  Right behind it he said, you can either support it or you can leave and find a new school to work in.  And we did indeed have a teacher leave.  That’s reality.  You don’t like your job requirements?  No one is forcing you to stay.  If the school’s policy was to not give out 0’s and he knew this then he had a choice.  He chose to stay and keep giving out 0’s.

According to the article, this teacher has repeatedly refused to abide by the policy.  He was reprimanded several times.  He knew the deal and he opted to stay and buck the system instead of finding a school that fit into his own personal beliefs.  Well, there are consequences for that.

If it hadn’t been a school policy then I would have completely disagreed with the suspension.  While I don’t like the way certain teachers teach, it is NOT my place to tell them how to do their job.  At least not as a colleague.  As an administrator it is their job to run their school as they see fit and set down policies and procedure to benefit their students.  But policies apply to EVERYONE, not just to those who “choose” to follow them.

Issue #3:  What a 0 really says…..

Dorval says he thinks the policy is linked to a self-esteem factor.  That somehow a student will give up if they get a 0.  But make no mistake, getting the 0 doesn’t cause them to give up.  They choose to take the 0 because they’ve already given up.  I’ve found that in my experience a student would rather get a 0 then a 23%.  There’s an old saying that it’s better to be thought a fool then to say something and prove it.  Well, for some kids they would rather be THOUGHT a failure then do the assignment and prove it.  A 0 is easy to take and it’s easy to defend.  That’s not the crushing blow.  The crushing blow is actually doing the assignment and failing it.  So what’s the alternative?  I’m just not going to do it.  I’m going to fail it anyways so why bother?

GIVE ME THESE KIDS!  PLEASE!  Give me the kids who think they are failures and so have chosen to not do the work.  Because that’s really what a 0 means for a lot of them.  The 0 says, “I’m scared of doing this and finding out I’m a failure.”

My husband and I are both teachers.  We discuss this on a regular basis.  I have a legal obligation to report what your child knows about the content of the curriculum.  This is all I can do.  How much I like your child can’t factor in.  How many hours your kid puts into their assignment can’t factor in.  How many assignments your child turned in out of the ten I assigned can’t factor in.  All that matters is what your child has proven to me about his knowledge.

Sometimes a kid earns a true and honest 0.  After doing the project or writing the test they have actually scored a real 0.  I think I can count on 1 hand the number of times I’ve ever had this happen in my 11 year teaching career but if this is the case, then yes a 0 is justified.  You know 0% of this content and I can prove it.  I have evidence.

My husband and I also admit that giving 0’s is often a tracking system to report back to parents what the child has and has not done.  Ok, fair enough.  I don’t really agree with it but if this is a tracking system then that’s fine and even as a parent I don’t have an issue with that.  HOWEVER….if a kid does none of the assignments I have given and he writes a 98% on the unit exam, I’m giving him a 98% in the course.  If I start averaging in those 0’s and now suddenly he’s at a 42% I am reporting false information about what your child knows.  I am saying he only knows 42% of the content when in fact he knows 98% of it.

I’m not a fan of averaging.  I never have been.  Ask anyone who failed their drivers test the first three times (I know people who have, seriously).  Should those marks be averaged out?  If so some people would never get their license.  Do I get a golden license because I passed my test the first time?  Of course not.  Does your license look different because you took three chances?  Or if you failed it the first time should that be it?  Your chance is over.  You failed.  No license for you……EVER!  Should I give you a zero because you missed your bus on the way to your test and failed to show up for it on time?

We have to ask ourselves, what is the purpose of giving assignments?  I give assignments along the way to check up on the learning that I’m hoping is taking place.  It’s actually more for me then for my students.  It tells me if I’m doing my job.  It tells me if the kids are getting it or if I need to stop and go back.  A kid fails to do the assignment?  Well I have no way to know where his learning is then, and that will have it’s own natural consequences later on when he writes the test of does the project.  I don’t need to give him a zero now.  Especially if the kid understands what the purpose of an assignment is.  They are check points to see how you are doing as you work your way along.  You miss the check point?  Well, I can’t help you much then.  Especially if you keep missing them.  I’m awfully busy with the kids that are stopping at the check points and asking for help.  And to be honest, some kids don’t need the check points.  They cruise right along.  We often refer to these kids as the “independent learners” and I’m ok with that.

