As a culture, we’re funny about teachers. We all acknowledge how important they are. We share Facebook memes about how sad it is when they have to pay for supplies out of their own pocket. We jump at the chance to talk about funding and donations and higher salaries.
But where is our moral support? Sometimes, it seems like we’re more willing to reach for our wallets rather than support a teacher’s authority and experience in the classroom.
I don’t say this idly. My sister is a teacher. Sure, she wishes she had higher pay and better equipment. But what really annoys her — the thing that sends her on long, involved rants — is the lack of support she feels from either school administrators or parents.
She would be the first to say that her job is to make sure children learn fundamental skills. But she gets hamstrung by people who limit her authority, put frustrating barriers in her way, and basically second-guess her knowledge of her own profession.
Which leads me to Diane Tirado.
Tirado is … or rather was … an eighth-grade social studies teacher at West Gate K-8 School in Port St. Lucie, Florida. She’s not a novice. She has been teaching for more than 17 years, though this was her first year at West Gate.
Now, Tirado is out of a job because she said she gave zeros to students who didn’t turn in their homework. And it wasn’t as though she gave them an unreasonable assignment. The students had two weeks to complete and turn in an explorer’s notebook project.
But after Tirado gave grades of zero to the ones who didn’t turn it in, she said she discovered that a school policy required to give them partial credit.
The school handbook declares in bright red letters that teachers aren’t allowed to give students a grade of zero even if they didn’t do the work: “NO ZERO’S – LOWEST POSSIBLE GRADE IS 50%.”
Tirado told CBS 12 that she thinks the policy is wrong:
“If there’s nothing to grade, how can I give somebody a 50 percent?”
Though her termination letter only talked about a probationary period, Tirado has no doubt she was fired was because she handed out zeros on the project. When she didn’t get the chance to say goodbye to her students, she left them a message on the board:
Bye kids, Mrs. Tirado loves you and wishes you the best in life! I have been fired for refusing to give you a 50% for not handing anything in.
She shared the message on her Facebook page and immediately started getting messages of support. Many called the policy ridiculous. One commenter pointed out that this means a student can still pass with a “D” by doing one out of every five assignments. Another wrote:
[Y]ou did right the school is dead wrong. Now this shows why the young people today don’t want to work but still want to get paid.
I enjoy pontificating about the failures of the younger generation as much as anyone, but this isn’t their fault. It’s ours, the adults. We’re the ones setting the standard (or lack thereof). Tirado told CBS 12 that she believes the “no zeros” policy is harmful to students and gives them the wrong message:
“I’m arguing the fact that you don’t get something for nothing.”
On the CBS 12 Facebook page, one commenter compared the policy to the “everyone gets a trophy” mentality, but it’s even worse than that.
The problem with “everyone gets a trophy” is that (at its worst) it treats even a minimal amount of effort as deserving of recognition and reward. And I understand the objection to this — although I’m not about to return any of my kids’ participation trophies.
Fortunately, “everyone gets a trophy” is self-correcting. Giving participation trophies devalues the award and teaches kids exactly what the trophy is worth. If you don’t believe me, watch how differently kids react to a participation trophy versus an earned one.
Giving credit for zeros takes the “everyone wins” mentality to a new and harmful place. This isn’t about encouragement or participation. It’s rewarding nonparticipation. It’s ensuring that students won’t learn the consequences of their actions. It’s preventing failure by clearing every possible problem ahead of time and rigging the system for success, earned or not.
It’s what another teacher has dubbed “lawnmower parenting.” But in this case, it’s not just the parents who are protecting children from failure and growth. It’s a whole lawnmower conspiracy.
And it’s dangerous.
Because real life doesn’t give you partial credit for not showing up. You don’t get half your salary for dodging work. You don’t get partially successful relationships by ignoring your friends, family, or spouse. The real world gives zeros.
Schools don’t help students by insulating them from the consequences of their own mistakes. They just create students who aren’t prepared for failure or the real world.
What’s more, by embracing such foolish policies, we will drive away more teachers. Would you want to stay in a job where your years of experience, grading system, and classroom discipline were undermined like this? Teachers like Diane Tirado need us to back them up in the classroom, not question why little Emma got a zero for not doing her homework.
When Emma gets a zero, that should be our problem as parents, not something the teacher or school needs to fix.
If you doubt this is hurting teacher morale, consider what Tirado wrote on her Facebook page after her final message to her class hit the news:
Teaching should not be this hard. Teachers teach content, children do the assignments to the best of their ability and teachers grade that work based on a grading scale that has been around a very long time. Teachers also provide numerous attempts to get the work collected so they can give a child a grade. By nature, most teachers are loving souls who want to see students succeed. We do above and beyond actual teaching to give them the support they need. Are we perfect? NO. We make mistakes like all other human beings, but I know teachers work their butts off to help children to be the best people they can be!!!
Mrs. Tirado, I would be thrilled if my children had a teacher like you.