A Teacher’s Lament

The school year 2016-2017 has ended. While encoding my final grades, I felt happy and sad at the same time. 

Out of 25 students, seven got excellent grades. That’s a remarkable 28%. I was expecting eight, which would have jacked up my percentage to a high 32%, but one had a plagiarism issue, so I slid her down to Fail.  

This failing mark saddened me, because the student’s (let’s call her Alice) performance all through the term had been exemplary.  She is a good writer, a deep thinker, and articulate.

But stealing someone's words is non-negotiable. This was discussed in class ad infinitum especially because they were writing academic papers.

In Alice's case, it shouldn’t have happened. Her paper was written, organized, and researched well (and properly referenced), except for one short paragraph that she lifted en toto from another classmate’s work, submitted three days earlier. 

(The peril of having a writer for a teacher is that in checking papers, I read every word, and notice every misplaced punctuation mark. That short, copied paragraph did not escape me.)

Our university’s policy on plagiarism among students is to sanction both—the copier and the source. But before that, I gave them the benefit of the doubt. I talked to Alice the next day, and asked her to explain the errant paragraph.

Immediately contrite, she owned up to copying it. “X lent me her paper and I didn’t have enough time to flesh out one topic, so . . .” she sputtered. 

“Both of you will fail,” I said.

“Please, Miss Chong,” she begged. “Please do not penalize her. She doesn’t know I copied from her paper. She lent it to me with the best of intentions. I could never face her again if she found out.”

“Alice's grade then is an F,” I intoned stoically, my heart bursting into smithereens.  

“I know, Miss, no excuses. I deserve it."


"But, er, Miss, would you give me a s-second chance? I will revise my paper just to get a Pass," she said with great difficulty.  

What you did was totally senseless! I would have wanted to scream but that would be digging it in. She is an intelligent, persevering young lady; I only wished she had learned her lesson. 

She did. Before she left the room, I received encouraging grace through her whispered words, I will never do it again, Miss; I promise. 

I called her back and handed her paper, "You have 24 hours to revise it."  

She smiled.

(Note: Timelines have been slightly modified to protect the identity of the students.) 

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