What it ultimately comes down to is their final proof of knowledge.  I give an assignment/project/test designed to assess what they really know.  And if a kid misses that…..?

How do I deal with kids who don’t do their work?  I give out something called an Insufficient.  People have told me this is a fancy way of saying 0 but it really isn’t.  When I write INS on an outcome what I’m saying is, “I have no idea if your child can do this or not.  I have no evidence with which to make this judgement.”  That is much different then giving out a 0 which says, “Your child knows 0% of the content of this subject.”  But what a statement to make!

All kids learn.  They learn at different rates and at different times, but they all learn.  You have to really try hard to get an honest 0 in my classroom.

Issue #4:  We Need More Information

I know this teacher looks like some kind of hero.  He’s standing up for himself and his ideas and I give him kudos for that.  I don’t agree with his policies but that doesn’t make him any less of a teacher in my eyes.  We just have different pedagogy when it comes to teaching students.  I don’t think any less of him for that.   But before you go and string the rest of us who don’t give 0’s up by our toes, ask yourself…..how much do I really know about this situation?  You are looking through the key hole of a door that looks into an entire house.  You don’t know what the back story is.  You don’t know the history.  You are responding only to what you have been told and sometimes a little knowledge is a dangerous thing.

I’d love to have a conversation with this teacher as a matter of fact.  I have questions.  Like….what kinds of assignments are the kids not turning in? Why aren’t they turning them in?  What background do your students have?  What home life are they living with?

If the teacher was assigning assignments where your child had to answer 150 textbook problems every night, suddenly that turns things around doesn’t it?  You would cry out, “That’s crazy!”  Or what if he was an English teacher and the assignment was to copy out 2 pages of text from Romeo and Juliet in perfect handwriting.  You would cry out, “But that’s pointless!”  What if you found out the assignment was given the day half the class was on a ski trip and when the student failed to turn it in the next day he was given a 0.  You would cry out, “That’s not fair!”

My point here is that we all need to ask questions before coming up with our opinions.  But I have to admit….I am about to launch into a unit where I am teaching my Grade 8’s about what it mean to have an INFORMED OPINION vs. POPULAR OPINION.  This news article and the people who responded to it with their comments couldn’t have come at a better time.

So in spite of everything I say, “Thanks for helping me plan my Monday English lesson.”  I can’t wait to see what my Grade 8’s have to say about this.

Cheers folks!  As always, my blog posts reflect my own opinions and not those of my employer 😉

***Please note, I wish to thank everyone who provided thought provoking and insightful comments, no matter which side of the fence you sit on.  Discussion causes thinking and thinking is always the goal.  I will continue to post and approve these insightful comments.  I will not publish comments that name call, insult me, or insult my students.  Expressing your opinion doesn’t need to be done while making some one else feel small.

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About Cherra-Lynne Olthof

I've been a middle school teacher for my entire career (which began in 2001). Like my students, I too am a life long learner. My goals include helping my students to achieve their goals, support them in their learning, and to encourage them to think "beyond the grade".
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50 Responses to What a Zero Really Says

  1. This is one of the best responses I’ve read concerning this thing, whatever it is. You really nailed it with issue #1: school is not like work, even though it is work. What a paradox, right? I really feel that tension whenever people start using the term “real life” as if it’s something other than what thousands of students and teachers experience every single day. It is real life. And it’s school. And it’s work.
    The only analogy that gives me pause is the driver’s test one; it would probably be much better for our safety if we indeed only got our drivers licenses after attaining an average of 80% or higher. The current model is likely partly responsible for the number of road accidents and deaths we have now, not to mention that I haven’t successfully parallel parked in 8 years. In any case, I bike to work now.
    To conclude, great post. People in the papers and on facebook and wherever have their opinions- as they should- but we’re the teachers. I think your grade 8 students are lucky to have you.

    =)

    Erin.

  2. I agree with many of the concepts you suggest except for one. If a child gets a 98% on a end of year course exam you give them a 98% even if they have not completed any other assessments? I very much disagree with that. In the same way you should then give a child a failing grade if they fail your end of course exam or unit test even when your formative assessments tell you they know the material.
    The concept of zero is not a straight forward answer on one hand. However, assessing the understanding of knowledge and skills through one exam is known to be lacking and is hopefully where education is moving away from. All of us hopefully are learning and are teaching that learning and mastery spans time. And although there may be those unique moments when a single test is spot on, the interactions and demonstrations of learning over time should trump any one summative test (unless it is on simple basic understanding)…and even then a child may not perform well on that day.

