“Either You Can Be a Teacher or You Can Be the Plagiarism Police”

As the new semester creeps nearer, I’m starting to think about plagiarism again.  My use of Turnitin.com, a plagiarism-detection software, is helping me relax a bit – last semester, the software made discovering plagiarism, and talking to students about it, a lot easier.  However, cheating is a perennial source of anxiety for most teachers, and a recent article in the Chronicle of Higher Education is causing me to re-think my approach yet again.

In Toward a Rational Response to Plagiarism, Rob Jenkins asks if it’s necessary for us to focus so much of our energy on student cheating.

“Of course I care about plagiarism, and I certainly take steps to deal with plagiarists once I have sufficient proof. But I don’t spend an inordinate amount of time worrying about plagiarism or trying to catch students at it. I’d prefer to direct my time and energy toward something more positive, such as actually teaching the subject I’ve been hired to teach.”

Jenkins then goes on to list steps he uses to deal with plagiarism, most of which are common-sensical: put your plagiarism policy in your syllabus, talk about plagiarism on the first day but not only on the first day, design assignments that make plagiarism difficult.  I do all these things.  It’s his final point that really makes me think.

Let it go. If some students take unfair advantage of the fact that I let them do most of their writing outside of class, or that I don’t use Turnitin, so be it. It’s not that I don’t care. I do…  When I say ‘let it go,’ I mean that in the metaphysical sense. I’m not saying you should ignore clear cases of plagiarism. But the truth is, there aren’t many clear cases of plagiarism. Most cases are borderline, at best. It’s also true that, no matter what you do to deter cheating, some students are going to find a way around it. You can go crazy thinking about that all the time.”

I’m almost ready to embrace that philosophy.  Unlike Jenkins, however, I find that Turnitin.com makes relaxing about plagiarism easier.  Jenkins says he doesn’t use it mostly because it creates an atmosphere of mistrust, but talking about plagiarism at all creates the same problem.

I used to get complaints from students about the fact that I mention plagiarism more than once and have them sign contracts stating that they understand what constitutes cheating and what will happen if they do it.  I think these complaints are warranted, and now, I always reiterate several times that I know most of my students would never cheat, and that they have every right to be insulted by the implication, but that I need to do everything I can to protect people who do their work honestly. That includes having them submit their papers to a program that will help me identify plagiarism.

Turnitin allows me to stop obsessing over every line that is atypically erudite or awkwardly shoehorned in.  If the program doesn’t find something, I usually feel like due diligence has been done.  Also, simply having students submit through Turnitin makes them less likely to copy things, so I feel I can relax a bit about the whole problem.

What’s more, there’s something about the use of a software program that allows me to step away from cheating and take it less personally.  I know, intellectually, that it’s not personal when they cheat, but I can’t help feeling outraged and hurt, especially when I need to waste my valuable grading time looking for plagiarized sources or comparing two student papers line-by-line.  A student who submits a plagiarized paper to Turnitin is not so much saying that he thinks I, the teacher, am a dupe.  He is saying that either a) he believes his cheating skills are invincible (and who knows? He may be right this time) or b) he  feels this is his only recourse, so he’s going to cross his fingers and take his chances, or c) he somehow still doesn’t understand what cheating is or what’s wrong with it, or d) he just doesn’t give a damn.   It’s hard to take this personally, and when I call him into my office, the printouts covered with highlighted “matches” usually head off any attempts on his part to make it so.

A perfect solution?  No.  There are those who object to the fact that Turnitin stores student work, and others who will have noticed that it doesn’t catch everything.  For now, though, I’m grateful for anything that, as Jenkins says, lets me worry less about cheating and more about doing my job.  “Either you can be a teacher or you can be the plagiarism police,” he says.  Well, I may still have to be a bit of both, but I know I’d rather be mostly the former, and the latter only when it’s unavoidable.

What are your plans for dealing with plagiarism this year?  Are you obsessed, or can you find ways to “let it go” so that it doesn’t colour everything you do?

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Yes, plagiarism can make a teacher crazy.  If you’re not convinced, check out some of my real-life cheating-in-the-classroom stories herehere, here, and here.

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44 responses

  1. It is a huge problem. The issue I think is teaching how to do research, how to quote, etc. The temptations to download, cut, and paste are huge. Most of us can’t remember how we ever learned anything before the Internet. Try to design assignments that inspire creativity and critical thinking– I don’t have answers! Good luck! It’s always exciting to start a new semester.

