Last week I gave an exam. With more than 100 students in classes, of course several were absent and had to make up the test. One student who missed the first makeup day came back to class on the day we were reviewing the exam… he walked in late as we were already into our exam review, with several of the answers on the board.
Trying my best not to interrupt the flow of the class, I quickly had the students analyzing an alternate solution to a problem while I ushered my absentee student out the door with a copy of the exam, an answer sheet, and directions to complete the exam in the library and then return to class. He protested that he wasn’t prepared (despite several days of review where he was present) and a policy that exams are made up upon a student’s return.
Not the most efficient or effective solution, and of course hindsight is 20/20, but I prefer to trust my students unless they prove themselves untrustworthy. This time, I got taken.
Upon grading the student’s exam later that night, not only did I find a tremendous increase in this student’s proficiency on the topic under study, he had also scored the highest grade in the class. In all my classes, as a matter of fact. An amazing feat for a student who hadn’t worked in class, had scored poorly on our review questions, and in-class quizzes and tests for understanding, and who had professed his unpreparedness for the exam. Or, perhaps it was just an ignominious feat.
I like to think the best of all my students, and I feel that for an overwhelming majority, they have earned my trust. But this single event unbalanced me. And I’m more disturbed because as I look back through the year, I’m quite certain this isn’t the first time… too many “shaky” coincidences that should have caught only my glancing attention have slipped by. And I’ve failed this student, as much or more than he’s failed me. Because I’ve allowed him to learn that he can succeed by cheating, even though he has yet to realize the person he’s cheated is himself.
Next time, of course, I know better solutions to the situation… give the student an alternate version of the exam, give the makeup exam in a controlled and supervised environment, or a combination of the two. Of course, that’s next time.
I like to think the best of my students, but I also need to realize that students make mistakes, and part of my job as a teacher is to assist them in recognizing those mistakes so that they don’t repeat them. We’ll be sitting down for a talk this afternoon, one that neither the student or I will likely enjoy, but that will hopefully foster growth in both of us. As a friend of mine advises, when you make a mistake, you should do three things: 1) admit the mistake; 2) learn from the mistake; and 3) don’t repeat it.