Friday November 21, 2014

Zero from Mr. Wells launched a lifetime of learning


The story of the Edmonton physics teacher, Lynden Dorval, who has been suspended, and will likely be terminated for giving students a mark of zero for work not completed has captured my attention. It brings back memories of one of my own long since retired teachers who reshaped my academic life: In Grade 10 International Baccalaureate History, Bill Wells of the North Battleford Comprehensive High School, gave me a zero. Or I guess, to put it more honestly, I earned a zero from Mr. Wells.

I do not know if NBCHS has a "no zero" policy, but if they do I hope the words of a graduate, who greatly benefited from the zero received over 13 years ago, will help start a discussion to reconsider. If there is no such policy at present, I hope these words will temper any intentions to usher in such an unfortunate policy.

The story starts with a test Mr. Wells gave us. On it there were two essay questions that made up the majority of the marks, and therefore decided if one would pass or fail the test. I was not prepared, nor had I asked enough questions to understand the material, and I was more interested in being disruptive than I was in considering the lessons. That is when I reverted to a strategy that had served me well so many times before in my short academic life. I fabricated an answer void of any real content, but full to the brim of words and emotive expressions that could easily be mistaken for an intelligent answer.

When I got the test back, it had a big red "0/30" beside that essay question. In front of the whole class I exclaimed, "Zero out of 30! Mr. Wells! Surely there is at least one mark in there, at least some comment that could count for something”

In front of the whole class Mr. Wells replied, "No Joey you are so full of BS I couldn't find one single legitimate point in that entire answer.” That day I found a teacher I respected, and he would transform me from a "BSer" to a thinker in the next three years. Had Mr. Wells been fooled and given me a good mark, or any marks for that matter, I would have been happy, but at the same time immediately lost all respect for him. After all, as a student, I knew what I was saying was nonsense void of content, and if a salaried educator couldn't tell the difference between my "BS" and legitimate content, then it is logical to infer that he too is "full of BS" and there is little he could teach me that I hadn't already mastered!

Instead, because of his wise decision, I humbly went up to him after class and asked "How do I start writing an essay properly"? His answer came over the next three years.

• I asked three years of questions; he answered every single one of them.

• I thought writing down a list of facts and figures was research; he taught me research is when the facts and figures culminate to answer the question.

• I thought my teenage self-esteem crushed when I was humiliated before my classmates; he taught me self-esteem is when the quality of your work speaks for itself.

• I thought learning was a chore that would be over as soon as the bell rang; he taught me learning could be pleasure that lasted a lifetime (well, 13 years so far).

To NBCHS and specifically to the International Baccalaureate program, I am indebted for employing Mr. Wells and a long list of other fine educators. I have been served well at university, in my career, and in my personal life by the IB curriculum, and the character encapsulated by the people who taught it. Mr. Wells retired the year I graduated, and I don't know if he was ever replaced, perhaps teachers like him can't be. However if he ever darkens the doors of NBCHS please tell him "Thanks for the zero, I am still learning from it."

Joey Marple, B.Sc., A.Sc.T.

Class of 2001 Graduate, IB Certificates (math, English, chemistry, history)




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