    • CG: I agree, that’s a huge part of the problem. The trouble is, though, even when we teach these things thoroughly, there are always a few students who will deliberately cheat, not because they don’t know how to cite properly, but because they don’t want (or don’t feel confident enough) to do the work themselves. Cheating comes in so many forms and happens for so many reasons – it’s exhausting! Thanks for your comment!

  2. I can remember a frustrated mother at parent/teacher conferences pointing her finger and telling me that nothing in her daughter’s paper was plagiarized because “we changed a lot of the words.”

    I dropped my head and told her that I explained plagiarism many different times and many different ways, and this was one of the many ways one could plagiarize. Obviously, her daughter didn’t understand what I had been saying.

    In my cases, plagiarism has been obvious. But I have also been a nazi about it in the past, and I hate that. It’s time to move on. Make the definition clear, catch what I can and then let it go.

    • CH: these “misunderstandings” do persist, although I sometimes think they’re willful. While working on this post, I thought a lot about a student who insisted to me that he had not plagiarized, because he had copied the paragraph in question from a classmate’s notes, not the internet; he had had no idea that the classmate had copied the information from SparksNotes, so it wasn’t his fault! It might have been the most frustrating/baffling conversation of my career, but it was far from the only one of its kind…

  3. I was suspected of plagiarizing an essay in grade 12. That’s a long time ago now. I’d been turning in very mediocre work, and found essays almost impossible (not to mention boring–I just wanted to write poems–and sometimes I handed those in instead!) But this one text just knocked me out and I was interested enough to write a good paper for once. My teacher called me aside and asked me to explain (a) a couple of points I was making, and (b) why this paper was so good compared to my other ones. I remember shrugging and saying “I liked the book.”

    That’s the approach I take now when it’s one of those hard-to-identify grey zones, and I figure if the student can answer relevant questions coherently then they’ve learned whatever it was the essay was aiming to teach them. In the end that’s good enough for me. It’s time-consuming, but it saves a lot of difficult and sometimes infuriating searches.

    I think a lot of us do some version of this–the tricky part is that letting go, when we know there has been a bit of truth-bending.

    Somehow the stated policy of asking for an interview if i have any doubts or questions about their paper seems less like policing, though that’s partly what it is, and more like individual interest. Anyway they seem to think it’s fair.

    • Susan: I think this is an excellent strategy, and use it sometimes myself. I have had at least one instance, however, where a student was unable to answer questions – it was clear someone else had written the paper – but still insisted that what he had done was not plagiarism, and we had to go through a lengthy mediation process before he would give it a rest. That said, there have been a couple of cases where either a) I still felt unsure, but I let it go, or b) the student admitted plagiarizing as soon as I asked for more info, and offered no excuses. So I agree it’s an approach that can be useful and fair.

    • I had a similar experience in college where a TA gave me a D and said that I plagarized. I asked what his reasoning was and he said (I still remember the exact quote), “Because students don’t write like this.” So I retorted with “Then you find where I got it from.”

      Needless to say he couldn’t find anything close to what I had written so then his argument changed to “You didn’t take the paper seriously.” Now I was forced to have him look at it again and verify that I had addressed all the assigned topics in the paper. Finally he broke down and just had an interview with me to see if I knew what I was talking about. He ended up giving me a B (even though, an A was probably more appropriate for the amount of work and documentation in the original paper).

      Why did this happen? Because I sat in the back of class, never really said anything and apparently that meant to him that a student isn’t paying attention. In his defense, he was new at teaching. However, he committed a massive error by assuming that nobody who’s a sophmore can write in a distinctive style. It would have been better to have him ask me questions about the paper first before assuming. After being offended at first, I then felt good that my writing was good enough that people didn’t think I had done it!

      Of course this was in the days before Turnitin. My concern for students now is that with similar topics, there eventually will be fewer and fewer ways to say the same thing without sounding like someone else. But then again, the same 3 or 4 chords get used over and over in music and nobody stops listening!

      • Christopher: I think it’s important for teachers to maintain humility about these things. I once hastily told a weak student that it was clear that the level of help he had received with his paper was unacceptable. He was very upset and insisted he had worked hard and done nothing wrong. I returned to the paper and, although I still had my suspicions, I couldn’t say for certain that he had not followed the proper channels (help from the Learning Centre etc.) In the end, I wrote him a note of apology and gave him a grade appropriate to the paper. I think of this now whenever I suspect a student of not doing his or her own work. The face-to-face interview is a very useful tool in these situations.

