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OPINION: We are failing our children by not letting them fail

A Florida teacher left this message on her whiteboard after losing her job for giving a student a "0". (Diane Tirado/Facebook)

Should we give students credit for assignments they didn’t do? One Florida school has that policy: no zeroes, even if you don’t hand anything in.

At West Gate K-8 School in Port Saint Lucie, 50% is the lowest grade you can get. Giving a student a “zero”, in fact, got one teacher fired.

Mrs. Diane Tirado, a middle school teacher with over 17 years of experience, was given a termination letter on Sept. 14th for giving a student a failing grade on a project he didn’t hand in.

It’s official: we aren’t just giving kids participation trophies for showing up anymore. Now we hand them out when they don’t even participate.

Fired for giving a zero

West Gate K-8 School’s grading policy. (WPTV)

This is West Gate K-8 School’s grading policy. Right there, in bold, red letters, they spell it out: “No zero’s” – which is misspelled, by the way – “lowest possible grade is 50%”.

Mrs. Tirado claims that she found out about this policy when school administrators called her into the office and told her that, even if the student didn’t turn anything in, she was still to give them 50%.

And that was mandatory. When Mrs. Tirado refused to give her students grades for work they hadn’t done, she was ordered to pack up all of her things in a cardboard box and get out.

I love the way she responded. Since the school didn’t allow her to say goodbye to her kids in person, she left this message for them on their whiteboard:

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.

The school has responded, but quite frankly, their response makes my head hurt. They claimed that “there is no District or individual school policy prohibiting teachers from recording a grade of zero”, despite the fact that there very clearly is a policy against giving kids a zero, written in big red letters.

This may be the most ridiculous middle school policy I’ve ever heard of, whether the school wants to admit they have it or not. I’m a mother, and I want to make it clear. If one of my kids had been failed by Mrs. Tirado, she would have 100% of my support.

Kids aren’t stupid

West Gate K-8 School, the school at which Mrs. Tirado was employed. (West Gate K-8 School)

If this had happened back in the ‘80s, when I was in middle school, I absolutely would have taken advantage of this.

As soon as kids figure out their school had a policy like this one, they’re going to be negotiating in their little minds just how they can best take advantage of this. They’ll be doing more Math than they ever do in class, figuring out: if I get an A on the test, how many assignments can I just not do and still end up with a C?

These kids are in a stage where they’re learning to be tricky. They’re figuring out that they can manipulate the system and end up on top, and a rule like this just encourages it.

This isn’t meant to help the kids in any way. Let’s be honest about what this policy is. This is just the school’s way of fudging the numbers. They want to be able to show off how great their students’ grades are, and that’s an awful lot easier to do when it’s against school policy to let anyone fail.

But when schools do things like this, they’re not just ignoring the kids. They’re hurting them. They’re teaching them dangerous lessons that could seriously impact the people they grow up to be.

Kids need to learn to fail

(Photo: Scott G Winterton, Deseret News)

Students at West Jordan Middle School Principal. 4, 2016. (Scott G Winterton/Desert News)

What really worries me about this story is that the kids at this school are being robbed of an incredible learning opportunity.

Failure is a way we learn. If our kids grow up with a soft, cushiony walls making sure that nothing ever hurts them everywhere they go, they’re not going to learn. They’re not going to get those moments that let them fall down, scrape their knees, and get back up stronger and smarter.

When my daughter was in middle school, she had a problem with handing in her homework. She was doing the work, but she was too afraid to hand it in. Somehow, she’d convinced herself that showing her work to her teacher would humiliate her, and so she just piled every project she did into her closet and accepted every zero her teacher gave her.

When I found out what was going on, I jumped in the truck, sped to the school, gave all that work she hadn’t handed into her teacher, and immediately talked to her about why she couldn’t be afraid to let people see what she can do.

It was a teaching moment. It was a time when I got to see one of the fears that live in my daughter’s mind and I got to help her through it. Those zeroes let me know something was wrong and they let my daughter get past a problem that could have affected her for the rest of her life.

But if her school had just given her a 50% every time she didn’t hand something in, it would have looked to me like she was just a C-student.

When our kids cross the threshold of those double doors at the front of their school, we have to let them go a little. We can’t watch what they do when they’re at school. But we let them go trusting that the people watching them have their best interests in mind.

Schools can’t be afraid of teaching kids the hard lessons. They need to let kids fail because they have an obligation to push kids to be the best they can.

And as parents, we’re counting on them.

More to the story

Dave & Dujanovic weighed in on this story on the air on KSL Newsradio from 9:00 AM – 12:00 PM. If you missed the show, you can still catch what they had to say below:

Dave & Dujanovic can be heard weekdays from 9 a.m. to noon on KSL Newsradio. Users can find the show on the KSL Newsradio website and app, as well as Apple Podcasts and Google Play.

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