    I think it is a shame that students aren’t leveled more like in England rather than given a grade. Then a child would know where they are and where they are going rather than being measured by a single exam or test for skills and content.

    I would agree that 0 demonstration of understanding on valid and authentic teacher assessments throughout a course deserve a zero. The question is more why the zero? And how are we using these assessments to drive our planning? Good citizenship involves taking part and trying. Teachers avoiding zeros and not using that knowledge to change their approach is much more a concern that the awarding of zeroes for a student’s lack of effort.

  3. That said…. I learn a lot from your blog and you really encourage me to reflect and develop my own teaching philosophy.! Thank you.

    • Thank you so much, that’s the biggest compliment anyone could ever give me. I’ve never thought that we all have to have the same ideas and the same thoughts. I’ve always encouraged people (including my own students) to disagree with me. Conversation always encourages thinking and I believe that’s the important part.

  4. This is an articulate and thoughtful post on the subject.

    In issue 2, which I’ve been scared to touch, you bring up compliance. I think the great irony in this whole thing for me is that the kinds of students who are controlled and motivated by a zero are the kinds of people who will grow into adults who would never think to challenge an organizational policy.

  5. Wonderful post. I too believe in reporting the true understanding and skill level, but struggle with students who do not take the test, students who do not complete the project, students who do not write the essay or present their learning. You leave that problem with “….?” Any thoughts because I need some help there!
    Great read. Thanks.

    • I tried to answer this in the following paragraph about when I need to give an Insufficient. It’s a difficult issue and my students will tell you that they simply aren’t allowed to “not” do the project. I do what is necessary to get that work from them. I communicate my expectations with my students very clearly and repeatedly. While I hate taking away anything from them, they do wind up spending time with me at recess and after school if necessary. But I never get any grumbling because they will admit that it was the consequence for not using their own classtime to get it done in the first place. It really comes down to clearly communicated expectations and conversation about what the consequences are for not meeting those expectations. Good luck!

  6. Terry Kaminski says:

    Awesome post! Too bad Dave Staples, the columnist that first wrote about this issue, would not publish your post. He says “It is my column and I will do what I want”. I encourage you to send this as a letter to the editor of the Edmonton Journal. The public, needs to be better informed and your post definitely does that.

    • I didn’t know anyone had asked him to publish it – haha. I obviously got to him if that’s his comment. My students could tell you I call that the “I’m taking my ball and going home” mentality. He might be interested to know what they have to say about his professionalism with a comment like that. But at any rate, he’s right. It is his column. He can do what he wants. I just wouldn’t call it “news” anymore. I guess I can cross him off the list of potential guest speakers to invite out to teach our Grade 6’s how to write news articles for the Grade 6 PAT’s.

  7. Laura Kroll says:

    Couldn’t you view the actions of the teacher the same as those of the student? The teacher continued to defy authority and do less than is expected where the grading policy is concerned as did the student where his assignments were concerned. Why should the teacher expect the “punishment” of a 0 to be acceptable for a defiant noncompliant student when her actions were exactly the same where the no 0 policy is concerned?

    • It’s interesting that you voiced this, because I was certainly thinking it. I was going to touch on this in Issue #2 but wasn’t sure how to phrase it. You put it quite nicely and that’s a very valid point. I would love to hear the teacher’s response to that question but I’ll likely never meet him.

  8. Gail Martindale says:

    I agree with everything you stated in your blog and I really like the analogies you made to the driver’s exam. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

  9. Paul says:

    Good post. Our schools desperately need to get out of 1978 and welcome itself to the 21st century. With Udacity, Khan and the rest, the teachers that are still holding on to compliance first/do my meaningless task teaching- are going to get run over. I am going to guess you deal with literature. How sad it is that our schools treat lit as a chore vs just having a book club type atmosphere. The school I work at still pounds kids with worksheets- ugh. Schools make these silly rules that are nothing like real life and then get incensed when kids don’t play our games. Read John Taylor Gatto’s 7 lesson school teacher- you will be glad you did.

