Friday, October 21, 2011

The Stinky Side of Teaching

Some of my regular visitors may know that I teach a basic English class at Brigham Young University-Idaho, a second job that I started officially this summer. It's been an adventure working with these young students (and some of them, like me, going back to school and not so young) and sharing in their learning experiences. Many of them are excited about the challenges that lie ahead and dive into the assignments we do with lots of energy.

Then there are others.

Tonight, I had to call a student on the carpet for plagiarism. It's a big worry in the back of my head as I grade essays, because I know -- from hard experience as a young writer -- how tempting using someone else's words in the place of your own. But you get in a pinch, an assignment is due and suddenly you think you've stumbled across the perfect way to do it: Cheating.

It's an ugly word, and it's one I don't relish using in relation with my students. But call this student on the carpet I had to, else the student won't learn the lesson that you have to be honest. The BYU-Idaho honor code calls for it, and expressly discusses plagiarism.

Over the summer, Alan Murray, my compatriot over at Uncharted, taught a writing class to up-and-coming high school journalists at Columbia University in New York City. He had me work alongside him to grade the essays the students wrote. We found that one of his students had also plagiarized, in this case a bit from the New York Times. The Internet made discovering the plagiarist's sources a matter of typing in only a few key words. That was the same case with my student tonight.

So now we wait to see what happens. I gave the student the option to re-do the assignment for a better grade. I also contacted by teaching supervisor to put him in the loop so I've got a backup opinion on the matter. Here's to hoping that this student realizes the error and comes clean with a new assignment. I'm not relishing the next 24 hours, though. They're not going to be fun, for me or for this student.

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