Cheating Stories

When people find out that I’m a teacher, the first thing they always want to talk about is just how bad the students and parents are these days.  Of course, I have plenty of stories tokeep them happy, but before long I try to steer the conversation to a much funnier topic: cheating stories.  These also demonstrate, in their own way, civilizational decline, but with much more pleasant humor. 

Hollywood has trained us to see cheaters as bored rebels who have ingenious ways of fooling teachers.  I wish that were true: it would be an improvement on the truth, which is that most cheaters are dumb as bricks, which is why they cheat in the first place.  Sadly, they don’t even do it remotely well.  Here are some of my favorites:

  • One student essay was surprisingly good, so much so that I knew it was copied.  The only question was where the student got it from.  The mystery was solved when I got to the last paragraph of the “essay,” which said that if this introduction had whetted the readers’ appetites, they would want to jump right into chapter 1 and continue the book. 
  • I’ve read about the many, expensive essay-for-hire companies on the Internet, and have always wanted to get a sample of their work.  Unfortunately, I never have.  Whenever I suspect a student of submitting an essay not of their own composition, I just type the first line into Google, and almost always get the source right away.  The most common source for these “essays” turns out to be the plot summaries of novels on SparkNotes.
  • I’ve had several “essays” turned in with a date and web address automatically printed at the bottom of each page; they didn’t even bother to paste it into Word, they just printed their stolen work straight off the Internet and put their name on it.
  • I’ve also had several papers turned in where the name at the top was erased with White Out and filled in with another name, in a different color ink, in different handwriting.
  • Also, when I see a paper turned in with far better writing than a student has previously demonstrated, I ask them to explain an especially lucid, erudite section of their “own” paper in other words.  They never can.  Cheaters don’t even bother to steal material from their own skill level, instead deciding that I won’t notice if they suddenly turn into William Faulkner. 
  • I often have students grade each other’s papers in class while I read the answers.  Of course, I have procedures to make sure that nobody gets their own, or a close friend’s, paper, and that they are accountable for their scoring.  Nevertheless, I frequently have people pass up their own “corrected” papers, with every answer correct.  Most of them don’t even have the common sense to put a score at the top, much less pretend to get a couple wrong.  As I announce answers, I might explain the answer or even make a joke about them.  Most of these fake papers have my extemporaneous comments on them as “answers,” word for word.  These students are always indignant when I accuse them of cheating.
  • Crib sheets?  Answers in the palms of hands?  Cell phone scams?  Coughing in code?  I wish my students had that much initiative.  You’d be surprised how many tests I’ve given where students kept a copy of their notes or a book out on the desk, in plain view, not even hiding it, copiously copying it, even as I stare at them. 
  • Also, students rarely try to stretch or pretend to pick something up from the floor in order to look at a neighbor’s paper.  Most will just lean way over and ogle the paper, sometimes for a minute or two, often looking back and forth between their desk and their neighbor’s, while they scribble.
  • Students often ask to go to the bathroom during tests.  When I say that that’s fine, as long as they turn in their finished test first, they almost always say, “Oh.  Never mind.” 
  • My all time favorite: one year, a class had an assignment to write a personal essay.  One girl wrote about making poodle skirts with her friend and dancing to 50’s music in them.  The boy who sat next to her, a football player, turned in the exact same essay.  I assumed that the original had been written by the girl, but when I asked them both about it, she was confused and he was the one who got angry, which, of course, means that he was guilty.  Clearly, he hadn’t even bothered to read the essay, even as he copied it verbatim.  I asked him why he cheated and he said that his coach was working him so much that he didn’t have time to do homework, so he’d stolen it off her desk and copied it before class.  I asked him if he really wanted to blame his coach.  He said yes, so I emailed his coach.  Coach wasn’t happy.  Also, I called that guy “poodle skirt” for the rest of the year. 

8 comments on “Cheating Stories

  1. My eighth graders had to do a poetry project, which included a requirement for them to write their own poems. One girl submitted the lyrics to Christina Agualara’s “Beautiful” the same year it was released and played non-stop on the radio–she claimed this poem as hers.

    I cannot tell you the number of times I have had parents call me to insist that their kids never would or could cheat. I have never had any of them apologize when I gave them the internet print-outs of the websites from which their kids copied and pasted.

  2. What is sad is these are the dumb cheaters. There are a few smart cheaters who you don’t actually catch. However, most smart people spend their energy studying and doing the work, since cheating means it will hurt you later when you didn’t learn the material. Unfortunately, even smart people are tempted to cheat just a little here and there, even if they don’t cheat on a test.

    I like my Dad’s story. He noticed a girl was copying his work. So he started answering incorrectly. When he got to the last couple problems he pretended to agonize forever. She finally filled in something and turned in the test and left. He then went back and corrected all the incorrect answers on his test from the previous questions. When they got their tests back in class, she just couldn’t understand it. She kept looking at his A and her F, back and forth trying to understand how she had gotten a different grade when she’d copied everything word for word.
    I love that story.

  3. My favorite were the high school students who gave me Wikipedia articles, complete with underlined hyperlinks, for an expository writing assignment.

  4. Thanks for the feedback, all. Yes, it’s bad enough when kids cheat, but the fact that they can’t even do it well really doesn’t bode well for the future. Who wants to live in a nation that’s all Boris and Natasha and no Lex Luthor?

    And, Jks, you’re right, we can never know how many kids have successfully hoodwinked us. Nothing’s as demoralizing, though, as being told long after the fact that a kid played you and got away with it. If I had a nickel for every time someone came up to me, even years later, and smugly confessed that they didn’t actually read The Scarlet Letter

  5. I guess I can understand a high schooler’s confusion over Googling being research, because it’s the analog of copying from the encyclopedia from my high school days. But isn’t there any attempt to teach what research really is, or why plagiarism and test-cheating is wrong? From their total lack of attempt at concealment, I’d guess they don’t have any grasp of the concept.

  6. I’m not a teacher, so I don’t have any stories to contribute, but it wasn’t too long ago that I was a high school student myself so I’m not too surprised by these cheating stories. I recently helped out with a small video about LDS student questions that points out some interesting facts about what goes on in a young person’s head:
    Not terribly shocking, but intriguing nonetheless.

  7. Ardis, good point. These are extreme examples; most kids do try to hide it, but they just don’t do it very well. Still, those recent surveys that tend to pop up in the news now do agree with you: the text message generation doesn’t understand the concept of plagiarism. I’m starting a research unit this week, and will be sure to explain this most explicitly.

    Allison, thanks for the video. Perhaps this generation’s lack of concern over this is the result of the last two generations being indoctrinated in school that “group work” and “cooperative learning” is the most valid form of achievement? Another victory for socialism!

  8. A quick story from my high school years. While reading Moby Dick, the teacher gave the class take home tests. When she realized that a few students were cheating and working together she stated that the offenders needed to turn themselves in by the end of the day or fail the class. All but four students turned themselves in. Thankfully I was one of the four, but what a class of morons!

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