      • I really like your comment, Christopher.

        Grading is an art, not a science. I tutor at a university in Australia and I encourage students to question their marks if there seems to be an issue. It’s a form of quality control. As much as we try, we’re not always on the ball (sometimes barely compos, depending on how many essays we’ve marked in the preceding 48 hours!). The important thing is communication. The students all know that university is basically a qualifications factory in this country these days. So they push for the best grades they can wring out of the system (as a rule of thumb). Given the circumstances, I think this is basically a good thing (tutors are not paid enough here to spend much time on assignments, so little issues do pop up from time to time, and we do need to be kept on our toes… or should I be speaking only for myself?).

        On the other hand, if students get away with plagiarism, then that’s that. We tutors are but mere mortals. On crappy wages, I might add. We can only do so much to prevent plagiarism, and I hope the plagiarists choke on any ill-gotten success (they will one day, as per the situation with the former German Defence Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg – http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/mar/01/german-defence-minister-resigns-plagiarism). It always ends badly.

        But I like to imagine that students really do try hard, and that they do succeed. I generally avoid looking at cover sheets for the very reason that I don’t want to know whose essay I am marking. It helps when I’m potentially marking the essay of the quiet student at the back of the room.

        All best wishes,

        Michael in Melbourne

        • Michael: “We can only do so much to prevent plagiarism, and I hope the plagiarists choke on any ill-gotten success”: I admit my feelings are the same, and I wish I was as sure as you are that it always ends badly. If nothing else, cheaters have to live with themselves! As much as possible, though, I think we need to help students understand how much better it feels when they are rewarded for REALLY accomplishing things. Helping them recognize plagiarism and avoid it is one way we can do that, but as you say, we can only do so much.

  4. Plagiarism isn’t too much of an issue in my classroom, but the “let it go” mantra is applicable to lots of classroom management issues. Things like gum and dress code, I mostly just don’t worry about. You have to choose your battles.*

  5. I have mixed feelings about Turnitin. On the one hand, I understand the need, but on the other, I agree about the atmosphere of distrust. However, I knew a professor who started using Turnitin in her classroom, and she approached it not as a tool to expose cheaters, but as a tool to help us with our own writing. The resulting reports were used during draft phase to help us determine if, and where, we needed to find our own voice before final submission. I appreciated this approach, it assumed that we were serious about our writing and we have good intentions, as opposed to “weeding out the cheaters.”

      • When I use Turnitin I let students know that they have the option of getting an account on Turnitin and using it to assess their own work in advance of submitting it. I really like the idea that Tanya mentions of framing this as finding one’s own voice. What I do is a bit more basic: you (the student) can see what I will see and address any issues (which, I hope I will remember to say next time, might include issues in the report itself. For example, an extended quotation in a paper could be correctly cited, but Turnitin will still pick it up as including another’s work, in this case appropriately). Giving students access to the same tools the teacher uses actually has the potential to reduce the incidence of plagiarism and also to empower students and not leave them feeling “subject to” some automated system.

        I also actually do use Turnitin in my research in order to try to detect any problems, in particular self-plagiarism with respect to previous work (a real issue in mathematical work, in particular, in which definitions and formalisms must be restated from paper to paper).

  6. I think of plagiarism the same way I think about a possibly cheating partner: if I don’t actually notice it going on in a specific instance, then it’s not going on (even if it is). At that point, dwelling on the possibility is poisonous and creates its own harms.

    If I’m merely suspicious that cheating might be going on, I let it go and leave it at that; the mental and emotional stress of doing more is just not worth it. I think there are two underlying beliefs driving this perspective: 1) Even good people can make a mistake or two, and that’s OK, if they’re good people they’re probably punishing themselves anyway, and 2) If they’re not good people, eventually they’ll cheat in an unmistakable fashion and I’ll nail them.

    I absolutely agree with the notion that the most effective way of deterring cheating is to attempt to remove both the means and the incentive to cheat; perhaps I’m wearing rosey glasses here, but I honestly believe that most cheating is driven not by laziness or ill character but by stress and frustration.

    With this in mind, my favorite approach is to require multiple drafts of paper assignments at regular intervals (I try to pace it at about one draft per week they have to complete the paper). This makes it difficult to plagiarize because I can see the paper take shape, making invasions by alien text more obvious, and it removes some of the incentive to cheat because it nudges students to think about the paper over the duration of the assignment rather than just trying to do all the work at the very end and getting overwhelmed.

