Update re Lynden Dorval accepts teaching job where zeros are allowed!

Update:  Not unexpectedly, Lynden Dorval landed solidly on his feet. He has been offered, and accepted, a teaching job at Temp0 School, a private academically-oriented K-12 school in Edmonton. (H/T # 1 JNW.)

I wish him well of course and hope that public school administrators across this country have learned something from this issue. I hope, for example, that it is the beginning of putting an end to the “no” policies affecting our schools — no zeros, no discipline, and no-failure. Such policies may appear positive but they are only temporarily solutions, but because they do not prepare our youth for the real world of employment where mediocre or worse is simply not acceptable.

Lynden Dorval

Original post starts here: First of all, let me send my personal best wishes to high school teacher Lynden Dorval for taking such a principled stand on the Edmonton “no-zero” policy. Like most, if not all, teachers and parents, I am extremely proud of him for standing up for us all. Here is an excellent link with an interview between him and SunMedia’s Caryn Lieberman. In his own words, as it were.

Frankly, the no-zero policy is directly related to social promotion and no-fail policies and is wrong-headed in so many ways. Life is hard work. Life is full of opposites. The opposite of lazy is to be energetic. The opposite of failure is success and the opposite of sadness is happiness. So, if public school students are shielded against criticism when they are not being energetic or successful,  what do they learn?

However, that said, an “allowing zero” policy would be complex. Not every child should be treated alike. For example, one young person receiving a zero might learn that life is hard and they should not expect to have entitlements handed to them on a platter — that they have to work for their grades. The official name for that process is intrinsic motivation. We do things because we know they are right or because we want to do them. Either way, we are the pilot of our own ship.

However, another child might be devastated,  defeated, with a zero for no work done.  Think not? Think I am being a bleeding heart? Then, you have not stood in front of kids who come to school badly dressed, cold, hungry or tired because their parents were up all night partying or fighting. And, I am not picking on any socio-economic group here. Bad things happen to kids in all types of homes. Neglect, more often than not, in rich homes.  The reality is that some kids have hard home lives and don’t always get their homework done. Some kids work after school. Last, but not least, some have learning disabilities and need extra help.

Still others — yes — are just slackers and have very wide chips on their shoulders. But, I would be interested to hear from a practising teacher as to whether or not they are the majority.

So, in my opinion, acknowledging individual differences is what makes our school systems different today from a hundred years ago. And, no, things were not better then. Dorval would have taken all these things into consideration, of that I have little doubt.

Anyway, there are thousands of teachers like Dorval — teachers who take the time to find out who the troubled kids and slackers are, — the ones who need the life lessons. Meaning, Dorval is far from alone on this issue. In fact, I have heard from classroom teachers on my anonymous Contact Form. Ultimately, when push comes to shove, I always recommend their backing off and simply doing what they can — such as simply giving 5% or 10% for class participation. The effect can sometimes be “nearly the same” as zeros.

Which brings me to the main point of this post. Teachers need to stand tall without taking a stand that will get them fired. Why? Because as Dorval found out, teachers do not and cannot single-handedly reform the system.  Like nurses and their relationship to the Health Care System, teachers can do nothing major to change the Education System. They simply do what they are told to do, when to do it and how to do it. I think the expression is: How high sir? What they can do is find wiggle room to evade or minimize the effects of bad policies.

In other words, pressure for substantive change has to come from the general public with that pressure applied to the politicians. Policies, major policies at least, always come from the top!

C/P JNW. Welcome JNW and newswatchcanada.ca readers.

18 thoughts on “Update re Lynden Dorval accepts teaching job where zeros are allowed!

  1. It goes deeper than a no zero policy. There are no fail policies it seems. My neighbour had to fight to keep their son back one year as they knew if he went to the next grade things for him would only get worse. The good teachers, when they give an assignment a zero, always see if the student is willing to try and do better. I was given a zero once, a hundred years ago in high school. Best thing that ever happened to me. I don’t buy the ‘some kids have it tough at home’ excuse. Yes they do but the purpose of a zero mark is to wake a kid up. If the kid wants help a good teacher will provide it. If after the kid shows no inclination to even try then so be it. Another squeegy kid. Not every student is worth saving. Every student is worth the effort to try but after that…..


  2. I hear you WTF. I also saw it from another point of view when I operated my private practice. The kids that were referred to me were another squeegy kid in the making. And, 98% hd a very bad attitude. But, it was because they didn’t acquire the skills they needed back in the primary grades and their behaviour was to cover up what they didn’t know and couldn’t do. The same no-fail policy you talked about. I gave them some skills and some strategies and most went on to post-secondary or a trade.

