By now I’m sure that all of you have heard of Lynden Dorval. He’s the teacher from Alberta who has been suspended for giving zeros for unfinished or unsubmitted work. Many people have voiced their astonishment at his plight. It seems to make common sense; if a student does not do work then they get no mark. This is the truth of the “real world”, is it not? You don’t work and you don’t get paid. Well, unfortunately, in the new reality of the classroom, the real world is being reflected less and less.
The zero policy comes from the same theoretical area that many of our new policies come from. The idea is that the only thing a teacher can evaluate is what a student knows, not what they don’t do. For example, I can’t know, for certain, that a student does not know how to do fractions simply because they do not pass in a sheet I gave them on fractions. All I can tell from that is the student did not do the work. Since the point of the sheet was to determine if the student had the skills, and I have no sheet, I can determine nothing. Thus, a zero, the theorists argue, is unfair.
This same mode of thinking applies to late work. Teachers are no longer to reduce a student’s mark if they hand something in late, because we are not evaluating tardiness. It does not matter how long it takes him to do the sheet. Can the kid do fractions? Ditto for in class behaviour. There is no more “class mark” in school. If a kid tells me to take a flying leap, that has nothing to do, again, with his math ability, thus reducing his mark is unfair.
When teachers speak these days about feeling overwhelmed, this is why. Larger classes, fewer teachers, no late reductions, no behaviour marks, no zeros. These new policies are completely changing our view of the purpose of public education. Teachers are being asked to reconsider everything they have ever known about teaching kids at a time when government cut backs are providing them less time and resources to do so. And sometimes, as in the case of Mr. Dorval, when they stand up for what they believe in, they are shown the door.
Decide for yourself if you agree with the theorists. History will judge their success. But when teachers speak about the new realities of the classroom, and of the difficulties they are facing, understand that they are speaking the truth. Our job has changed. It is unfortunate that one of us may be fired for bringing these changes to light.