    Plus, since I don’t return the drafts, it’s only a moderate increase in work for me. Collectively, I give about 10% of the overall paper grade to them, just enough to make them meaningful, but not so much as to overly penalize students who have difficulty adjusting to this way of doing things–which was me, a habitual last-minute writer, when a professor did this to me in a sophomore composition class.

    • Asur:

      I have been working on ways to most effectively use the multiple-draft approach, and have not yet come up with anything I’m totally satisfied with, but I do often ask for a preliminary in-class version and then an expanded at-home version, with grades and feedback given for each. Of course, this increases my workload, but it does seem to help students focus on their own words and ideas.

  7. I adore Turnitin! Like you, I think it takes the pressure of “catching” the plagiarizers off of me and puts it on the kids themselves. Also- since I have 9th graders, many of whom are starting the research process for the first time, I allow them to view their originality reports and see where their citation mistakes are. They are allowed to resubmit as many times as they need to before the due date. Although my kids don’t like it and are scared of using it at first, by the end of the year they are experts! I also want to learn how to use more of the revision tools on Turnitin to make it even more effective in my classroom.

  8. I like the “let it go” philosophy–ultimately, the cheaters are cheating themselves most of all. You can’t force them to care whether they’re getting an education or just getting grades. If they don’t get caught in your class, they will eventually, probably with far worse consequences.

    • Chavisory: You’re probably right – although to this day I’m haunted by the incredibly arrogant student I caught cheating in two different courses who then went on to be on the honour roll the following semester. Perhaps he got his comeuppance eventually, but it’s hard not to feel bitter about his ill-gotten gains!

  9. I think the problem is not so much cheating as a failure to understand the notion of intellectual property, or a sense of entitlement to what rightfully belongs to another. Plagiarism in the classroom is of the same ilk as piracy (illegal downloading of music or films). Don’t know how to address this issue.

    Also, I don’t think students are lazy so much as they misunderstand the nature of research. Whether a student quotes liberally and legitimately from sources, or imports them wholesale without proper references, the question is whether they have assimilated the ideas entailed.

    • Paul: I agree that the problem is often a lack of understanding. I and other teachers I know do our best to instill that understanding, but it doesn’t always come through. That said, this lack of understanding is sometimes willful. In some cases, students refuse to understand because cheating is so very convenient for them. In others, students panic and throw their understanding out the window. It’s very complicated, and there are many studies that suggest that the impulse to cheat is neurologically hard-wired, and that it is societal pressure and training that prevents us from doing so. (I used to have a link to a good blog post about this, but it’s now marked “private” – I will try to find another.)

  10. I can’t remember who said it in a staff meeting once, but it went a little something like this: If we want to eliminate plagiarism from our classrooms, we need to stop plagiarising as well! I know it sounds harsh, but it resonated with me. If we continue using old chesnut readings and asking the same questions we’ve always asked (or that we’ve found on the internet), we can expect the students to do the same.
    Certainly, I am not suggesting that we toss great lit aside, but perhaps save those for in-class activities. The take home assignments can be unique, original and exciting–especially if it makes use of new or not-so-well-known writers. I think avoiding plagiarism is all about prevention. And if it make people teach some excellent Canadian stuff or amazing postcolonial stuff or incredible Kenyan stuff or…or…or (there are so many options), all the better!
    I don’t use Turnitin (I don’t like the storing student work thing and I don’t like the process…but that’s a really individual thing), nor do I use drafts, but what I do use are sets of short essays–asking students to write about 2 pages on something very very specific (and therefore very very difficult to plagiarise). When they are writing six or seven super short essays, you can see the development of their writing skills and you can avoid plagiarism by asking weird and wonderful questions. Yes, it’s a lot of marking, but man, does it ever work. :)
    Great post btw…I’m going to probably spend a fair amount of the next year thinking about teaching (since I’m not teaching), so hopefully you won’t mind an increase in the number of comments on your blog!