    (Edited by blog administrator.)


  3. Here’s my problem with this whole affair. I don’t believe in a non-zero or no-fail policy. But whatever the policy is, employees are supposed to follow it. As a university teaching assistant myself, I can tell you that I need to follow the policies set forth, or I’m in trouble.

    My question for you: would you support other similar cases of “civil disobedience” if you didn’t agree with the underlying reason for the disobedience?


  4. so anon what do you give a kid who hasn’t done his home work that he was assinged for home work after a week and it isn’t even done. what is he suppose to do give him an A for absent. the policy the school put in is flawed kids for years been going to school and getting incompletes. and I know it helped me out. made me work harder. the school has the wrong policies.


  5. Do the educrats realize that by instituting a ‘no 0’ policy they have reduced the market value of a grade 12 diploma to less than 0. Once upon a time a high school diploma had value in the market. When you went for your job interview the potential employer knew that if you had a diploma you were somewhat capable of doing an assigned task. With a no 0 diploma the employer would likely have exactly the opposite view.

    Many years ago in a different universe I was given the task of hiring people for the company. Before I started I was told by the company president not to hire anyone under 30. His reasoning was that they couldn’t read, couldn’t write and didn’t know how to work. I wonder what he would say of the latest batch of ‘grads’.


  6. Pingback: Crux: Dorval’s firing over no-zeros proof ed system lost its way | Jack's Newswatch

  7. Anon1152 — No, I don’t agree with civil disobedience out of hand. What these teachers are doing is not civil disobedience. They are not breaking any laws. They are simply showing minor disagreement with an school board internal policy.

    Being a TA in a university setting is not the same thing believe me. Not even close — although if you are marking someone who attends no classes, gets nothing right or refuses to hand in an assignment, you can stilll give them a zero on that assignment. Otherwise, youd have to give them some percentage for participation. Anyway, all employees everywhere are supposed to do what their employers demand of them. However, once you become a tenured professor (notice I am assuming you will ;)) if you disagreed with a policy you would have avenues to complain or disagree. Teachers dont. Essentially, this proves they are nobodies, told not to think and just do what they are told.

    Personally, if I was in that situation, I would do a work-around, giving a 5% or whatever if the situation warranted it. I think perhaps, in fairness to Dorval and Shep, the no-fail idea has gotten completely out of control and makes a high school grad diploma useless — as Joe alludes to in his comment.


  8. Joe — In fairness, not all kids are lazy. My two grandchildren just graduated and they worked hard. The problem is that is the perception out there based on reality. This no-fail spoon feeding social promotion business needs a shake up. Initially it was thought to help a childs self-esteem. Now, it is the reverse when they hit the real world.


  9. In fairness Sandy I never said they were all lazy. The point is that as a former employer I had a very crude way of sifting the wheat from the chaff by looking at the marks the applicant had obtained in school. It wasn’t fool proof by any stretch but it did matter. I wouldn’t use the school marks the same way ever again. It would be a shame but I don’t blame the employer nor do I blame the kid. I blame the educrats who has so devalued their commodity that were they not state mandated/sponsored they would be out of work.


  10. I remember reading, quite some years ago, about a ‘problem’ school in one of the seriously-not-great parts of town. The school was turning itself around and the policy was simple: make the students responsible for their own work. It was openly stated: “Too bad your dad’s a drug pusher & your mum’s a hooker, but the assignment is due anyway. However, we will do all we can to help you complete the assignment.” I forget the details, but in entailed school and community support (including the local library) to find safe study spaces, etc. And it was working reasonably well.


  11. Frances — Just curious. Are you referring to Britannia in East Vancouver? Here is a link for the Fraser school rankings in 2008 showing their improvement. I have friends living out there and said by two years ago, middle class kids were commuting from the burbs to East Vancouver rather than the reverse!! The complaints are that they are “teaching to the test.” But, the results and student behaviour speak for itself.

    I personally don’t agree that we should throw the baby out with the bathwater. It is good to care for the psychological well being of our kids. But, and this is a big but, we are letting them down by not setting clear standards. That is, in my opinion, what Britannia did — as well as insist that parents volunteer and be a part of their child’s education — not just teach to the test. Nice to hear good news stories.


