Part of my day job involves teaching a freshman orientation class. If you went to college in the last 15 years you probably had to take one; and if you started college in the last 5 years, I guarantee you did. They go by names like Freshman Seminar or Intro. to the University and are designed to provide a comprehensive orientation to college policies and campus resources, while also helping students develop skills that will increase their success. The version of the course I teach is worth one credit and a large percentage of the grade is participation/attendance based. It’s not particularly hard to teach or for students to do well in (read: it can and should be the proverbial easy A).
For me, the real work comes in confronting students. Drawing to their attention those little signs that loudly scream: I am going to get eaten alive by the animal that is academia. The neglected homework, the shared answers, the failure to follow directions on an exam. For me, it’s not just a semester-long lecture on time management and choosing a major; instead it’s more about not letting students turn in late work and addressing academic honesty head on.
And that part isn’t so easy. At least not for me. Because that student who is holding out his assignment a week after the deadline, face full of hope, is going to look crushed when I don’t accept it. And the other one who wanted to help a friend and gave him her worksheet to copy (which he unfortunately did, word-for-word) will want to explain why it wasn’t her fault, why she was just being helpful. And if I’m honest I can remember the desire to make new friends, too. It would be easy to just grade the homework or think the “sharing” student learned enough from our chat and does not need to be given a zero on the assignment.
It would be easy, but it wouldn’t be right. It would set the students up to think everyone would bend the rules. It would mean that I wasn’t meeting the fundamental mission of the class: to teach skills to make students successful in college. And so I take a deep breath and say I can’t take your paper, remember what the syllabus says about late work and I do understand that you were trying to help a friend, but you need to understand that the way you helped him constitutes cheating.
Because at the end of the day, I’d rather have spent 10 uncomfortable minutes with a student, than to take the easy way out and live indefinitely with the knowledge that I had failed them.