Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Sep 17 2012


One of my kids cheated today, and it’s making me really upset.

It was on a little nothing assignment. We do multiplication facts every day for 5 minutes. They work on a sheet of 100 facts with all one number (i.e. all the 2s problems) and they have 4 minutes to finish it. If they finish it, they get a sticker and move on to the next number. If not, they make flashcards of that number to practice at home and they try again tomorrow.

It’s a good exercise, and it’s definitely working, slowly but surely, plus it makes me excited that we are already getting these facts down this early in the year.

Except today one of my kids took a completed 7s sheet, erased the name off it, and put his name on top. It had already been given a giant check mark for when the first kid finished the sheet, it obviously wasn’t his handwriting, and it was a bad job of cheating overall. I knew right away, I asked him point blank, and he lied to my face.

Let me tell you about this kid. He’s super behind in everything, and he’s my lowest reader by far. His math issues come more from a poor memory and little background knowledge than any huge difficulties understanding math; it’s more that he learns it and then forgets it just as fast. But he generally tries really hard, is a sweet kid, and stays after school with me one afternoon a week to work on reading skills. He did not strike me as a dishonest kid, before today. When he did surprisingly well on two reading quizzes, given the struggles he has, I chalked it up to lucky multiple choice guesses and gave him the benefit of the doubt.

After he cheated today, we had a long talk. I asked why he cheated, and he said, simply, “Sevens are kind of hard.” We talked about how there are no shortcuts, and how when he cheats he doesn’t learn anything. We talked about how when you work hard, you learn things even when they are difficult. We talked about how important integrity is. We talked about how a smart person isn’t someone who understands everything right away, they’re someone who knows when to ask help and when to keep working hard so that they understand everything in the end. We talked about how he is a smart person, too smart a person to sell himself short by cheating.

But the thing is, now I can’t trust him on anything. I know this comes from insecurity, which is understandable for a kid who has had so little success in school. But bottom line: I can’t trust this kid anymore, and it throws all his accomplishments thus far into doubt, because I have no guarantee that he didn’t cheat on those too. Did he cheat on 4s? 6s? Reading quizzes? Everything?

I want to be able to trust my kids. Part of me is really sad, because I feel like this kid I thought I knew turned out not to be the person I thought he was. But another part of me is angry in a motivating way. I know there was a lot of cheating last year that went unpunished, because their teachers from last year have told me that they don’t care too much if the lowest ones copy. “It’s the best they can do,” they have said. If that’s what their teachers think of them, what do they think of themselves?

But here’s the thing. It’s NOT the best they can do. They can do better. They can do phenomenally. But they need to learn, right now, at 10 years old, that they are the only one who gets to decide how well they do, and it’s based entirely on how hard they work. They need to have the confidence to believe in themselves and the integrity to admit when they don’t understand. If they don’t learn NOW to tell the truth, to work hard, and to be the kind of person someone can trust, when will they? The answer might be never. And we can’t take that chance.

10 Responses

  1. Hi, my name is Allie, and I’m considering TFA in NM for 2013. Could we exchange e-mails or Skype? I’m unsure which region is right for me (though I feel drawn to NM for some reason) and want to speak to alumni or current teachers to get a better feel for what it’s like. I’d REALLY appreciate it, thanks!

    • eminnm

      I sent you an email :-)

      • Liz

        I would love to speak with you ladies too :) I have already talked to the office in NM, but would love to learn more from someone currently there and “met” a potential co-teacher (Allie). I’ll be applying in November. Thanks!

  2. Cal

    You are handling this very badly. Cheating isn’t a moral issue for kids like this. It’s a strategy.

    Start rewarding kids for getting 20% more right than they had before. Stop setting such impossible standards. And really, stop being such a moralistic twit.

    • Kelli

      I find the comment above to be abrasive and presumptive. I agree that cheating is a strategy for students who are low. I also agree that celebrating student growth (rather than strict achievement) is a great way to help students who are starting out low. But it is also ABSOLUTELY an issue of morals and of thinking enough of themselves to do better and strive for knowledge. Good for you for taking the time to have an important conversation with this student.

      • eminnm

        Also, thanks Kelli for defending me even before I had a chance to defend myself :-)

    • eminnm

      You are handling the internet very badly. When expressing an opposing viewpoint, do so politely and explain why you think that. The internet does not exist for you to call people names.

      On the points you did make, you assume I set the standards. I don’t. The Common Core, the state, and my school do. My (sometimes impossible) job is to try to get my kids up to that standard, hard as it may be. I do reward my students, for any and every accomplishment they make, because it is progress towards our goal. And while cheating may be a strategy to a kid who doesn’t know the material, to the world I hope to prepare them for, it IS a moral issue. They need to understand that it doesn’t pay off long-term.

  3. poco

    kinda makes me wonder how Cal got through school.

  4. Michelle

    I too am thinking about joining TFA in 2013 and am very interested in NM and elementary education. I am enjoying your posts and would love to know more about your experiences. And for what it is worth, I think you are absolutley correct, cheating is morally wrong and even children understand this. It is wonderful that you are so invested in your children that you truly care what kind of adults they will become.

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