I’m a firm believer in hard work. In putting-in-the-hours, nose-to-the-grindstone labor. We are given a finite amount of talent and brains, which can be molded and improved, sure, but the factor we control best is how hard we work. Genius only gets you so far, and I know not of a single success that wasn’t preceded with many hours of toil.
So I read about the firing of an eighth-grade teacher in Port St. Lucie with dismay. Just weeks into the new school year, Diane Tirado was fired from her position at West Gate K-8 School for what she claims is an objectionable grading policy. News outlets report she was not given a specific reason for her dismissal when she met with two assistant principals, but she reasoned that the firing had to do with her objection to the “no zero” policy. This guideline is listed in the student and parent handbook as “no zeros — lowest possible grade is 50%.”
That apparently didn’t go over well with Tirado, who after 17 years of teaching across multiple grades, thought a zero was completely appropriate if a student didn’t complete the work, in this case a two-week take-home project. Though she had put stars in the grade book as placeholders, to give the late students time to make up the work, she told Newsweek her bosses wanted her to input a 50 percent anyway, whether or not she had an assignment from students to grade. Tirado complained about the policy to the teacher’s union and her assistant principals. Didn’t matter.
Before departing the campus, the social studies teacher left this message on her white 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. Mrs. Tirado.” She then posted a picture of it on Facebook.
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St. Lucie Public Schools claims that its grading policy is not the reason Tirado was fired, but her “substandard” performance and her lack of professionalism with students, staff and parents that created “a toxic culture.” The superintendent also defended the policy, calling it a best practice for grading. What’s more, the school added, Tirado refused to give students with Individualized Education Programs more time to finish their two-week project. But the extra time mandated by these federal IEPs, she countered, was applicable for in-class assignments and exams, not take-home projects.
We may never know the true reason behind Tirado’s dismissal, but for the sake of this column, it might not matter. What alarms me is the fact that a grading policy, whether implied or spelled out, would automatically disqualify a big, fat zero in the gradebook when given for work not done. True, a 50 percent remains a failing grade, but that’s still 50 more points than nothing. What’s more, how then does a teacher grade a completed assignment that deserves only a 50 percent? Should that grade be bumped up too?
Studies on grade inflation are rampant, and for a while I’ve suspected some parents bully some teachers into giving students higher grades than the kids have worked for or truly deserve. It’s in keeping with the sense of entitlement we’ve foisted on our children by helping them too much, by rescuing them too often, by coddling and allowing and excusing. I call it participation trophy child-rearing: Show up and you’ll be rewarded, no matter your effort or quality of performance.
Of course, those of us who have been knocked around by life, which is pretty much everybody, understand that the idea of giving credit where none is due eventually leads to failure and disappointment. Something for nothing is a no-win policy that catches up with us at the worst time and in the worst way. You can cheat reality for only so long — and reality is this there are no free lunches in life, at least not for any substantial portion of time.
In the gradebook of life, a zero for no work may be the best lesson we teach our children.