Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Moral dilemma

Please help me with a moral dilemma I recently faced as a substitute teacher:

On this particular day, students had a few assignments to complete independently at their seats. As I walked around the classroom monitoring students' progress, I noticed that one student was working on science. This was a bit fishy since we were in a language arts class. I told him that he is free to work on whatever he likes once he has finished the language arts assignment and that I would even help him with the science if he needed it. Hearing this, he handed me the science packet and told me to look it over so that when he finished with his language arts I could help him.

After looking over the science packet for a few minutes, I notice that it is another student's name at the top of the paper. Looking back at the student, I see that he is still working on science. I assume he was copying another student's work onto his own packet and now he is just doing the science packet himself. However, when I get to his seat I find him working on a separate science assignment for the same girl who owned the packet.

My first reaction was shock that a student so blatantly cheating would actually hand me someone else's packet that he was working on without me demanding it. He freely offered it up! But then my need to make a decision set in. This was a clear instance of cheating and I had to decide what to do about it. Should I turn the student in to the science teacher? Should I return the science assignments to the girl to whom they belonged? Should I rip them up? Should I do nothing?

To complicate the situation, the student told me how the girl had been absent for a while and the teacher hadn't given her ample time to make up the work. Furthermore, if I turned the student in, there would be big consequences including suspension and getting kicked off the track team.

It is a difficult thing, trying to figure out when to exercise judgment and when to exercise grace. I wanted to find a way to both show grace to this student but still teach him a lesson that would hopefully stop him from cheating again.

As a side note I will say, students cheat like this all the time and find absolutely nothing wrong with it. Even to the point where they don't even consider copying homework answers from another student's paper onto their own "cheating." This kind of bugs me. It's one thing to say it's not that bad but to say it's not cheating at all? How can a statement like that be defended? What does the prevalence of cheating say about what we are really teaching our students? That the grade is what matters, not the learning? I digress.

So before I share what I ended up doing, I'd love to hear what you would do. How would you handle this situation? Also, were you a cheater when you were in school? Is cheating not so bad? Why do so many students cheat and think it's not a big deal? Put your thinking caps on and give me some thoughts.


  1. Roast him. Roast her. Sleep well tonight.

  2. If students are cheating, and they're under the impression it's not wrong, then that speaks more to me about the structure of the class, teaching, and quiz/test/hw administering than it does about the student's potential laziness. Since the average number of cheaters is likely to become affected when controlling for those factors, a high number of cheaters says something about the condition of those predictors. Laziness (or in-effective self-regulation) can't possibly predict this high an average. And its trait connotation may distance it from those previously mentioned factors (class structure, teaching style, quiz administration) as also having something to do with their self-regulatory abilities. Basically that's a long way to say that the students aren't the only ones to blame.

    Something larger about this institution needs fixed. But changes like this don't come around quickly, without due fiscal consideration, and certainly not without some evidence as to the necessity for those changes in the first place.

    And this brings me to my answer. If you withhold information from the institution about this phenomena, they miss out on the opportunity to react to the evidence and make necessary changes. This student cheating is not a singular event. It's evidence of much more, and how teachers react to these events as they find them will determine a lot about how the institution as a whole reacts. Basically, your moral responsibility should go towards the greater good of the students who might benefit from a better learning environment, an environment that's making decisions as informed as they can be.

    My post is kind of a reaction to your quote "I wanted to find a way to both show grace to this student but still teach him a lesson that would hopefully stop him from cheating again."

    I don't think this student getting caught once and being the 1 of his 20 friends to receive large consequences will prevent his continuation in the generally accepted cheating practice at this school. Nor do I believe you can connect with him in this moment strongly enough to provide him with some large enough measure of conviction that he abstains. Resisting the social affirmation of his peers along with the potential pressures to cheat that are in place due to the teaching environment, and having an intrinsic conviction that contradicts what all of his peers hold is much too much to expect of a student. At least I think so.

    Better to present the information in a way that highlights these facts without en-sighting the usual incorrect but intuitive response to just blame the student's ethic. But if you don't present the information at all, the institution doesn't have the chance to respond without ignorance and make things better for the students who follow.

  3. We live in a world where kids get prizes just for showing up. They need to grow some balls and start acting like adults. Sorry that girl didn't have enough time. Did she really have enough time? Or was she just lazy? Regardless, she needs to advocate for herself and take control of the situation. For the guy, is he getting walked all over by this girl? Also, being on the track team is a privilege, not a right... if he can't follow the code of conduct, he doesn't deserve to be on it.