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Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Caught Cheating

When I was the tenth or eleventh grade in Hardee County High School, I had a teacher who knew the most effective way to discipline me for cheating on a test.  It was in an algebra class and I had not done sufficient study to do well on the exam.  We students sat at tables and I succumbed to the temptation to copy several answers from my neighbor who sat across from me.  He was not a straight A student himself, so I risked not only getting the wrong answer anyway, but getting a wrong answer identical to my neighbor’s.  The next class period the instructor passed out the graded exams and remarked when finished that he was very surprised to find someone had copied answers and cheated on the exam.  He did not mention names or point anyone out, but I felt sure he was talking to me.  (I had the same teacher the previous year in a biology class, and worked hard in the class and did very well.  I developed a deep respect for the teacher, and I think the feeling was mutual.)  In any case, I presumed he was talking directly to me.  It had a tremendous impact upon me.  I swore then and there that I would never cheat on a test again.  I wonder in what other more dramatic, sensational ways the teacher could have handled the incident—for instance by sternly calling me out in front of the class and arranging a disciplinary conference with my parents in the principal’s office.  This would have branded me publically as a cheat and shamed me before my classmates and parents.  Would this approach have had a more positive impact on my future behavior than the teacher’s evidenced trust and gentle words produced?  This stands out in my mind as an example where considerate mercy and trust when gifted in quiet discretion can be decisively more effective than harsh judgment trumpeted in a grandstanding fashion.  As is often the case, the determining factor should be the ultimate end in view.  I honor this teacher for his concern, courage, and conviction leading him to broach a troubling subject in a loving and effective way.

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