  10. Colleen Krawec says:

    Excellent reponse, very thought-provoking. Just a comment (also from a Grade 7/8 teacher) – it’s/its, then/than appears to be a problem. More grammar lessons required:)

  11. Suzannah says:

    Excellent response to this issue. I cannot quite bring myself to agree with you whole-heartedly, though. Although our main mission (esp. in lower grades) is not preparing our students for the world of work, the reality is that student work ethic is declining, and fast, in large part to parents who insist their children not be damaged by a zero and students who know there will be no consequences for just not working. I understand the law of averages and the difficulty in raising a grade once a zero is in place, but what of the students who have done nothing, even when given multiple chances and unlimited choice to show what they know? Unlimited extensions and unlimited rein with regard to their work?

    There are some students who just don’t feel like doing the work, whatever it is, whether it is an assignment or something they choose. Maybe they will grow out of it, maybe not. Maybe traditional school is not for them. All I know is that sometimes when a student does nothing, they get exactly what they earn. I have been reading various sources on students who are entering the workforce right now and how difficult they are to manage (in general; of course there are exceptions) because they are unmotivated to do anything that isn’t their idea or vision of fun and engaging. The reality of life is that not everything is fun and engaging; laundry does not get the neurons firing, and yet it must be done. Parts of academic work, regardless what type of schooling you choose (public, private, home, un- whatever), boil down to discipline and developing a work ethic, and giving students a consistent free pass does not help them with that.

    This is a complex issue, and I don’t wish to come off as a heartless hardliner. I am just harking back to the days when it didn’t matter what the assignment was and who came up with it, a student (and their parents) would do nothing and expect to pass (and in public school, the final test is what matters. Let’s not kid ourselves and pretend our PS right now are teaching to mastery). I would personally rather my kid get a zero, learn the hard lesson, and come back fighting, and that is the way I teach her.

    • I heartily agree with you on what the issue actually is, and that’s motivation. I think giving kids a 0 is a little like slapping a band aid on a bleeding artery though. Many people believe giving out 0’s are the answer to the problem and, as you pointed out, it’s far more complex then that. We are also getting a society of kids that are growing up in much more difficult circumstances then we did. Back in school all my friends came from homes like mine with two parents. Now I get kids that have different last names then their parents and a stable home is the oddity and no longer the norm. The world is shifting! We need to shift with it. We do need to target kids and get that motivation building within them. I believe at the core of this is that we have become a strongly extrinsic society. No one wants to do anything unless they are going to get something for it. And sometimes….even that isn’t enough of a motivating factor. I don’t have any firm and solid answers. No one does. But anyone who says that giving out 0’s is the solution is handing out a band aid solution to a very complex problem.

      Cheers and thank you for your thoughtful response.

      • Suzannah says:

        Motivation has been my topic of study for two years now, and I am no closer to figuring out how to motivate every student than when I started. So very complicated. If anyone figures it out, they will be a very rich person indeed!

        *Please note correct use of “than.” Ha. 😉

    • Paul says:

      http://www.newciv.org/whole/schoolteacher.txt read the attached link.
      I am interested in what the hard lesson is that you speak of. What if the kid just doesn’t care about the zero? School no longer needs to build kids that just do what their told. If that is what you are after then why don’t we just make kids do push-ups all day? They worked hard and they listened…lesson learned.
      Cherra-Lynne you are climbing the right mountain, others are still climbing the 1981 mountain and wondering where everyone went.

      • Paul says:

        Do what They’re told- sorry grammar police.

      • Suzannah says:

        It’s unfortunate that this is what you got from my response. I was 10 in 1981, so your comment does not apply. You forget that there are many routes to the top of the mountain and are blinded by your own path. My comment about the hard lesson applied to my own child and was specific to an earlier comment stating that most people agreed with zeroes until it was their kid.

        If you want to get really technical, I think grades in general are absurd, and the only reason I even give my kid a grade (I quit teaching public school two years ago to start my own school) is in case I die and she needs to be re-enrolled in a more traditional school (otherwise I would not even bother.). I give my other students grades based only on what they turn in (so “no zeroes” policy built in, quite accidentally but very naturally). I am not interested in creating automatomic-type yes-men. This argument about grades is a contributing factor in my leaving PS after trying for years to change the conversation (one of many, but I will not digress).

  12. Pingback: What a Zero Really Means – Cherra-Lynne Olthof « CLOUDUCATION

  13. joebower says:

    Fantastic post.

