Definition: Bad Day Teaching

I love almost everything about teaching.


What I don’t like — what will screw up my sleep habits for weeks after it happens — is handling what we here at The Citadel call “HVs”: Honor Violations. In my academic neck of the woods that means plagiarism and lying (which are really the same thing in the end).

I’m currently on a years-long streak of catching at least one plagiarist every semester. I don’t know if this streak reflects that my students think I’m an idiot or if it means that I’m smarter than the average bear, but either way it tears me up inside every time another name, another face, another young life gets added to that terrible list. I’m not proud of the streak, I assure you. Indeed, I’m deeply sorrowed.

Because here at The Citadel an H.V. is generally a one-strike-and-you’re-out proposition. Plagiarism is intellectual theft, and they’re absolutely serious about its prosecution. I applaud that position on principle, of course — one of the reasons plagiarism rates are so high (aside from the internet’s open temptations) is that too often schools give only a light slap on the wrist to those who commit it — but at the same time it means that I feel a very heavy weight when I discover a plagiarist.

I know that I’m not the executioner. I only turn over the information to an Honor system that has far more responsibility for deciding fates. But that technical detail frankly doesn’t mean much when I know how an expulsion due to academic dishonesty can hang like a black cloud over a life hardly begun at age 19. The tears that are shed — and, yes, there are always tears — are not all theirs.

Simply put, it’s a tragedy I want no part of, even if I know I have no choice.

So the bad day in teaching, the worst possible day, is every day that my hopes for a semester without a plagiarist are ended.

Sunday was that day. My streak still stands.

I found three.


  1. I think plagiarizing is far more common than most people realize (very sad indeed). I wish the school I work for actually followed their “zero tolerance” rule…heck a light slap on the wrist would actually be more than what they are doing. I’ve had manuals that I have written not only been copied word for word but the images stolen, all put into someone’s thesis and they claimed it all as their own; their adviser even knew it was my work and did/said nothing, well actually what they did was praise him and give him a degree. I think the “best” experience with plagiarism I have encountered was a couple of years ago a graduate student (getting her PhD – don’t get me started on her thesis) copied my resume and when I called her on it she felt my descriptions best described her even though she had done completely different jobs than what I had, but word for word every description on the page was taken from my resume.

    I know that every professor dies a little bit inside every time they catch a student plagiarizing. Hang in there Doc. Here is hoping that next semester is plagiarism free!

  2. Thanks, Kate. I’m hanging in there. And given the choice between tsk-tsk and don’t-let-it-hit-you-on-the-way-out, I’ll take what we’ve got.

  3. Oh, that’s rough. I’m sorry to hear it.

  4. Thanks, Mary. It’s hell on my mood, but I’ll get through. We all do.

  5. Mike:

    It’s wonderful that you care so deeply, and perhaps I am too old and crotchety, but it seems to me that you need to let yourself off the hook.

    When in this country did it become widely acceptable to achieve your goals by any means necessary, regardless of legality, or more importantly, ethical standards? I’m not talking religion; I mean ethics — those standards to which our better selves strive to adhere.

    The tragedy here for me is not that students got caught cheating. It’s that they probably still don’t understand why what they did was wrong. Certainly, I don’t want anyone with military aspirations to be remotely fuzzy on these issues.

    Again, I’m sorry you’re hurting over this, but in my opinion, our world is in much too critical a state to minimize, or even discard, a fundamental like ethical behavior.

    Grumpily returning to my corner now…


  6. It ain’t crotchety if you’re right, Cathy. Then it’s just wisdom. 🙂

    The issue for me really boils down to whether a student understood what he or she was doing was wrong in a practical sense. In other words, the questions for me become reflexive: Is their failure mine? Did I not do enough to teach them how to avoid this? Were they ignorantly or willingly cheating?

    If they’re consciously trying to subvert the system, I shouldn’t lose much sleep over it. Justice in such cases should be swift and strong (all the more so given the military atmosphere, as you point out). But the possibility that I might have done more to help them avoid the danger somehow — if only I’d said the right thing at the right time — is my ever-nagging thought. I rant and rave about issues of honor, but maybe if I’d given it five more minutes, or waved my arms just so, or screamed a touch louder …

    I’m sure a person could figure out what this reflexive thought-process says about my psyche, but I’m probably better off not knowing what that might be.

    Jelly beans. Must think about jelly beans. Happy, happy jelly beans.*

    *Haven’t read Harlan Ellison’s “‘Repent, Harlequin!’ Said the Ticktockman”? Go forth and do so!

  7. I am certain that your message was loud and clear, Mike. But I believe that the installation of the moral compass is a parental duty.

    Every authority figure the child encounters after installation should reinforce the value and utility of this tool. But if that moral center isn’t installed in childhood, I’m not sure a centerless college student can hear and understand your lesson. No moral compass = no receiver.

    You did your best, I’m sure. But they could not comprehend your message.

    Thanks for the Panther clip. You were right. I needed it. 🙂

  8. Ugh! If only they knew how sickening it really is–corporeally and mentally…

  9. Ugh! If only they knew how sickening it really is–corporeally and mentally…

  10. You can say that again, Jennifer. 😉

Comments are closed