Lesson for the Teach.Episode 2

I have 20 years of experience in college teaching, at two community colleges and two campuses of the same Florida university.

In my experience, most students make the effort to do the assigned work. Cheating is uncommon, at least in my classes. That may just mean the best cheaters get away with it.

I have taught many English courses. For some students, writing is boring, and for others, it’s simply really difficult. Now and then a student will plagiarize somebody’s work and submit it as their own.

It’s not so difficult to tell is a student has plagiarized something. If the material is older than a few years, it will use words not likely to be in the student’s vocabulary. If it’s a research paper from a fraternity’s files, you can look at the dates of the sources, and if nothing is recent, then it’s probably plagiarism. Basically, a teacher knows what words a student most likely uses, and if written work doesn’t sound like a student, it’s likely no the student’s work.

So a few years ago, I had a young man submit a plagiarized end of semester research paper. I could check it out on Google easily enough. It was stolen. This is a serious matter at my university. Cheating gets a grade of FF, which cannot be removed from a student’s transcript and results in automatic expulsion (although students can apply for readmission after a year).

So, what to do? He was a pleasant guy. I was quite aware that the best cheats are too good to be caught. More importantly, in these internet days, a large number of people prowl the internet, then cut and paste other people’s work and present it as their own. This is often the case in blogs, and too often, in the business world. People seem to think that cutting and pasting is the same as writing their own. I’d rather have a bad paper from a student than one a student steals—or worse, buys on the internet.

So what to do? I thought then and still think that a permanent FF on a transcript is too severe for a stupid mistake. So I told him I had proof his paper was plagiarized and please meet me about it.

He did, coming in looking like he was visiting the dentist’s office. I asked him if he was aware of the penalties. He said yes. I then said that was a stupid thing to do, why did you do it? And he said he just hated writing. I said it’s easy for a teacher to tell when a paper is plagiarized.

So I asked if he’d accept a C and never take another class with me again. He said yes. So I ripped up the research paper and gave him the pieces and said don’t ever do that again.

There’s no moral to this story. I hope he never did that again. I think I scared him enough that he learned the lesson.

Deep knowledge,and happy reading.
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