  14. Paul says:

    Suzzanah,
    I guess I did jump the gun then (based on what I read). I am frustrated with our extreme focus on compliance and I do quickly judge those who seem to stick up for it- Sorry about that. I am worried for our kids. I am worried that many of them are leaving school not really understanding what just happened to them, and wondering what all those multiple choice tests have to do with life. Good for you having your own school- that is awesome.

  15. Mef9846 says:

    I understand completly, Being a teacher is hard enough. Giving low grades makes you and the student feel bad, because you as a teacher ( and trust me on this one) DO NOT like giving low grades at all!! and me as a student, I hate low grades. But i know that if i work hard enough i will get high grades. 🙂

  16. This is an interesting post. There are many reasons why a zero does not reflect what the student knows. There are a couple of things I want to express that I think you missed.
    The first is about the point that zeros are okay, but “not when it is your student”. This is a huge problem in society. I do not think it is a reason to NOT do it. Instead of not assigning zeros because we would not want our children to get them, we need our children to accept the responsibility of their actions or inaction. If we as a teacher see value in assigning a zero, we had better accept this for our own children as well. This comment concerns me as an indication of something much greater.
    You must have great unit exams if you can give the 98% for the entire unit. As a teacher, this tells me you address all curricular items on that test. I completely agree with you, though, that if you have evidence of meeting the curricular outcomes, the student deserves the mark. If that student had already shown you that understanding, would he or she even have to take the test? I only ask as I feel it unfair to only take the mark from the exam. That seems to hit-or-miss one-off for me.
    My final point deals with reality that you have not touched on. When a student takes a high school course, the student earns credit for the course only when they pass. I cannot assign a passing grade to a student when I have no evidence of the majority of curricular outcomes. There have been times that I have not assigned that zero, and students and parents have been disappointed. They believed they were getting the 80%, 65% or whatever passing grade is showing before I am forced to give the zero at the end of the semester. When this happens, the student really loses out as the semester has now been wasted. I do not feel I am honestly representing the final grade to the student when I do not assign a zero when the student falls behind. NOTE: I allow students to resubmit work to improve marks, to take another shot at showing me they know the outcome. They can take three shots if they need it. I have seen students learn so much from trying and trying again. And that determination is useful in the workplace as well, especially for those who wish to become entrepreneurs.

    • To be honest, my students don’t write exams for me. I’ve moved to a project-based classroom. That’s not to say that I don’t expose them to exams. We talk about test questions all the time. They analyze them, heck they even create them! But I think I’ve only given two formal tests this year in my math class and that was because I couldn’t come up a good project that fit the unit (It’s a work in progress.) If you read any of my other posts on grading or final exams you’ll find out that I don’t believe in grading at all. I was initially trying to respond to arguments that dealt with percentage based examples (which is still what the majority of schools use…..I think.) In my school we level students from 1 – 4 in terms of their mastery of curriculum outcomes. So I don’t even have a “unit mark” per say, but rather I have a report card outcome that I must define for each student. I definitely see your point about being a high school teacher and having no choice but to assign grades as you approach the end of the semester. As I’ve said before, there isn’t an easy answer to this question about giving or not giving 0’s. It’s been discussed in staffrooms of every school in existence I’m willing to bet. If anyone had an answer, we’d all know about it by now :). As teachers all we can do is what we believe is best for our students. And indeed, it’s all anyone can ask of us really. I’m willing to bet you’re the kind of teacher who cares about her students’ learning, from the multiple chances you say you offer. What worries me is the teacher who simply assigns the 0 and says, “Well, I guess that’s one less I have to mark!” You’re right, students learn huge amounts from making mistakes and trying again. One of my more popular tweets on twitter was when I said….”To my student, fail gloriously. It’s when the best learning happens.”

  17. Pingback: A conflicted opinion « Dave Oldham

  18. Paul says:

    Wow. If ‘it is simply the students job to earn the grade then why do we need teachers? The teacher shouldn’t even be there. Hire monitors (cheaper) kids come in, they get a computer, the computer tells them the assignment, the computer has the internet and perhaps some other programs needed, and the students earn the grade. That will also take the human factor out of things. You say teachers teach and grade so it is up to them. Humans have many different ways to grade etc. Computers would all do that the same- so the kids would just earn the same thing the same way, without human emotion involved.
    Why is it ok for a teacher to say this policy is stupid- I am not doing it, but the kid can’t say this assignment is stupid I am not doing it (Not that this happened in this case).
    You, Mr. Armstrong, are a reason education will be so hard to change. It has been the same for 150 plus years, and mindsets are hard to change.

