I didn't mean to leave such a mysterious post up all weekend. I wanted to share some pretty photos, or thoughtful reflections, but the weekend got busy and because I can't legally share all the craziness that was Thursday, I didn't say anything.
But now it's Monday, a new week, and I can tell you part of what happened. On Thursday I caught a cheater. Sadly, this isn't a surprising thing in the life of an English teacher, and since I've been doing this for twelve years, I've caught more than I care to count. But on Thursday, this student cheated in a way that I had never seen before, in a way that I never would have thought of, and I'm so deeply disappointed in him, and in the twenty students who witnessed him cheat and didn't tell me, and in humanity in general. I feel disillusioned about my work and about the world.
Okay, I know I'm over-reacting. He's just another punk kid who thinks I'm stupid, and I'll flunk him like I've flunked all the others. Shaun laughs at me because every time I catch a plagiarist or a cheater, I'm shocked and upset by it, even though I've caught at least one every semester since 1998. Yet every single time it feels like I'm being slapped in the face, or kicked in the belly, or spat upon. Or all three. You'd think I'd be used to it by now.
But I'm not. I go into every semester believing in every single one of my students: I believe they want to learn, and that they are good at heart, and that I can help them see why writing, reading, and learning in general will enrich their lives. If I didn't, I don't know how I'd stand in front of them every day and try to teach them things they think don't matter.
I love my students. Each of them comes to me with an amazing life story, each so different from my own. I love watching their faces light up when they finally understand something they'd never thought of before. I love seeing their writing grow and flourish each week of each semester, and I love how many of my students learn to love to read again through my class. It's very rewarding work, sharing the power of language with people, particularly people who never noticed it before, as so many of my students haven't.
But then this fool comes in on Thursday and disappoints me, and I just want to yell at all of them. I want to stomp my feet and gnash my teeth and say "Do you know ANYTHING about integrity? Do you know what college IS?" I want to call his parents and ask why they unleashed such a moronic child into my classroom. I want to call his future employers and tell them to think carefully before hiring a cheater.
But I won't. I'll treat him like I've treated the others: I'll speak to him alone, in my quiet, angry, teacher voice. I'll look into his eyes, and show him the syllabus, where my policy on academic integrity is clearly printed. I'll remind him I read him this syllabus just three weeks ago. I'll ask him what he thinks I should do, and point out that I could have him expelled for what he's done.
I'll flunk him. And I'll feel awful about it, and I might even cry when he leaves the room. Because catching cheaters is not why I choose to teach. It is the antithesis of it, really. Hopefully I can still have an open heart each day of class, believing that my remaining students will never slap me in the face. Because if I lose that, if I begin to expect this behavior, then I'll need to find some other kind of work.