    • Erin:
      If there’s anything I LOVE, it’s an increase in comments on my blog! (I also find that times when I’m not teaching lead to a LOT of thinking about thinking…as the recent uptick in posts demonstrates…)

      I fully endorse what you’re saying here, and I try to implement the approaches you describe as much as possible. I have found, though, that the amount of energy that goes into finding these unusual works and topics sometimes outweighs its usefulness. One thing that gets me in trouble, for example, is that I’m a bit obsessed with students plagiarizing from previous students. It’s particularly problematic because I teach the B-Blocks for a specific (small) major every year, so most students have friends who took my class the year before. I feel the need to constantly change up the readings and essay topics to circumvent plagiarism (and it’s not just paranoia: this post describes what happens when I don’t.) This is a LOT of work for me, as every year I have to read/reread several new book-length texts and design new activities around them etc., and I feel the need to do this for my other courses as well, if to a lesser degree. I’d like once in a while to just recycle, but I can’t seem to let go of the problem. Maybe next year…

  11. As a student, I find that Turnitin.com is amazing. They have this function where the student can submit it in a day or two before the due date and it will let the student know the percentage of plagiarism of their assignment. If you get a green bar of 20% or lower it usually means you’re safe.

    It’s a relief that I can check over my work to make sure that I haven’t plagiarized anything before submitting it, not because it’s only illegal but because I personally don’t want to be taking credit for someone else’s work. For many students, when you’re trying to reword something in your own words, it can be difficult! Sometimes there’s not a lot of ways to say something so with the Turnitin function, you can check to be sure that you haven’t crosses any lines.

    Without a system to check plagiarism, as a student, I would find it unfair since many work hard to do their own work and other students can just copy and paste from Wikipedia or Sparks Notes and hand in something that could possibly be more brilliant than my hard work.

    However, I feel like there is double standards when it comes to plagiarism. I mean, many lecture slides from my professors have content word-for-word straight out the textbook or an internet source in which they haven’t provided credit for. Sure granted they’re not handing it in, but it sure seems like they’re taking credit for work that isn’t theirs.

    • The Author: I have received several comments on using Turnitin to help students check their own assignments, and yours has convinced me that I have to use Turnitin for this purpose.

      Your comment about double standards is a very valid point. Teachers need to provide an example here! There is a grey area, though, I think – for example, if a professor has created a PowerPoint to illustrate a section of your textbook, it would make sense that the text of the PowerPoint would come from the textbook. It would be wise, however, for the professor to explain that this is so so that it is clear to the students that these words are the book’s, and not the professor’s.

      Thank you for your thoughtful comment!

  12. I feel like I have it easy when it comes to plagiarism because I’m a college English tutor rather than a teacher. I read over the student’s papers before their teacher has seen it, so I’m able to ask them “Who’s talking here?” when the voice randomly changes but there’s no citation. There’s still time at that point to figure out it if it’s a direct quote or a paraphrase that needs some reworking and then cite it accordingly.

    One of the biggest problems I face, which is probably mainly because I’m dealing with only 100 and 200 level English classes, is students using large sections from a work without using quotation marks or proper citation. Sometimes it seems like the students don’t realize how obvious it is when the writing voice changes but others are just lost when it comes to research and citation.

    • CU: I worked as a tutor in the past, and one of the most rewarding parts of it was making students understand the difference between citation and plagiarism. There often is a lightbulb that goes on when the student really grasps what’s ok and what’s not. Thank you for making teachers’ jobs easier!

  13. What a wonderful post! My colleagues and I do enjoy doing a little police work (I teach at a college with a high percentage of international students). It’s exhilarating! Plus that solemn one-on-one confrontation that follows: “It’s not you. It’s the STEALING,” which teaches me about human psychology. Fascinating stuff.

    However, I agree that we can’t catch them all. Nor should we. Yesterday I gave out final course grades and passed a few students who were practically failing. One of them was caught plagiarizing. Another BSd half the time. However, the public humiliation during anonymous class alerts (“We have a cheater among us”), the intensity of the confrontation, the fear of losing face, and even that embarrassing D- will not go unnoticed. Even if we don’t ultimately find the plagiarizer – these things will hopefully remain on their conscience for a while. And that’s all we can really do as English teachers – make a multifaceted impact, rather than punish.

    • FY: Your “We have a cheater among us” strategy is hilarious – I will consider it! And I agree that “punishment” is not the point – the best we can hope is that we help them and give them something to think about.

  14. From a student’s point of view, I understand that there is a need to mention that plagiarism will not be tolerated. I do feel though that once is enough and further warnings seem insulting. Additional warnings create an atmosphere in our minds that your expectations of us are so low that we are not good enough to engage in our learning without cheating.

