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Dishonest Students: Plagiarism Update

Sunday, April 14, 2013

I think I should begin with a big-time thanks to the members who really validated so many of my opinions and feelings concerning my ambitious little plagiarists. Not only did your comments make me feel acceptable, but some of them made me laugh and were extremely self-assuring. It sounds silly, but I needed that.

Thank You: emoticon

Onto the update regarding those plagiarists. I should preface this with the fact that this evening is the night before we return to school; I have not seen these kids yet, but the technology ridden world we live in today has allowed them hints that I know. Much to my own idiocy I put their grades in my grade book, which is electronic and LIVE. This means anyone with that student's ID can see his or her grades immediately. Two of the three students emailed me: 1.) wanted to discuss her grade, but did not acknowledge the zero and 2.) acknowledged the zero and wanted answers immediately. Both received the response "We can discuss on Monday; email is not the appropriate line of communication." One was OK with that and the other began a series of emails that eventually included his mother asking me to call her on a Sunday afternoon.

I caved (not to calling). I sent my email notifications to all three sets of parents this afternoon and here's what I've got:

1.) The one that is the least literal (all paraphrasing, and poorly I might add) was the parent to respond first. Her father said his daughter bragged about not reading, had been confronted at home about her grades slipping weeks ago, and would be promptly pulling her off the lacrosse team. He also asked to see the work. I could HUG this man. He deserves a medal.

2.) This one was the most flagrant attempt. It took verbatim structure and sentences, changing the tense of the verbs and a few pronouns, for several paragraphs. Her mother says this is not true, she does not see the similarity, and that her daughter took everything from the actual book. She indicated that this has to be the case because her daughter has never had trouble writing before. She has challenged my decision and wants a meeting. Quite frankly this woman could learn a thing or two from father #1, who, if any, had room to question me because it was all paraphrasing.

3.) This was the mother who asked that I call her. She was courteous, but insisted her son did not do this intentionally. She wanted me to know he was upset and would be speaking with me about this being an accident. I hate to break it to her, but when it's two beautifully articulated sentences that don't sound like the way he (or even I) write, it's no accident.

My initial parent responses are over, so that's something. Now onto my next Mt. Everest, the kids. I tried to ask my husband what he would do and he wasn't very helpful... how do I get these kids to just own their bad decision? This is how the conversation usually goes:

Me: I'd like to talk about paper x. Could you take me through your process?
S: What process?
Me: How did you complete your paper? Did you need research or a friend's help? Perhaps your tutor?
S: No.
Me: Okay. Well I found some similarities in your paper that are a little concerning. Could you address those specifically?
S: I didn't plagiarize.
Me: Well it certainly seems to look like it.
S: Well, I didn't.
Me: Okay. Well here's the thing: your paper has this exact same section (shows paper) as this (shows print out from source).
S: I didn't use that. It's a coincidence!
Me: It could be, but let's review the definition of plagiarism. Would you say this amount of coincidence could fall under plagiarism?
S: No. I didn't plagiarize.
Me: Alright. Here's the deal. Your work is entirely too similar to this published source, some of it is better than the way you or I write, so I'm going to have to treat this like it's plagiarism. This means (cue the handbook and disciplinary action).

They always leave pissed, go home, fabricate a nasty story that lands me some off-putting, ill-willed email from a parent. This then becomes my week and eventually my supervisor's week and while it typically ends in the kid being in the wrong, it absorbs my emotional strength and patience for the entire week. I realize I'm a self-fulfilling prophecy, which is why I am writing it out instead of letting it manifest in my brain for the next 14 hours.

And just to show you how much a student (and their parent) can in fact get away with... last year I caught a student cheating on an in-class essay. She had wikipedia printed out and under her notebook paper. This was cheating AND plagiarizing because she was copying the material. She fought me - like yelled, denied, yelled some more, a few days later accused me of gossiping about her, etc... The Dean gave her detention, I gave her a zero, but the assistant principal overruled the other consequence: removal of captain position on the fencing team. Why you ask? Because she was accepted to NorthWestern on a $30,000 scholarship for fencing and if we removed her captains seat the school would have to be notified as to why. The flaws in the system can drive a woman (or man) crazy.

So that's it. I realize this is long winded and, at times, grammatically incorrect (my apologizes); I just don't have the energy to re-read this. I do feel a little more relaxed about the situation now and I will try to not only be positive all day tomorrow, but positive on SP as well.

Thanks for the B---- session.
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Member Comments About This Blog Post
    My friend and I spoke of how self entitled kids are these days. It seems that, as a teacher, you should be thankful that a student even attempted to turn their assignments in. Don't bother with the fact that it was copied, plagiarized, etc. I am so very proud of the father who had consequences for his daughter. For me, that shows that he cares about her much more than the other parents. You can call it judgemental but the other two parents trying to defend their children instead of trying to correct them just isn't good parenting.
    I hate that it is emotionally taxing on you even though you are the one in the right. I can't imagine what it must be like to feel as if you are the culpable one when parents are angry at your decision to punish a student for their indiscretions.
    I hope that the rest of your week is stress free even if there is opposition to your decisions.
    1797 days ago

    Comment edited on: 4/15/2013 3:55:03 PM
    Thanks for the update. I feel your pain. I am frequently confronted by my fourth grade parents as to my grades.

    Just recently a mom asked why her son didn't get a 4 (exceptional/above grade level expectations) for his homework grade since he turned in all his homework on time. I tried to explain that that is satisfactory (3) and that to get a 4 he needs to go above and beyond. Fighting mediocrity is so tiring!

    Hang in there and know that it is not just here in the US but in other countries as well. (I was chatting with a teacher from Italy a few months ago--same story.)

    And by blogging/writing about it you have helped yourself in many ways--less stress and less perseverating. Good job!

    emoticon emoticon
    1798 days ago
    Thanks for sharing the update. My favorite plagiarism episode occurred when I was teaching at a community college. Two students turned in IDENTICAL papers in the SAME class. They didn't even bother to type their own but made a COPY of the one. I was pretty reasonable about collaboration on assignments because collaboration is a useful JOB skill. When confronted, both at least had the decency to look ashamed and wanted to know if they couldn't redo them. So SORRY that is a bit much to expect. They failed and had to retake the course.
    1798 days ago
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