It took me about an hour to figure it out, but it’s official. She cheated on her essay. And I’m pissed.
I typed the first line of her essay into Google when I first saw the draft. I caught a girl who plagiarized her poetry portfolio when I was a student teacher with the aid of this secret teacher’s aide. My practice student, a young girl from the projects, had plagiarized the poetry of a Chinese political dissident. I learned that the internet has created an awfully small world--and how to catch suspected cheaters.
Nothing incriminating came up with the first line, so I let my suspicions drop. No, it was more than that. I actually felt bad about suspecting the girl, so I complemented her, let’s call her Caroline, on her writing one day at school. Although I still felt bad about suspecting her, I immediately felt suspicious again when she responded to my complement with a nervous laugh saying, “Why, what do you mean by that? Are you accusing me of cheating?” Yeah, that kind of tipped me off. But, still, I felt cautious.
I live in fear of falsely accusing someone of cheating. My friend Mary, while we were in college, didn’t come off particularly studious or academic. Let’s just say she was a little overly obsessed with her online Zena the Warrior Princess community. So when Professor P read Mary’s insightful, mature analysis of “The Yellow Wallpaper,” she accused Mary of cheating. It was horrible. Our honor court eventually cleared Mary of cheating, and she received the A she deserved, but Professor P left a bad taste in my mouth and a fear accusing a kid of cheating without any evidence other than, "I don't think you are smart enough to have written that."
Anyway, I still felt something was off when it came time to turn in the final draft. First, she never seemed to do any writing in class and didn’t have her draft when we did peer evaluations. Second, her final seemed exactly the same as her rough draft. Third, her first persuasive essay had been about why Bush should be reelected, but this one was about the secret evils of Wal-mart. I’m not saying Republicans can’t be anti-big box, but they usually aren’t. Finally, on the day the paper was due, Caroline seemed to make a big show about how hard she had worked on the paper. There was an elaborate story about how her grandma helped her work on it all weekend, which I’m sure she concocted to counter the snarkiness I had expressed for her not working in class the whole prior week. Carving out time for a real investigation seemed merited.
It did take me about an hour, but I found the, count them, 5 web sites that were the sources for her paper. The reason it took me so long to find the proof was because of Caroline’s advanced plagiarizing skills. She reworded the first sentence of each paragraph, averting a cursory Google search. Also, each paragraph was cut and pasted from a different website. But--and here's the part that really gets me--with the intelligence that it took to assemble an almost Google-proof essay, cut and pasted from multiple sources that still read as a coherent whole, each paragraph flowing to the next, Miss Caroline could have easily written a stupid 5 paragraph essay. Right?
That pisses me off.
But not just that.
I’m nice to this girl. She seems to have social problems that give her anxiety, so I offered to let her eat lunch in my classroom everyday during my planning period. I can’t work too well with her in the class, so we often spend each lunch period chatting.
Also, on the first day of class, I explained my feelings about plagiarism. I said, “ Please, don’t insult my intelligence. If you cheat, it’s like you thought I was stupid enough to believe you wrote that essay and too dumb to figure out that you didn’t. Well, I’m not stupid. So, don’t cheat.” Now, that’s pretty much my reaction. Does she really think I am that stupid?
I put up with alot from my students. And for the most part, I don’t get mad at them. Many of my students come from horrible homes and have had few advantages in life, if any. Caroline, on the other hand, is picture perfect. There may even be a white, picket fence involved. So I’ll admit, looking at this ridiculous essay, I kinda want to take her down--really make her pay.
Isn’t that terrible?
I won’t of course. I will give her a zero on the paper and write a referral to the office. I will keep my emotions separate from the facts. But, somehow, my pent-up anger and frustration about the neediness of most of my students has come out in reaction to Caroline’s cheating. Her life probably isn’t perfect, and I know well enough that even perfect-seeming lives can be haunted by horrible closet skeletons. In contrast to my other kids, though, she’s got it all. And she had the audacity to cheat.
So, there. I kind of hate her a little.
Editor’s Note: I don’t actually remember what Mary’s essay was about, but, hell, we went to a woman’s college, so I figure there is a 1 in 3 chance it was about “The Yellow Wallpaper.”