In which my folded plans are turned into bad kirigami

What do you do when a kid cheats? Or worse, steals?

I am away at a conference right now (it’s super cool, but that post will have to wait for the week to be complete), and I made sub plans for 4 days. I had a folder for each class for each day. Seating charts. Annotated keys. I left cocoa for my sub as a thank you.

Tomorrow the kids are taking a midterm. I know it’s more than awkward to have them take a midterm when I’m not around, but they know exactly what the problems are and have spent the past two months working with them. Each day was planned out with review problems like ones they had seen before to practice and a full key to check their work with at the end.

But that’s not the distressing part of this tale.

Today after school some students talked a custodian into letting them into my class, at which point they took a book (I don’t know which one) off my from stand and some papers out of my desk. One of those papers has been identified as a test given last week. I’ve not been given a clear picture of what happened next, but it sounded like the custodian realized he’d been led astray and reported the incident to the VP. I worry that they took more than was seen, as I know exactly where my key for the midterm was located. At this point in time, I don’t know who the kids are, and a part of me never wants to.

It’s such a breech of trust. It’s such disrespect to the dignity of the class. It’s compounded because I know teenagers; two did the deed, but how many were in on it? How many know, but will never say a word. And if these kids are willing to lie to an adult in order to steal from another adult they see every day, what will they be willing to do when they get older? That’s the real problem I have with the culture of ‘don’t snitch’. What do kids who get away with cheating now do when they are older? Clearly their integrity already doesn’t mean much to them. Will they go on to cheat at other things? Cards? Significant others? The secondary mortgage market? Maybe it’s old fashioned, but a person’s honor should mean something. I cannot comprehend their actions so I feel a bit at a loss to repond to them.

I’m completely re-writing the midterm tonight. In the daily emails I send home I’ll be letting parents and students know what happened. But beyond anger, I’m heartbroken. I work so hard to build up trust in my classes and try to connect with my students beyond the superficial student-teacher dynamic. To have students do this tells me how badly I failed at truely connecting with them.

Too much to think about. I’m not entirely sure how to deal with everything and I’m glad I have until next Monday to think about it. Right now my thoughts have too much vibration to them. Typing this out has helped calm down my physical vibration (I don’t respond well to strong, negative emotions). I work hard to not respond emotionally to students. They deserve to work with an adult. And that’s what I keep reminding myself: I am the adult, I am the adult, I am the adult…

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7 thoughts on “In which my folded plans are turned into bad kirigami

  1. That is so hard. I teach college, so I was probably never as close with my students. One semester I found two top students cheating during the final exam in differential equations. Ugly situation.

    I hope your disappointment helps them recognize the enormity of their actions. I hope you tell them much of what you wrote in this blog post.

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  2. That’s awful. (Total sidebar, I love your title for this post. It’s so perfect for the feeling.) I hope that you are able to reach a point you are comfortable with by the time you see your students again on Monday.

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  3. I’m quite curious to hear what you do on Monday. At least you had a gathering of amazing math minds on Thursday night to help you brainstorm your next steps. I’m sure you’ll turn it into a life lesson for all your students, but it’s still such an awful feeling to have this happen.

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  4. Ugh. What I will say to you is even though you see it as a huge violation of trust between student and teacher (and IT IS), you have to remember that that was not the intent of the students… their reasons for stealing the test had NOTHING to do with you. I always have to keep that in mind when I catch cheaters. I feel so violated, so angry… the amount of time I spend with my kids to help them, and this is how I get treated?

    Or as you put it: “To have students do this tells me how badly I failed at truely connecting with them.”

    But then I remember: it’s not about me. They didn’t do it to hurt me. And that makes me put things in perspective a bit.

    So more than “I am the adult…” (which is the PERFECT mantra), you should maybe also think “It is not about me… it is not about me…” if you feel personally affronted, as I usually do.

    My two cents.

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    • I always appreciate your thoughtful view on things, Sam. Over the course of the past several days my own thoughts have come to align closer to yours. I’m more focused now on how this impacts them as students. I didn’t end up sending anything home in the email to the parents because I want to hear from my VP what went down. The kids have been suspended, and one even emailed me asking how to keep up on work with zero mention of why he would be out. Not quite sure what to make of that.

      Totes picking up your suggested mantra-adaptation: “I am the adult, it is not about me. I am the adult, it is not about me…”

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  5. Some years ago I had a student enter my office and steal a copy of the final exam two weeks in advance. I only found out DURING the exam — students could bring a note card, and I noticed a student whose note card included the questions and solution methods for the exam. Terrific. Probably about 10 students were in on it, maybe more — this was a test given in multiple sections, in different classrooms, all at once.

    My immediate response (other than horror) was to collect the note cards. This didn’t catch all students; at least one cheater put the information in his graphing calculator instead, then deleted it. The grading response was to count the exam anywhere from 0 to 20% of a student’s total grade depending on … well, mostly depending on whether or not I think they cheated. It was generally pretty obvious who cheated.

    I, too, eventually realized that the test-stealing wasn’t a personal attack, though I certainly felt that way for a while. Few of the students apologized, though I suspect it would be different if it weren’t a final exam. (So, the apologies I did get were probably genuine!)

    I had at least one cheating incident every year I taught, but that was obviously the most serious one. I think if you are honest with students about your reactions, it could become a deeper learning experience for them than anything else you teach this year. Good luck.

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    • Thanks for sharing, Bowen. I chose to be very honest with the kids when I got back about how I felt when I learned of the incident even though I know it wasn’t personal. They listen thoughtfully and several of them have come up outside of class to say that they were sorry it happened (and these are kids who had nothing to do with it).

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