Today my frustrations with my culture classes boiled over into full-on anger. Anger mixed with sorrow about my student's souls.
Today I caught almost an entire class -- 34 of 44 -- cheating on an exam.
But before I get into that, let me back up a day. During the exam I gave yesterday, I spotted one girl who was mysteriously looking back and forth between her paper and her desk.
"What could she be looking at?" I wondered as I walked towards her. She slyly shifted her paper to the side, covering the area her eyes had been examining. I made a mental note of her name and where she was sitting, so I could get a closer look at her desk after almost everyone had left the room. After all, maybe something else was going on.
Sure enough, maps of Australia and New Zealand, which is one part of what they were being tested on, had been faitlfully drawn onto the desk. Now, most of the time these sort of things go unnoticed, because Chinese students are notorious for writing all over their desks. There isn't a single desk in the class that doesn't have writing scrawled all over it.
"What are you looking at?" asked the one student who was left in class, after handing me her exam. "She wrote the answers on her desk," I said, shaking my head.
She pulled out the blasphemous phrase every Chinese student seems to know to use when something shocking has happened:
"Oh my God," she exclaimed in mock horror. "How terrible. What will you do?"
"I am still deciding."
"I think when someone cheats, they must be punished, yes?"
I continued looking at other desks and soon discovered that others had used the same tactics. Unfortunately, I wasn't sure who had been sitting in those desks, since many change seats each week.
Fast forward one day. Now, my cheat-dar is on high alert as I give the an exam to another class. I spot a handful of eyes that are following the same track as the girl did yesterday, dancing back and forth between papers and their desks. Briefly, I consider nailing them now, but suddenly I had a thought: "I'll make note of where everyone is seated and then come check their desks after the exam. I begin writing out a seating chart, noting each student's name as I walk by."
After they leave, I began making the rounds.
By now I'm fuming. I pull out a blue permanent marker and begin drawing lines through their answers on the desks, to shame them.
By the time I finished, only a handful of desks were left without blue marks.
And there was another class about to come into the same room to take the same exam. I hurried up to the department office and found another a room we could move to for the exam. "Is there a department policy on cheating?" I asked Mr. Wang, explaining what had happened. "No, there isn't."
As I waited in the original classroom, counting down the minutes to when the next exam would begin, I watched the students cramming for their exam, curious if they would realize that the teacher was onto them. Several hurried students came into class, sat in their seat and noticed that answers had been scratched out. As they pointed it out to their neighbors, I gave them a knowing nod. But not everyone caught on. One girl, oblivious, frantically scribbled out a few answers onto her desk.
"I discovered that most of the students in the last class had written answers for the test on their desks," I announced. "If it was you who did it, you should be ashamed because you may have just made another student fail." Several students ashamedly looked down, avoiding eye contact. A few nervously giggled. I continued: "So the first thing we are going to do today is move to another classroom. Please stand and follow me."
I followed the same tactic in the new room. But now most students were rightfully fearful of being caught. I drew a seating chart with each student's name and watched them like a cat waiting to pounce on a mouse leaving its hole. Again, after they left I checked their desks. This time I only found two cheaters: apparently, in the minute or so that I wrote instructions on the board, these brazen cheaters managed to scribble down a quick map. Unbelievable.
As Wes put it, "They don't see cheating as wrong, unless they get caught."
Again, I left the room angry. I saw a couple girls in the hallway. They smiled, nervously.
But now I have a dilemma: first of all, what should I do? Should I give them all the zero they've been promised for cheating on an exam or should I give them another chance? A big part of me says fail them. Unfortunately, it's not clear-cut exactly WHO cheated. Was it the first student sitting at the desk or had the student who would be in the room to take the exam second come in early and scribbled down the answers? There were a couple of desks with TWO maps of Australia drawn on them.
The justice-seeker says, "Just give them a zero." The merciful part says, "Make them take a new exam." Yet another part says, "Maybe they can just go to another classroom and fill out this small part of the exam again?" Wes had an interesting idea, considering that China is a shame-based culture: "Call each student who cheated to the front of the room and give them a choice: I draw a line on your forehead or I give you a zero." That sounds extreme, but I'm at a loss right now.
I know many of you who read this are teachers. What would you do if you potentially cheating?
I ache for their souls. Integrity and honesty have such a small part in their studies. If they're willing to cheat on something as small as this (really, in the grand scheme of things, my class matters very little to them), how can they be trusted in bigger things? I wonder how many of them already cheated on college entrance exams? How many will do it again with their TEM-4? How many will bribe someone to find a job? When they become teachers, will they go on to enable their students to simply follow in their footsteps?
So, yes, all that to say, right now I'm at a loss. Bad China day? Yes.