No zeroes?

So, a teacher at my old high school got suspended for handing out zeroes in his class.

Maybe he was obnoxious about it (the school board cites his “defiance”), but I definitely agree with how he has dealt with his classroom. It makes sense, and it’s fair: students who fail to submit their assignments get a zero; students are allowed to hand in their assignments by the end of term with no penalties.

I can see how confidence needs to be built in elementary grades by emphasizing work rather than grades. I don’t mind the idea of not grading elementary level students at all, actually. But at the high school level, these are young adults. Self esteem needs to be built on taking on responsibility and mastery of subjects, which is what young adults naturally seek at that age. This teacher seems to be striking a good balance: he shows the students the consequences BEFORE he assigns them a zero, then he gives them a chance to make it up.

In a my classroom, I tell them what the deadlines are, and to stick to them. But I also tell them that we are all adults: if there are extenuating circumstances, they need to tell me. I would rather have a slightly late assignment than an assignment that didn’t fulfil its pedagogical goal. And I certainly would prefer reading an assignment that is written well than one that is rushed and terrible! As workers, we are all sometimes required to hand in work late. That’s life. But as adults, we need to let people know when that will happen in advance, and why. Negotiating timelines is part of the work world.

That’s precisely what this teacher has done. He has given his students an opportunity to learn how to deal with a client, boss, or teacher– not as an arbitrary disciplinarian, but as a colleague. It’s admirable, actually. I can’t believe how many students are unable to talk to their teacher. And I’ve had students come to me to ask for their grades to be bumped up. They come to me in tears, but without any reason why I would help them. I tell them that a negotiation means they come in with reasons and evidence. If they can’t give me any, then they get what they get. It seems to surprise them, but it’s true: I’m fallible, so if I have missed something on their assignments, then I would be open to raising their mark if they can point out where I’m wrong.

But failing to hand in an assignment at all, after all of that? A zero seems more than fair.

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