Things Teacher Lie About – Cheating

A peculiar thought struck me the other day.

In my previous life, I worked at a press shop. My boss, a tiny whip of a woman named Cricket whose gravelly voice was perfected by years of chain smoking Marlboros, was quite imposing despite her small stature. I was new to the industry of printing, and although I thought I was a great designer, I quickly discovered I didn’t know a darn thing about the mechanics of designing a printed document.

Cricket discovered this, too.

As each job rolled off the press, I cowered in fear in my tiny cinder-block office, knowing full well that *something* was always going to be wrong, and Cricket would appear to call me every shade of stupid that she could creatively describe. I liked to blame it on the contact-high I would get when they cleaned the press. The overwhelming stench of acetone would pump directly into my tiny office due to the poor ventilation system of the slaughterhouse-turned-print-shop. Seriously, it was a slaughterhouse, and my office was a tiny compartment where they would bleed out the animals, complete with a drain that was a constant reminder that on any given day, Cricket might kill me for screwing up another job.

One day, after making another costly mistake, Cricket appeared despondent, a lit Marlboro hanging precariously from her lip. I was taken aback; this was not screaming, animated Cricket; this woman appeared defeated.

“Girl, I don’t want to fire you… but you need to figure this out FAST. We can’t have another mistake in this shop.”

The grave tone was a final warning. I understood.

That afternoon, I got on the Internet and learned everything I could about color curves, registration marks, RGB color shifts, and every other mistake I had made. I took notes in a small notebook. I talked to the pressman. I called another designer friend. I pulled on every resource I could to save my hide.

And I didn’t make any more mistakes.

You see, when I started, I didn’t have any of the knowledge I needed to succeed at my actual job. In school, they taught me about the elements of design, balance, unity, & how to design silly things like wine labels. All of these things were useful, but a huge piece of the puzzle was missing. The mechanics of printing were never discussed; it was something that required experience, and if you were lucky, collaboration with someone who had that experience.

That experience is a big part of how I run my classroom. My students are brand new “designers”; they have to collaborate to share their learning experience. Some display natural skills, while others are just like I was: clueless. And that’s okay. Luckily, I’m not like Cricket, and the classroom is a safe place for mistakes. But that makes me think of something that we tell our students that is not true.

“Cheating is bad.”

Hear me out for a second; when students are working, you may see it as “cheating” when they ask a friend for an answer. But in industry, we call this “collaboration.” On one hand, we tell them, “don’t look at each other’s work,” and then in the next breath, we stress how important it is for them to work together. It’s a confusing message. Sometimes in life, it will be important that they know how to find the answer they may not know, and the fastest way to get that answer is to ask someone who knows it.

It’s difficult for the older generation to understand. This new generation doesn’t have to catalog everything in their head like we did. They also have access to an overwhelming amount of information that we did not. Let’s stop pretending like the old way of teaching is still sufficient; it’s not. Our students don’t understand why they can’t just look something up on Google when they need to know it. I honestly can’t give them an answer why they shouldn’t.

This transformative thought changed everything in my classroom. Instead of focusing on knowledge, I started focusing on application. Knowledge is easy to find; application is what cements the content in their head. So when we’re learning terms, or dates, or anything else that requires rote memorization, I tell them to “cheat.”

They look at me like I’m crazy.

In fact, I encourage “cheating” in almost every aspect of my classroom. The students think they’re getting off easy, but they don’t realize that I wasn’t teaching what they’re cheating on; I’m teaching them how to verify and use the information, while they accidentally learn it along the way. Cricket didn’t care where I got my information, she just wanted me to stop screwing up. I acquired the information my own way and applied it to my job. Sure, copying someone’s work doesn’t help them learn anything… so stop giving students work that requires the same product from every student. When you move to a product-based classroom, cheating becomes irrelevant, and collaboration happens naturally.

I always explain this idea to my students. I’ve found that when “cheating” becomes accepted, they work harder on the application of the skills I want them to demonstrate. When I relieve the pressure of memorizing the terms but show them how they are used within industry, the terms come easily. When we get to the unit assessments, I tell them that collaboration is not allowed. But by then, they don’t need to.

I saw a great quote, and it escapes me who said it so I apologize for stealing it, but it was “Teach as if Google exists.” When our students leave us, if they don’t know something, they’re going to look it up on the Internet. What’s more important; how they find that information, or that they know the information is valid?

Time for a mindshift, y’all. Stop lying to these kids.

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