  12. Anon1152 — I’ve been thinking back over my career teaching at all levels and I can recall only one time I gave a zero and oddly enough it was when I was teaching at the grad level.

    Both universities I taught in had the following rule: no assignment should be more than 40% of the final grade and there must be at least three methods of evaluation. In other words, no one should be able to pass or fail a course on a single essay or exam — theses proposals and independent studies courses excepted.

    And, therein is my story.

    As you know when you do an IS course, you have to have a proposal of what you are going to do accepted. This student, female early to mid thirties of age at the time, wanted to do a review of the literature in preparation for her thesis proposal. She itemized the books and articles and reports she was going to read. I added that she had to hand in an annotated bibliography summarizing each of her readings. Plus, I asked her (causing her to revise her proposal) to put a conclusion on the items she would be using for her thesis and why she would be using them. Another prof was her advisor.

    So, the date I was supposed to receive the bibliography came and went and I got a reminder from the Registrar’s office to submit a final grade. I phoned the student rather than e-mail to find out the reason for the delay. She apparently had misunderstood and said she wasn’t handing anything in, but that she had read everything. I said something to the effect, “How can I know that?” She just verbally shrugged. So I told her that if I did not have the assignment within 7 school days, she would get a zero. She said something to the effect that wasn’t allowed and hung up.

    I had meetings with my Department Chair and the contact in the Registrar’s Office. Remember this was a Master’s student who was almost finished. They all confirmed the requirements of her proposal and that she had signed it and initialled changes.

    So, I gave her a zero.

    The student subsequently appealed my zero grade but lost the appeal. However, the appeal committee recommended she do the assignment and I agreed. I am a teacher, not a cop and wanted only that the student do what she was supposed to do and expected to do.

    So, a month after the final date for submissions of marks I got the assignment. It was thrown together. As a result, I insisted on a face-to-face interview and we discussed every single reading in her bibliography (the number 20 sticks in my mind). I was making sure she really had read them all. In the end I gave her a B- which was the only grade she could get and finish her program. Grad students must maintain a B average. However, even one B would mean she would never be accepted in a doctoral program. Strange the choices some people make sometimes.

    At this point, I can’t even remember her name but I can see her face in my mind. A feeling of entitlement and giant chip on her shoulder hardly begins to describe it — an attitude which I suspect started back in elementary school and a “you can’t make me” refrain.

    I am sure there are readers to CotM that are employers or educators who have similar stories. But one story in thirty-five years is not bad. If there were other times, I don’t remember them.

    So, yes, I worked within the rules of my institition but I have tremendous admiration for both Dorval and others trying to wake up the current systems across Canada (and probably the US and UK as well).


  13. Perhaps another reason why “no zero” policies shouldn’t be allowed in grade school and high school is that there are no such policies at the university level. In the courses I TA for, at the end of the year, incomplete assignments are given zeros automatically. And there’s no nearly as much hassle as you had to go through with your Masters student. (Though I do understand that things with gradschool are different, higher stakes and so on).


  14. Let’s hope Anon1152 that the reverse comes true — that zeros will be allowed for work that is not completed from elementary on up. Students of all ages make choices and there are consequences to all choices. The younger students need to know that “before” they get to university or college. Frankly, I don’t know what the policy is at a community college. I taught a couple of courses at that level in the past but don’t recall.

    However, not everything is cut and dried. If we tell our employer we can’t get an assignment/project completed on time, chances are they will give us an extension as opposed to firing us. Frankly, I was never punitive. If possible, I gave extra time. Moreover, if I knew a student needed a better mark to stay in a program, I would allow them to do a make up assignment to bring up their average.

    The crux of the matter is: Let’s hope something good comes out this action.


  15. It certainly is disobedience.

    But disobedience out of principle, if one is prepared to accept the consequences, is to be admired.

    And I give Dorval credit: he did seem prepared to accept the consequences.


  16. I credit the Alberta school system, which encourages a wide diversity of schooling options. Had Alberta been like many other jurisdictions and given the public school system a de facto monopoly on education then Dorval would not have had any place to go.

    This demonstrates how schooling options improves the quality of the public school system – or at least, helps reveal its flaws.


  17. Rabbit — I think all provinces have private schools like Tempo. My husband has been working part-time and volunteering in a similar school in Southern Ontario for a number of years now. But, it is true that Alberta is way ahead in terms of publicly funded Charter schools. Choice and competition can’t help but improve the public system. So, in a round about way, I agree with you.


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