    It’s exactly how I felt this semester when the lecturer mentioned it to the class for the first three weeks. It reminded me of my time in the military to be honest.

    • WMOP: I have found that mentioning it more than once is essential, and that there are ways to do it that are not insulting. One key, I find, is to emphasize (again, more than once) that I know that most students do NOT plagiarize. The trick is to not be obsessive about it, but to not assume that talking about it once on the first day of class is enough. This is especially important with students straight out of high school – in many cases, they are still not clear on what plagiarism is, and they need to specifically be taught.

  15. One thing that really annoys me is when teachers know for sure that cheating has occurred, but they refuse to penalise the culprit. This has happened many times – with one teacher in particular – in my school, and even having complained to senior management, nothing has been done.

    It really shows how SOME teachers really couldn’t care about their students. (Note: some students! My current English teachers are AMAZING! :) )

    • ALF: The first time a student dragged me through a moderation hearing because he refused to accept the consequences for his plagiarism, the head of the moderation committee – one of my department colleagues – got angry with me for taking action. He said that in his 30 years of teaching, he had never put a letter in a student’s file for plagiarism. (It is college policy that we do so; more than one letter and the student can, theoretically, be expelled.)

      To be fair, though, there are many colleges and universities where teachers are not supported by the administration when it comes to dealing with plagiarism. In the US, in particular, there seems to often be a fear of litigation by the student or by parents, and this fear is based in reality – it happens. When I taught university a number of years ago, a student fought me on one (very clear-cut) case and the administration’s attitude was, “Do you really want to pursue this? Because this is going to cause us a lot of problems.” It was my first post-secondary teaching job. I backed down. I wouldn’t now.

  16. “I need to do everything I can to protect people who do their work honestly.”

    I really like the way you worded that.

    I haven’t ever used Turnitin. I think it’s usually pretty clear when a student isn’t writing in his or her own words. I have students submit papers electronically. If something seems suspect, I’ll copy the passage and paste it in Google. In the past I’ve found the website they plagiarized. Then we schedule a meeting to discuss the issue.

    • LE: that’s the way I’ve done it in the past as well. The advantage that I find w/ Turnitin is that it will often (although not always) find the passage for you, and in addition, students are sometimes less inclined to plagiarize because they know you’re using it!

  17. Two thoughts:

    1. I agree with much of what has been said here. I would add, however, that part of teaching ought to be character-building. This is especially relevant for me as I teach in an overtly religious school. At the same time, I think that such efforts towards building honesty in students transcends religious commitment and has a more general societal role. I suspect–and have seen to some degree–that lying and cheating in school and not getting caught translates into lying and cheating in life, putting all of us at the mercy of those willing to lie and cheat. Something most academics are acutely aware of in politics, business, corporate life, etc.

    2. As one student above mentioned–as a teacher I love the fact that I can let students turn in their paper to TurnItIn and check their own report. To me, that makes TurnItIn not simply the police, but also part of the teaching-learning process. I have had several students correct papers and learn how to not plagiarize because of this feature.

    Thanks for the post and all the good comments here. I am going to incorporate some of them into my teaching. I wish I’d found them sooner…

    -Miles Mullin

    • Miles:
      “I suspect–and have seen to some degree–that lying and cheating in school and not getting caught translates into lying and cheating in life, putting all of us at the mercy of those willing to lie and cheat.” I absolutely agree. One thing that often astonishes me, though, is that many students don’t recognize this association – they laugh at the idea that cheating in school is “dishonest.” It is, in their eyes, just part of the game. I don’t think we can necessarily teach our students right from wrong, but we can create a climate in which honest behaviour is expected and there are real consequences when our expectations are not met.

  18. For a long time I thought teaching was all about establishing values in students and within myself. How could I expect them to do the right thing if I didn’t even know what the right thing was for myself? Teaching lead me down a path of self-discovery, in this sense. On a rudimentary level, the value of being polite vs. being rude to people. The value of checking homework with a red pen vs. a blue pen. The value of following instructions vs. improvising homework. The value of preparing a lesson vs. winging it. And so on.

    We can use many tools to instill good values into students: peer pressure, brainwashing, ridicule, the threat of bad grades, etc. But these are all so negative. Now I tend to think that we provide students with opportunities to follow good examples that we set, but the values inside them are really their decision. Hopefully, under good guidance, they will want to emulate the values they see in us.

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