Friday afternoon, an unknown number popped up on the cell phone.
"This is the monitor from class 1," she began. "I want to apologize because several of us cheated on your examination yesterday, we want to ask you to forgive us."
"I am willing to forgive you, but I am still deciding what I will do." I said.
She passed the telephone to a classmate, who dove into a long run-on sentence that combined an apology with excuses about how the class is too difficult, but that they were wrong to do what they did. "Several of us cheated on your exam. Will you please forgive us? We have washed the desks in the class and would like to meet with you so we can talk about it together. Would you be willing to give us another examination?"
Unfortunately, our Chinese lesson was about to begin. "Unfortunately, I will be busy this afternoon, but we can meet another time. I am willing to forgive you, but I am still deciding what I will do."
I met with six representatives from the class a couple hours later. I wondered: did the man in the office who I asked about changing the classroom say something or did they come to this conclusion on their own? Maybe they heard from the class that took the exam right after they did. Maybe they just saw that I'd scratched out their answers on the desks.
When they came over, the students spent more than an hour apologizing and then giving me advice for how I can make their class better. Just what every teacher wants: a lecture from his students.
The class monitor explained that she called a meeting of her classmates that morning and every student except for one had signed a letter of apology admitting that they had cheated. The one student who didn't sign insisted that she did not cheat. Now, I don't think that this many actually cheated (not every desk had answers written upon it), but since China is a very collective culture, undoubtedly, some students decided to stand alongside their classmates, in hopes that I'd give everyone another chance.
Here is their apology:
"A Letter of Apology"
Our dear teacher Kevin:
We are your students in 07ET1. We are sorry for our performance in your examing class. we admitted that we had done wrong, and we bave already realized our stupid behaves. We were cheating not only our teacher but also ourselves. We have had twice exams for this lesson during the semester. What we want to say to you is that it's too difficult for us to learn this course well, in your class we fixed our mind to listen to you but still can catch a little information. The vocabulary in our lessons is too large. So it's difficult for us to understand and learn them by heart. We were anxious about the coming of the exam and even didn't take a rest at noon before the exam. In order to pass the exam, the majority of us cheated in it and the rest of us kept honest. So please forgive us this time and give us a chance to correct our fault by taking another exam. We promise we won't do the same stupid thing again, please pardon us!
We sincerely hope that you and your beautiful wife Ruth live a happy live in China and may your jobs fares well.
Thank you for reading our letter.
Department of foreign English,
(each student signed their names)
I expressed my disappointment with them and told them they they need to learn from this experience. I told them that when they cheat, they are robbing themselves, cheapening their education and lying to their future employers, among others. What if their doctor had cheated on his exams? Maybe he wouldn't know how to diagnose them properly. People would die.
I also thanked the students for apologizing to me early rather than waiting until I brought the matter up. I told them that I appreciated their courage to ask for forgiveness, even if I doubted that they would have done so if they hadn't been caught. I told them that I would forgive them because I have been forgiven for much. I told them that they will be taking another, more difficult exam. Probably an essay-based exam. Their maximum possible score on the exam will also be reduced.
I'm still deciding exactly how I will lecture the rest of the class on the seriousness of their offense in a way that may help them to realize their need for a grace bigger than that I can give.
This is not how I wanted to mark Ruth's birthday.
Thankfully, in the evening, the team gathered to celebrate Ruth's day. We made pizzas and cake, played Settlers (Ruth won), and watched Ruth's favorite movie: "Benny & Joon."