For me, cheating in the classroom is a very serious subject.
At the high school that I attended, cheating was a punishable offense – usually by a suspension. It was clear to me from middle school forward that plagiarism in any shape or form was unacceptable, and that being well-intentioned in regard to avoiding plagiarism wasn’t always enough. This prepared me well for college, an environment where — due to my University’s honor code and council — plagiarism was grounds for expulsion.
So it was a bit surprising to me last year when I sent two students to the office for copying off each other’s papers, only for the situation to be returned to me with a “don’t do it again” warning.
A similar situation repeated itself yesterday. As I welcomed students into the classroom to take a major assessment, two students — in the process of taking their seats — peered at the scantrons from the class prior. One student went as far as to copy answers onto his hand to use; the other student decided it not a worthy venture, and used his head instead. When the department chair and I pressed them for information today, they confessed to the crime.
It is a tough battle for anyone to decide between being righteous and being successful. But the added pressure for my ESL students is being able to answer questions about sentence construction and combining ideas at a point in their language development when they are able to form simple sentences and little more. With the pressure on for students to be successful on STAAR and other state tests, it’s scary to think that losing one’s personal integrity is a potential consequence.
I spoke with one of the students after class. He wants to be a writing teacher some day. He’d be kicked out of my university for what happened this week. He also wants to be on the middle school football team. He’ll be kicked off if he failed this test, regardless of his prior knowledge of English. As the teacher, it’s easy to make accusations and say what is right and what is wrong. But I know why students make these decisions. I just hope I can help them see the long-term consequences of their actions.