  19. Iggy says:

    ‎”Sorry, boss, I know I missed seven of the shifts I was supposed to work, but I did make three. What do you mean I’m fired? That’s not fair. I totally rocked those three shifts, bro! I want a re-do. You’re judging me on my behaviour, not my work. Edmonton Public Schools says that’s wrong.”

    • What’s interesting here is that your argument is in a completely separate category all by itself because you are actually arguing against both Mr. Dorval AND myself. He at least allowed students to replace his zeros. That, at least, I can respect. Many teachers who issue zeros do not make this same stipulation with their students. From your argument you are basically saying a zero is a zero is a zero. Do you honestly think that all the world’s evils are solved by high school teachers simply giving out zeros for missing work? If it were that simple don’t you think we would all jump on that bandwagon. What you have to ask yourself is, why did your employee miss those seven shifts? I’m willing to bet that if you ask them, their answer isn’t going to be, “Well, I never got any zeros in highschool so I never learned to take responsibility for myself.” I bet their answer is more along the lines of…. “Well, I kind of hate my job.” An employee who isn’t motivated to show up to work didn’t get that way because I chose not to give him zeros in school. Anyone who says that is the fix it solution to the problem you presented clearly doesn’t understand the real problem.

  20. I stopped giving 0’s this year as a professional choice because someone sat me down (at a conference so not exactly a one-on-one) and explained what a 0 really means. Instead, I (kindly) harassed students about coming in at lunch to make-up missing work. The result? For the first time in my 10 years as a teacher, at the last marking period of this school year, I had not one single F in any of my classes. I had students who needed a boost in their self-esteem who discovered how good they felt when all of their work was completed. Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that each student demonstrated mastery because I still had a few scattered D’s. What I am saying is simple: 0’s do not make sense because these are children, not employees who are still learning what it means to be responsible. I encourage other educators to stop punishing students and start encouraging them to succeed. It works.

    Note: I am linking to this post on my own blog – it was EXCELLENT!

  21. irv c says:

    Whatever happened to the concept of a teacher imparting and evaluating KNOWLEDGE?
    For example, “issue #1, point D” — you are HALF right — the other half of your job is to evaluate how well (if at all) your students have learned to learn, think and problem solve.
    The bottom line to the whole debate is when do you start teaching the kids to be adults and take responsibility? At what point do you say, “Johnny, you have not met the required objectives and will be required to repeat grade x”? Sadly, i worry the answer is “never” because you don’t want to be stuck with Little Johnny next year…

  22. berniesoto says:

    Great Post – you need to start looking to apply for a high school teaching position. 🙂

    • I actually applied for one this year! I was excited about the potential of being a high school English teacher. Unfortunately being a middle school teacher for my entire career means I lost the job to a person who has experience teaching high school. Oh well…..next time!

  23. Miss W says:

    “As teachers we always have a choice . . . You don’t like your job requirements?  No one is forcing you to stay.” I want to start by saying that I loved your post. I thought it was well articulated and caused me to question some of my own beliefs as a pre-service teacher. However, the above quote troubled me because as teachers, we are encouraged to stand up for what we believe in, no matter how unpopular it makes us. It’s what we ask children to do when they see bullying on the playground. It’s how changes are made. Although I may not agree with the Edmonton teacher’s practices, I will give him credit for trying to fight for something he believes in. Because if everyone were to take on the attitude of “like it or leave it” education will never evolve or progress past doing things the way they’ve always been done.

    • Ah but there’s a difference between standing up for what you believe in because it’s to protect others (bullying) and standing up for what you believe in at the expense of others. The problem with the “I was just standing up for my own beliefs” argument is that we have to be careful with it. Hitler could have justified his own actions with the same response. And after all, wasn’t the principal standing up for what he believes in too? I did say in the article that I give Dorval credit for making his opinion known, I do not think that someone is justified in forcing their own opinion upon the will of others. It’s a huge issue I have with the Sunday door knockers I get at my house too. Do we need to stand up and fight for what we believe in? Do we have to force others to do the same? It’s the whole theme of Social Studies 8 here in Alberta 🙂 I guess the “easy” solution is to say that perhaps a No Zero policy was out of line and that you should leave it up to the teachers to let it be their professional call about how they want to motivate their students. But I do feel sorry for teachers who think that giving out zeros in the only way to do it.

