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When I was in high school, a boy in my grade stole the answer key for a major test off the desk of our social studies teacher. This classmate went and made copies for all the guys on the baseball team. But he even took it a step further. Each of the boys picked different questions to get wrong, and they even picked enough to get wrong so it wouldn’t seem suspicious. For example, a buddy of mine was usually happy getting a D on these tests, so he got enough wrong to get a C. Had he gotten an A or B, the teacher might have raised an eyebrow. It was a perfect system of cheating.

I declined a copy of those answers, but there were other times I stepped over that line and cheated in school. I once left the word list for the Spanish forms of various foods sitting on top of my books next to my desk; the teacher never noticed. It’s one reason that, when I used to give tests that counted on recall, I always told my students to put their books UNDER their desks.

I’m sure some of my readers can recall instances of cheating in their schooling. It’s not something any of us should be proud of, but it seems to be a fact of life for many people that it will be attempted at least once. There’s that time we just completely forgot about an assignment or were too busy to study for that test.

In college, we even worked out a system for our psychology class. You could take the weekly test any time between 1-3 on Friday afternoon. One person in our group would go and take the test first and then return to inform us what we needed to look up before going over ourselves. This rotated among us so we all took turns at not doing as well, but that was only about once a month.

Students cheat. However, it seems they are not being as intelligent about cheating these days. I caught two young men one day when I was correcting questions from a novel we read. As I was looking at the answers of the second student, they seemed frighteningly familiar. I looked back and, sure enough, they were word for word from the other kid. What’s worse is that most of them were wrong!

This is one reason that many questions students have to answer for me require short answers or essays. Single-word answers are very easy to copy without anyone being the wiser. However, teachers are pretty good at remembering phrasing and feeling that sense of déjà vu as we read student papers. So really? You’re just not going to get away with that!

One of my college professors amazed us one time. A fellow student in our English class was called out for turning in a plagiarized paper. This student had bought the paper from someone who had taken that class three years ago. The professor remembered that paper and even who had written it! The student who had bought the paper was dismissed from the class and received a failing grade.

This is a point we try to get across to students who get caught cheating. I very often assign a zero grade to the assignment but make the student redo it anyway. However, I warn my junior high kids that the penalties will be more severe at the high school and college levels. And if you establish a pattern of cheating in school, what will you do in a job someday? You might always look for the easy way out, even there.

My 7th graders are working on a research essay right now. We’ve gone over plagiarism and giving credit to your sources. Many of them struggle with putting things in their own words. You have to do more than just change a word or two; you need to summarize the point in a completely different format. Part of this lends itself to reading skills as well and the ability to decipher what is being said. Still, I’m almost guaranteed to have to call somebody to my desk when we’re done to talk about copying.

It’s so much easier to cheat today. Students can buy essays off the Internet, and many just copy and paste sections of things they find online. But as easy as it is to cheat, it is just as easy to catch the cheaters. When I read something that looks suspiciously NOT like a student’s writing level, I simply Google a sentence and – TA-DA! – there is the entire paper. I once caught a kid who had simply changed all the pronouns that had been in first person to third person, but forgot to in the final paragraph. That was enough for me to find the work online.

We all make mistakes. We all make poor choices at times. However, we’re discovering more and more kids walking the path of cheating. Most mornings I walk by groups of kids working on homework that should have been completed the night before. I always wonder how much they’re sharing. Sadly, the answer is probably too much.

Word of the Week: This week’s word is yobbery, which means rowdy or destructive behavior by youth, as in, “Cheating was the least of the yobbery which occurred with some kids each day at school.” Impress your friends and confuse your enemies!

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