Academic Punishment

We all know a teacher who punishes students academically because of a poor behavioral choice.  I will never forget in 11th grade when I was writing a paper for my English class, I turned in a final copy and had cited Wikipedia (yes…wikipedia had just been created) in my list of resources.  Well apparently, somewhere through the explanation of this paper, I missed the memo on not using wikipedia to develop my research findings.  As the straight-laced student that I was, I did not intentionally use wikipedia just to spite the teacher…I genuinely made a mistake.  Instead of allowing me to correct the paper or taking this opportunity to teach me proper researching techniques, my teacher failed me on this assignment.  Thanks to that big fat ZERO, I was unable to get anything higher than a C in the class, and I had to work incredibly hard to get a C.  I made a poor behavioral choice yet I was punished academically.

At the time, I didn’t really have any issue with the punishment.  I messed up so I needed to be punished.  I felt like the punishment fit the crime.  However, now that I am a teacher, I have no idea what she was thinking.  How could she justify this punishment?  Did the punishment truly fit the crime?  My research was sound, and I proved that I learned the information therefore I must have deserved a ZERO because – in her opinion – I accidentally used a “questionable” source.  Seriously? 

I don’t really like using the word punishment at all, but as a 7th grade teacher, I do have to correct behaviors often and sometimes repeat offenders or grandiose offenders do result in punishments such as silent lunch, in-school suspension, etc.  A re-ocurring war of words that I along with my Dumbledore-like army (yes…HP reference and side note — I’m neither Harry Potter nor Dumbledore) is one that has risen to prominence within my school.  So many teachers continuously take points off assignments for late work, give students a ZERO for not getting something signed, or reducing letter grades for not following the proper format.  While I understand their reasoning, I do not agree with the premise.

When I refute the academic punishers, I always hear, “It is our job to teach the children responsibility” or “They didn’t turn in the work or follow my instructions so they don’t deserve the grade.”  However, teaching students responsibility and assessing a student’s responsibility are 2 very different things.

Instead of simply punishing a student academically, teachers need to learn how to effectively and fairly correct the behavior that is impeding a child from turning in work on time or following formatting instructions.  Those are important components of school, but are not a part of our state-mandated curriculum.  Teaching a student responsibility and organization is a part of the teacher hidden curriculum, but grading a child’s responsibility and organization is not fair to any student.   We should only measure and assess our students based upon what they know not how soon they can get a paper signed by their parents or whether or not they put their name on the correct side of the paper.  There are other ways to correct behaviors beyond grading penalties.  In my experience, students who do not turn work in on time or repeatedly misinterpret instructions are the very students who will NOT respond to grading penalties anyway.

While grading is slowly becoming my arch-nemesis, I think everyone would agree that just because a student turns in work late DOES NOT mean that they do not know the material.  When teachers punish the behavior with grades, they are hurting the students academically.  That’s like benching a football player because he can’t swim.  The punishment does not fit the crime.

1 thought on “Academic Punishment

  1. Anon.

    I think a lot more teachers will be on board with this when they have some ideas of what other, non academic punishments to use. I feel this is where teachers struggled-they don’t know what else to do! I agree with you about grading policies, but think that we need to build in other interventions to help teachers get on board!

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