When I catalog my personal top ten list of teaching failures, the first spot always goes to the same offense: cheating. The times I’ve caught the eye of a student whose glance has wandered on to a classmate’s test. When I’ve compared two identical, oddly misspelled answers two different quizzes. When I’ve found a sentence in an essay that doesn’t feel right and a quick search of the internet locates that same sentence in an published article. Oh, and the fallout: denials, tears, parents who insist, “My child simply would never do that sort of thing.”
While I’d love to place the blame for this offense fully on my students’ shoulders, I can’t. My teaching methods and classroom habits are often as much to blame as their response to them. If my teaching practices create an atmosphere in which students resort to cheating rather than rely on their own hard work and discovery, I’m doing something wrong.
Eradicating cheating from a classroom is a remarkably difficult task. Cheating is a many-headed hydra: Cut one offense off, and another one bursts forth in its place. Teachers struggle to keep up with students’ novel and ingenious methods of academic deception, and yet we forever remain one step behind our technologically and ethically flexible wards. Plus, cheating taps into teachers’ worst fears about both our ability to teach and our trust in our students. I never doubt my perceptions more than when I contemplate whether to confront a student about suspicions of cheating. No matter how the process shakes out, trust is broken, feelings are hurt, and everyone loses sleep.