An investigation into a complaint made by the head of the Nova Scotia Teachers Union — that teachers are not able to enforce deadlines on classroom assignments or give zeros to students who never deliver — spurred a series called Making the Grade on CBC Radio's Mainstreet last week.
There were conversations about whether teachers have the time and resources to cater to the varying levels of ability in their classrooms, and talk about standardized tests and what they do and do not measure.
We asked three teachers to share their thoughts with us. This is from Christine Emberley, a high school teacher who has also had experience in junior high and adult high schools:
Making it look easy
Athletes can make it look easy, like the way an NHL player flicks his wrist and sails the puck effortlessly over the goalie's shoulder.
If you've ever tried that, you know it takes more work than 60 minutes on the ice.
Artists can use a brush to turn a blank canvas into a beautiful portrait, but non-artists struggle to draw a cat that doesn't look like a bunny. It takes practice, determination and never-ending hard work — not to mention a special disposition.
Teaching is like that.
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Much of the effort to create a lesson, determine how it's to be applied and then assess it, happens behind the scenes. What the spectator sees appears easy.
Now imagine that we take away the hockey player's stick or the artist's brush, but still expect the same results from them.
That would be impossible — ridiculous — without the tools they rely on.
Consequences are not punishment
Taking away a teacher's ability to enforce deadlines while insisting we teach real-world skills is contradictory. Many spectators see the problem. "How can we teach consequences for actions?" they cry, and we teachers hear them.
Ranked against those who recognize deadline importance are people for whom consequences of any kind equals punishment. They are wrong.
Consequences are the result of the action — or inaction — we take and they are valuable life tools. They are never a punishment.
School should be the safe place to make mistakes — like missing deadlines — and experience consequences.
There is significantly less risk in getting a 37 per cent in history and having to repeat the course than getting fired from a job because you didn't have your presentation ready for the client.
Real world lessons
What of the consequences for not allowing teachers to enforce deadlines? In a staff room, teachers are frustrated over not being able to get report cards done before the weekend because half the class handed in their assignment that morning — two weeks late.
On Facebook, a local restaurateur laments having to close her business in part due to workers who wanted their work scheduled to fit their social life. On the radio, post-secondary institutions criticize increasing numbers of students who don't have the time management skills to do coursework outside of class.
In the halls of your local high school, students about to graduate are frightened because they realize they aren't ready and don't know when or how they were supposed to learn enough to be ready.
A young woman I taught said she knew there was a problem when she got to high school. Pushed through with no effort — sometimes missing weeks at a time for behavioural incidents or because she just didn't feel like going — she knew that she lacked the foundational skills to succeed and the work ethic to catch up.
Don't bypass lessons
Giving our students every opportunity to succeed doesn't mean bypassing the lessons that teach work ethic so they pass grade levels.
Sidney Crosby doesn't get an extra 20 minutes to score a goal. He needs the proper support and training to make sure he can do it on the same clock as everyone else.
Our students deserve the same.
Christine Emberley is a high school teacher in Nova Scotia who has also had experience in junior high and adult high schools.