The Texture Of Things

F is for Plagiarism

December 3rd, 2006

On Saturday, I had to fail another student for plagiarizing her paper. This student’s episode of cheating I caught before Thanksgiving – I knew about her before I discovered the student I wrote about in the previous post. So, I failed her yesterday, and between the two instances I had a lot of time to ponder what led up to them, as well as possible outcomes.

One thing I noticed Thursday night was that in spite of my chronic anxiety, I was calm. Well, my heart was pounding, but it was anticipation, not panic. I knew it was the right thing. I wanted it over but I never doubted that I would carry through with it. I prepared myself for the heightened confrontation that a plea for mercy would bring, and I knew I would not bend even though I hate hate hate confrontation.

I knew the decision to fail them was right because their plagiarism was the worst kind – wholesale lifting of an article on the internet on one hand, purchase of an essay (plagiarized itself from sources on the internet) on the other. Deceitful, lazy, and premeditated. I mean, come on, if you’re going to rip off other people’s writing because you either don’t know what to say or because you are devoid of creativity, please at least consider doing more than taking an essay, changing a few words, and putting your name on it. Please attempt the assignment and do poorly (these students knew they had the opportunity to revise for a higher grade) or attempt it and use other people’s words in places where yours fail. That much effort communicates volumes to an instructor, like you want to do your own work, you want to do well, but you need help.

If either of these students had cheated in this manner, I might have felt sympathetic enough to fail them on the paper but let them continue in the class if they could prove to me the work on the other papers was theirs. This is why I felt so sad Thursday night, I think. My student’s immediate reaction was not “You can’t do this” but “I didn’t know what to write”. I would not have hesitated to help him at any point, even at the proverbial midnight hour, if he had asked, something I had made clear all semester long when he struggled with topics and with writing enough to make the page minimum. I thought he knew he could contact me, any instructor, in a time of crisis, but he didn’t. I have to say, most students fresh out of high school have to learn this lesson that instructors are there to help them during their first year of college, but not usually at this price.

I was not sad on Saturday; likewise, I did not feel vindicated or righteous, as I had expected to feel on Thursday night. Instead, I simply felt right. Not a happy right, but not without some self-satisfaction. I don’t know how much of that was fed by the fact that my Saturday student slacked off a lot all semester and chatted through class most days. She was not a motivated student, it seemed from my perspective, unlike the other cheater. If anything, her reaction implied that she has cheated before, has been caught before, was not terribly fazed by being caught this time. (She merely said, “Oh. Okay,” and left.) Maybe it was that I survived the two confrontations unscathed, without having to fight with them.

Ack, whatever. What I’m finding in myself is that I must be more mature than when I started teaching 5 years ago. I knew what was right then, my first semester, when I faced a plagiarizing student (same deal – paper bought online), but I was too wrapped up in keeping my students happy that I felt insecure about applying the appropriate punishment for the crime. I was so wrapped up in being nice that I wasn’t being kind*. Being kind is harder than being nice, but it is also closer to who I want to be.

Between that plagiarizer 5 years ago and now, I have had people who plagiarized in smaller ways, unintentional ways, more covert ways (like having mom rewrite his entire portfolio the week before the end of the semester), but no one I’ve caught with such an obviously acquired paper. Five years. It’s a long time. Granted, I only teach part time, but things have been fairly good in my classes. I don’t give easy assignments, but in thinking about what would precipitate two instances of paper-stealing on the same assignment, I realize that this semester I did not do as much in-class work to help them with it. It’s the hardest essay in the course, and I didn’t help them enough. I was too preoccupied with my own health issues that I just hoped they’d get through it while I struggled to keep on top of grading.

Certainly, it’s not my fault – their choices to plagiarize were their own – but I didn’t help them out of that trap either. I see that now. That is the major teaching and life lesson I’ll take away from this.

*I’m still working on being more conscious of my tendency to be nice instead of kind since reading this entry at a garden of nna mmoy.

No Comments »

No comments yet.

Leave a comment

:mrgreen: :neutral: :twisted: :shock: :smile: :???: :cool: :evil: :grin: :oops: :razz: :roll: :wink: :cry: :eek: :lol: :mad: :sad:

RSS feed for these comments. | TrackBack URI

Anthosia2 Sponsored by Web Hosting