My plan to deal with cheating (Do I dare?)
School starts for me in less than a month. I wish it weren't the case, but I know that within a few days or a few weeks, somebody is going to cheat in one of my classes. I hate cheating. I hate catching kids and then having to deal with it. I hate knowing that someone is cheating, but not being able to catch him (or her). And I hate wondering if someone is cheating, but not being sure.
Cheating screws up everything I'm trying to do as a teacher. More than anything else, I want my kids to learn how to be good students. Much of what I do in my classes involves trying to get kids to be conscientious and to make an honest effort. If kids regularly do the assignments in my class, pay attention, and do a reasonable amount of studying for tests, they can be successful. My strategy is that as they see their work paying off, they will be motivated to continue to work or to work even harder. As they do that, they will be learning the material that I want them to learn, and as they do that, they will find it more and more interesting. The more interesting the subject becomes to them, the more incentive there will be to continue to do the things that a good student does. And as students see other students having this success, some of them might be motivated to do the same thing.
The honest work that students do in my classes is the foundation to all of this, and when students cheat, they take a wrecking ball to that foundation. They may gain the success, but when they do, it is for exactly the wrong reason. They haven't learned any of what I've wanted them to learn. In fact, if they get away with cheating, they learn the exact opposite of what I wanted them to learn. Instead of their success motivating other students to work hard, they motivate others to cheat as well. The more students who get away with it, the more students are motivated to follow in their crooked footsteps. I hate cheating!
This year, I am seriously thinking about adopting what would truly be a no-tolerance policy for cheating. If I can get the approval of my principal (and that's pretty iffy!), and if I have the guts to go through with it, any student that I catch cheating in any way--eyeballing on a quiz, copying an assignment, using a cheat sheet, you name it--will get an F for the marking period.
My policy in the past has been to give cheaters a zero for whatever it was that they were caught cheating on, but I'm convinced that's not enough. What's a zero on one assignment or quiz when you've gotten away with it ten or twenty times? Cheating has become a part of student culture in schools throughout the nation, and I'm convinced that part of the reason is that we are too lenient.
I know there are some other teachers who have the policy I am contemplating, and I can't help but feel that it's time for me to step up to the plate. If anybody out there thinks that this will be easy, I know it won't be. Here are some of the problems:
1. What if I'm wrong? There have been two times during my career when circumstances strongly indicated that students had been cheating, but I ended up being convinced that they hadn't. Thankfully, I was very careful in both situations, and never actually made any accusations. Nevertheless, this helps me to understand why principals would be less than thrilled to see their teachers following the policy I'm considering.
2. In large part because of the incidents just described, even when the evidence seems incontrovertible, there is the thought in my mind that maybe I'm making a mistake. I feel a lot better when the student owns up to the cheating, but there are some who never do. With the consequences being this stiff, I'm afraid that the percentage of kids who refuse to admit to what they did will increase dramatically.
3. Those kids have parents. No matter how clear the evidence is, there are a lot of parents who will believe their kids. "My daughter wouldn't lie to me!" With an F for the marking period at stake, those situations are not going to be fun.
4. There are some situations in which I know a student or students are cheating, and I've got some proof, but I don't know if I've got enough to convince a neutral third party (my principal), and definitely not enough to convince a parent. When I've had lesser penalties (zero for the test or assignment), I've often been willing to impose that penalty. It will be tougher for me to do that if the penalty is an F for the marking period.
5. Cheating is an equal opportunity character flaw. There are a lot of otherwise good student who cheat. Their grades are very important to them, and their grades are very important to their parents. When one of those good students are caught, the feces is going to hit the fan.
6. I think I'm an honest person, but I know I'm not perfect. Once I start clamping down on some cheaters, everything I do in school in town, and anywhere else for that matter, is going to be subject to extremely close scrutiny.
7. I really do value my relationship with my students--individually as well as collectively. Past experience tells me that some of the kids who get nailed for cheating in my classes will be kids that I've had wonderful relationships with. That is going to be hard.
So what do you think? Should I go ahead with this, or should I back off? I'd love to hear the thoughts of anybody on this.