A few years back I had a student who cheated. This wasn’t one of those “my word against yours” sorts of things. What happened was that I photocopied the graded tests before passing them back, and when one of the kids turned it back in for a regrade claiming that I’d graded something wrong, I found that he’d changed his answer so that it would look like I’d made a mistake. This was an open-and-shut case of cheating, complete with irrefutable documentation on my part.
Of course, he claimed that he hadn’t cheated. When I showed him the evidence of his cheating, he got very quiet. He asked what he could do and I told him that he’d head up to the honor council and they’d decide what the punishment was. All by the book.
About a week later, my principal came into my room. He explained that the kid’s mom was very active in the PTA and that she had the tendency to overreact when it came to her kids. I pointed out to him that there was no room for misunderstanding, showing him the evidence, and he again explained the situation with the kid’s mom. Finally, I just asked him if he was telling me to drop the cheating case against the kid and he told me that he did. And that the case would be dropped irregardless of what I said.
I dropped the case. And at the end of the school year tendered my resignation.
Before this all happened, I had only very occasionally caught kids cheating in my class. It was something that was usually handled quietly and was meant to teach the kids a lesson more than it was to punish them. The typical punishment was a reprimand and a zero on the assignment. Not that big a deal.
However, once I was pressured into dropping the case, I realized that I couldn’t, in good conscience, hold other kids to the standards that had been ignored when this kid had his case dropped. I dropped out of the honor council, and when students would be caught cheating I’d tell them to retake the test and not to do it again.
Now, it would be wrong for me to say that this incident of cheating is the only thing that caused me to leave. In all honesty, my son had finished daycare and was about to start pre-K and I had been thinking for some time about leaving teaching for a time to be a stay-at-home dad while he was in school. You know, the whole nine yards: Volunteering at his schools, packing his lunches, doing volunteer work while he’s at school, being at home when he returns and so forth. I’d be a regular Martha Stuart!
Honestly, I was completely on the fence about whether I should continue teaching or take time off for my son. However, the feeling that I’d done the wrong thing weighed heavily on me and I decided that this was a good time to take a break from teaching.
If I had to do everything again, I think I’d still leave teaching. It is so rewarding and enjoyable to spend time with my son that it’s been very worth it. However, I don’t think the cheating issue would play much of a part. I think, after much reflection, that it’s better to work within the system to convince people that they’re doing the wrong thing than to bail out when times get tough. When I go back to teaching in a few years, I’ll remember this and act accordingly.
I miss teaching. Someday, mark my words, I’ll be back!