      • Miss W says:

        There are always two sides to every argument or discussion and you do raise some valid points. Maybe the issue is around how much control a school administration should have over a teacher’s practices. I think that if the belief one is fighting for causes harm to another group, then it is not something that could be justified with “standing up for what we believe in”. But in this case, the teacher wasn’t assigning zeros as a be-all, end-all mark. He was using it as a “motivator” to encourage students to get their work done, not that I agree with his form of “motivation” because it doesn’t work. It is a complex issue, that’s for sure, and I enjoy hearing others’ perspectives!

      • So do I! I think it’s an important conversation and I don’t think it will ever be resolved, but the discussion is valuable all the same. Cheers and good luck with your own teaching practice! I hope I get to meet you one day 🙂

      • Miss W says:

        It looks like we posted at the same time 🙂 Sorry for the rant, but thank you for engaging in conversation with me. Maybe one day our paths will cross!

  24. Mr. Elijah says:

    First of all, I would like to thank-you for writing this article, for I fear the ‘0’ has destroyed my motivation to attend post-secondary school.
    As a High School student, my grades have always been hot and cold, I credit that to the different teachers I have encountered in my different classes. For example, in physics class 11 I scored 53, and the following year, with a different teacher, I scored 85. That is just one instant, my transcript is filled with situations where my grades are either over 80 or under 60. Also, I have never failed a course because, like you mentioned, I’m one of those students who do extremely well on the exams and final projects. I can read the course textbook the nights leading up to a major test, and ace it.
    So you’re probably wondering where my downfall is, right? Well, self-admittedly, my attention-span outside of the classroom is border-line infinitesimal. When I get home from school, I always find a way to become side-tracked by other things such as my piano, computer, or even a run through the park (I’m an avid runner). When I do sit down to work on an assignment, it’s torturous, I can always convince myself that It’s okay not to do the work. Therefore I make no excuses, but I have no regrets either.
    As a result, I enivitably recieve a zero for that assingment every time. It doesn’t bother me anymore. I’ve become so emotionally dettached from my grades, because of the zero, that seeing a 54 on my report card is satisfactory – I got my credit!
    I always get the “talk” from my teachers saying “you should be in the 90’s and blah, blah, blah..” It’s pretty much a platitude to me at this point because I DON’T have the ability to do well in school. Sure I may have a little more than the rest of the students, but I have come to realize that I will never be successful because I am naturally lazy. You compared the school system to work and said they are unalike. Well, I compare the system to an arranged marriage- forced upon, non-compliant, and the idea that some of us are just not compatible.
    The school system, in my opinion, is adjusted to root out the lazy people for that reason you mentioned – schools becoming a job-factory for work (ugh, I hate that word). That’s why they give zero’s, to deter people, like me, from continuing my education. We (students) are no longer scholars, we are now instead, simply job prospects. Why can’t I learn the material and prove i know it a few times and be done with it? All these completion marks and little assignments are proving nothing, but how lazy I am.
    That’s why I think education and work should have no correlation. To do the work, a teacher cannot bribe me with a nice-paying job because I don’t want a nice-paying job. I’ll do the work because I think it will help my learning and because I am interested in it – not for the sake of scoring a grade on it. It may suprise some teachers out there – but not all of us students want to be lawyers, doctors, or engineers. Some of us like the simple life. I like the simple life. That shouldn’t deter me from getting a higher education though.

    • Wow….what a wicked awesome response. Thank you for writing it. I don’t know you but based on what you’ve said, I would never call you lazy. You took the time to write a through, thoughtful response to a topic you found interesting. That speaks to your motivation. I think often people confuse laziness for lack of motivation. Laziness has a very negative connotation towards it and I really believe you are doing yourself a great injustice. Because it appears to me that when something triggers your motivation (such as this response), the work you’re willing to put into it is anything BUT lazy. Find your passion. You’ll never work a day in your life when you do. And I seriously encourage you to head to post secondary. That’s where I found out what I was passionate about and what I really wanted to do in life. You will too 🙂 You already know the greatest kept secret in education. School isn’t about grade, it’s about the learning.

  25. Pingback: Make It Count – Part IV | Fail Better

  26. Pingback: “New learning” and Teacher Professional Judgement | 21st Century Musings

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