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Figuring Out Why Students Cheat4 min read

I hate cheating.

I hate it.

I hate that I spent a month teaching what I thought is really great content, only to catch 5 of my students plagiarize entire essays.

I hate that there are students who deemed it okay to steal sentences and paragraphs from their classmates without them ever knowing.

I hate having to worry about our “future generation” and their lack of work ethic, and this growing tendency to take the easy way out.

I hate wasting 15 minutes of a Saturday afternoon reading and grading a paper while my wife takes my one-year old to the park, only to realize while reading the conclusion paragraph that the entire thing was ripped off from Yahoo Answers.

I hate when students think I am too dumb to realize when they are cheating.

And I think I hate it most because cheating is like a giant x-ray spotlight aimed deep beneath my skin, exposing my faults and revealing my inadequacies as a teacher.

I am not a perfect teacher. Students don’t always feel comfortable enough to tell me when they are struggling with a certain topic. So instead, they live in a state of frustration and without confidence, leading them to cheat to get by.

I am not always great at delivering content. My lecturing has been confusing at times. Class discussion can leave my visual learners alone in their thoughts. Inquiry-based activities where I leave the researching and learning up to my students can cause anxiety to bubble in the blood of my left-brain thinkers, causing an instinctive fear that what they are doing is wrong; so they cheat.

I assign hard papers. My students take difficult tests. I think the work they do is very meaningful, but sometimes for something to be meaningful, it goes beyond surface level thinking. It requires patience, diligence, and effort. And too many students would rather cheat than put in that effort.

Back in teacher college, I used to say that my classroom management plan would just be to create an environment where students are so engaged that working hard and behaving themselves would just be a byproduct.

Sounds easy right? (Veteran teachers, this is your cue to giggle)

I want my students to be hard-working people who want to learn and grow. And so when I see cheating, I am not getting what I want.

I’m left with this question:

Why are you cheating?

Is it pressure? Boredom? Ignorance? Laziness? Culture? The system?

Me?

I know there is not an easy answer to this question, and I know it is one that has been asked by teachers and leaders for thousands of years.

But it is still unsettling, and one that should be asked again and again and again.

Because the truth is, if a student is cheating to succeed, they are not really succeeding. Learning is not happening, and instead students are just playing a game with wins and losses. As teachers, we want our students to leave our classrooms having learned and grown. So if kids are cheating because ‘that is what everyone does in school,’ then we need to change school. When kids cheat because “the teacher doesn’t actually teach us anything,” then that teacher needs to evaluate their pedagogy. If kids are cheating because it’s easier than hard work, then we need to discover ways to make students understand why that hard work is worthwhile. And if we can’t do that, then what’s the point of the work in the first place?

This isn’t to say students are not culpable for their actions when they cheat. C.S. Lewis said that “integrity is doing the right thing when no one is watching.” People need to be accountable for themselves, and this includes our students.

However, I do think having a system that does not inspire its members to work hard and honest is a system that needs to be abolished. As a teacher in that system, it frustrates me to no end when students take the easy route rather than the meaningful one. And my hope is that the work we do in my class can inspire them to choose integrity over dishonesty and laziness.

That is really is my hope. Because man, do I hate cheating.

 

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Trevor Muir

I believe every student has the potential for greatness. And I believe every educator can be equipped to unlock that potential.