A physics teacher in Edmonton has been removed from his classroom for having the guts to insist that his students’ actions have consequences. A year and a half ago, his school adopted a policy forbidding teachers from giving students a grade of zero on work they don’t turn in. He refused to comply — and he’s been suspended for standing up for academic integrity.
Lynden Dorval comes across as a teacher who simply wants to do what’s right for his students. (See video from Canada’s CBC below.) He couldn’t comply with a policy that gave students credit for things they didn’t even attempt to do. He’s appealing the decision, but says it’s the right thing even if it permanently costs him his job.
A new principal at Ross Sheppard High School brought the new policy last year. It’s the same policy in place at various other local schools. In fact, it’s been the policy at Edmonton junior high schools for decades, but it’s now spreading to high schools.
The idea is that assignments that aren’t turned in and tests that aren’t taken are simply behavioral issues, so they shouldn’t count against a student’s academic evaluation. Teachers are told to ignore any work not turned in and simply give grades based on the work that was completed.
“It’s what they call social promotion,” Dorval told the CBC. “It’s a way of pushing kids through even though they’re not actually doing the work. It’s a way of getting them through, getting their credits and of course making the staff look very good.”
Because teachers haven’t been given any standard for how to handle such cases, the result has been inconsistent grading. Dorval said teachers were told to use their “informed professional judgement” when it came time to pass out grades. He said some teachers would lowers grades of what was done. Others would just give grades based on work that was completed. There wasn’t any consistency.
Dorval refused to comply with the policy last year, so he was reprimanded. He refused to comply again this year, so he was reprimanded again. After a meeting with the school superintendent a few weeks ago, Dorval was suspended. He was barred from school property and told he would be treated as a trespasser if he showed up. (Here’s the suspension letter.)
“I have 35 years,” he said. “I don’t really want to retire now, but if I have to, I can retire and live on my pension.”
He said he knows that talking about the matter publicly is going to get himself fired, but it’s a principle worth being fired over.
“To me this is the right thing,” he said. “It had to be done.”
The school district refuses to directly discuss Dorval’s case, of course, but said that a teacher can only be suspended for three reasons, one of which is failing to follow orders. The order Dorval has refused to follow is the new grading policy.
The fact that Lynden Dorval is being discarded by the education system says a lot about the system’s values. He’s a product of an earlier time when teachers more commonly believed that academic standards meant something and that the kids’ best interests were taken into account. We need more teachers who care that much. The fact that he’s not valued for his commitment to insisting on real-world consequences tells us how little the system cares.
The education establishment likes to talk about caring. It likes to talk about how failure isn’t an option. But the truth is that one of the lessons kids need to learn is that failure to complete assignments always results in consequences. Dorval cares about teaching his students the truth. The school board only cares about nice promotion statistics.
Note: On a related note, here’s a story worth your attention. It’s written by a college professor who explains why failure — and awarding grades of F — are very appropriate and in students’ best interests.