Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Lemonade, Anyone?

My shrink told a story today about how he lost his keys (it was as riveting as it sounds). He said he was so worried about finding them that he was joyful when he did, & embraced that joy. I said, if it were me, I would have preferred not to have lost my keys in the first place. But still, nerdy student that I am, I took in the lesson, and found the silver lining in my cloud of pissed-offedness today.

Our seniors have to write a research paper on Hamlet every year. Our means of preventing plagiarism is to do the research for the kids; we give them a choice of a few articles to use for the "research," & I have tried to take them through the process step-by-step. I naively booked computer room sessions during class time to help with this, but by the time the ancient machines in there booted up, I had to tell the kids to start shutting down.

Whenever I give an out-of-class writing assignment, I get plagiarists. It never fucking fails. Even though I catch a few every year, & you would think there would be ample word-of-mouth on this, some hotshot always thinks they can get away with it. And they're not even smart about it. Drives me crazy.

Mind you, this assignment was due over two weeks ago & I'm only just now getting around to marking them. I'm aware that this is a total rationalization, but the very real plagiarism fear is one of the causes of my procrastination. I just don't want to deal with it.

So I haven't even marked 10 papers when I come across this year's Darwin Award: a lovely girl who has been sucking up to me all term. She tends to be absent at least once or twice a week, and - shocker - missed all of those computer lab sessions. She also complained regularly that she didn't have a computer at home.

Well, apparently she got one, because she handed in a paper - late, mind you - entirely cobbled of cut-and-pasted student essays & book notes available online. She didn't even make it all one uniform font. She didn't even make any attempt to disguise her method by, say, using a thesaurus or something. I was so furious I went about highlighting each copied section in a different color, writing in the URLs of all the links I found to her sources, etc. Then I got angry at all the time I wasted doing that, feeling lousy about something that was bound to happen anyway, seething with righteous anger & making mental notes about all the things I wanted to say to this girl when I have to sit down with her & her guidance counselor & possibly parent(s).

So how did the key story help me deal with this? It helped me realize that before that irritating situation stopped me in my tracks, I had read at least half a dozen original student papers. Only one or two were actually good, but even the ones that weren't so well-written responded appropriately; I had asked the students to form their own ideas about what they'd read, and they came through. As much as I was glad for them that they rose to that occasion, I'll admit my pleasure was mostly derived from the gratification of feeling that I had actually taught them something: that they had a good journey through a book, with my help.

Before I ever saw the plagiarist's paper, I had written this to post:
One of my students wrote a not-very-good paper on Hamlet, but I found this last part adorable. Is that condescending of me? Here it is:
"Hamlet is an interesting character to me. He's quiet, just like me. He's mysterious, just like me. He's also smart. He's crazy, like literary [sic]. He pretended to be crazy in the book but I think he is crazy thru out. He killed people, always thinking to kill himself, and acting crazy around everyone. But throughout all that, I still admire him and his courage to avenge his father's death. He reminds me of Simba from the Lion King.
"I would recommend this to everyone who is interested in Shakespeare and his writing. It is a good book and it will keep you interested if you know what they are saying."

So... yeah. Silver lining and all that. Yin & yang. It is what it is. It helps to remind myself that the ones who make me feel like I'm wasting my time are not the only ones there.


  1. Look at the bright side. The plagerist has developed some computer skills. I always thought the best solution would be to ask them to hand write the report and grade them in part on their handwriting and spelling, if for no other reason then to improve their handwriting and commit some of this nonsense to memory. Still, another take away might be Why are you trying to impress the people who don't respect you? Give her a big red F and move on. You only have to explain yourself if she challenges you.

  2. You're right; I always have a hard time keeping my eye on the prize in these situations.