I’m not a perfect teacher.
Earlier this week, I gave a two day test to my English I Honors students, giving them extra time for the assessment’s writing component. Instead of having them pause the test to continue the next day (to try to discourage cheating), I had them submit their test digitally at class’s end and reopened it the following morning. However, I forgot when they submit their answers through our online testing platform it automatically tells them which multiple choice questions they answered incorrectly. [insert Mrs. Ram Jam whacking her head repeatedly against a cinder block wall]
So what happened in first block when I reopened the test? Remembering the question numbers marked incorrect, quite a few of them changed those wrong answers to correct ones.
Instead of squashing cheating, I inadvertently allowed it to run rampant. I suspect at least 65 percent committed academic dishonesty–with no way to prove who did or didn’t change their answers.
Repeat–I’m not a perfect teacher.
I’m mad at myself for my screw-up and disappointed with my students.
But if I hadn’t caught myself after first block, would the same thing have happened all day?
Hopefully I’m wrong, and this is pure speculation, but yes. In subsequent blocks when I informed kids they couldn’t change their previously chosen answers, I saw open hostility, embarrassment, and shame on more than a few faces. (I also witnessed cluelessness. It hadn’t crossed some of their minds.)
Students aren’t perfect, even the high-achieving ones.
They turn things in late.
They lie about having their homework done.
They try to figure out how to do the least amount of work possible and still get high grades.
They attempt to manipulate adults to their own advantage and pander to their own desires in oft convincing self-righteousness.
And also, most students at some point, again even high-achieving, good kids, cheat.
Look at the numbers.
In Andrew Simmons’s Edutopia article “Why Students Cheat—and What to Do About,” he uses a bar graph to illustrate “95 percent” of students in secondary schools “admitted to any form of cheating, 64 percent committed plagiarism, and 58 percent cheated on a test.”
Now granted, I teach 8th grade, but I teach a high school credit honors course to middle schoolers. My class is HARD. Kids, used to getting easy A’s, struggle and make C’s and B’s on tests and writing assignments. They’re desperate for an A, even if comes down to achieving one through unethical methods.
I am not excusing their behavior or my own teaching faux pas, but through self-reflection, I’ve garnered a few valuable insights.
- I don’t know if all students initially recognized that their behavior was unethical. They’re smart. They saw their incorrect answers and changed them before resubmitting and didn’t think twice about it. But some had to realize their actions were disreputable. Thursday, we had a serious conversation about what happened and what the term “ethics” means. Not one student could define it when I asked them what it meant, but they know its definition now. That entire class faces consequences, including a brand new replacement test. I made them feel guilty as hell about their actions. I pulled a Danny Tanner and flipped their transgressions into a teachable moment.
- I need to stop being so nice. I gave them too much time to complete the test, and if I give them an inch, they take a mile. The test should have taken them 60 minutes tops. They had to read three passages, answer 18 multiple choice questions, and write a paragraph. For benchmark, they’re expected to do the same thing but write an essay instead in 90 minutes. My reasoning behind giving them extra time was to allow them to focus in on the writing component so we could work through any constructed response issues they had before benchmark. I wanted them to do well on the test, thinking the extra time would help my struggling writers. But some students were not honest with actually being done when they fully were.
- My expectations were unclear. This one hurts. I should have told them that the twenty minute window on day two was only for the writing component and the multiple choice needed to be finalized on day one. Hindsight sucks.
- I admitted my own mistake to them, and I’m admitting it to you. Yes, I did. I told them I screwed up. I think it’s important for students to see their teachers admit when they are incorrect, acknowledge their own mess-ups, and examine their imperfections. Again, I’m not perfect. No teacher is. Sometimes my lessons bomb. Sometimes, God forbid, my self-made materials have editing errors. Sometimes, I don’t pronounce words correctly and accidentally say things like “more better.” I haven’t read everything under the sun, I don’t have all of the answers, and I am not always right–but I admit when I’m wrong, I’ve messed up openly, or I could have done something better. They’re under so much pressure to be perfect, and the adults in their lives need to show them that perfection doesn’t exist and is an unattainable ideal.
Now I have to ask . . . if you were put in their situation as a middle schooler, would you have cheated?
Because I sure of hell would have. [Loud gasp! How dare you, Mrs. Ram Jam!] In middle school and high school, I copied my peer’s homework or let them copy off me. Senior year, I plagiarized a Spanish IV paper the week before graduation, submitted it, and got caught, justifying my behavior because I felt wronged by my teacher. (If you’re reading this Señora Blakenship, I am sorry from the bottom of my heart.)
If you’re judging me for my confession, look at the statistics above. Chances are, you cheated at least once in some capacity yourself, whether you’re willing to confess it publicly or not.
And your child will probably, too.
It’s an epidemic, and I have no idea how to battle it. (Besides not releasing answers BEFORE a test is over. I will FOREVER be kicking my own ass over this one.)