Thursday, August 10, 2006


As a teacher of VCE English Units 3 and 4, I spend lots of time dealing with cheating in School Assessed Coursework. The fact that as teachers we can’t trust more than a few of our students really spoils the intent of the VCE English course.

In past years we allowed students to bring notes into Text Response and Craft of Writing SACs. To ensure consistency across classes, we specified that the notes had to be in the students’ own handwriting and that they were only allowed to bring in, say, two A4 pages. Of course, as specified in the Study Design the work had to be completed mostly in class and under teacher supervision. Seemed clear. Unfortunately, this allowed for cheating. Under such conditions, one student produced a film review vastly superior to anything that he had written, or that I believed he was capable of writing. Yet I’d supervised him, and the other students, closely during the SAC. He only had the permitted notes which I thought he’d produced largely under my supervision in a previous session.

At the next opportunity, I asked the boy to remain behind.

“Harry,” I said, “I don’t think this work is your own. You’re going to have to redo the SAC.” I can still see his open affronted mouth.

“I wrote that, I swear. You can ask anyone.”

“Look, Harry,” I said. “You’ve been getting a D average for the past two years. I know this isn’t your own work.”

“I swear to god it’s my work.”

“Well, I’m sorry, Harry, but I can’t accept it. I’m giving you the opportunity to repeat the task. You’re lucky to be given this opportunity. Many teachers would simply fail you.” I thought I was being extremely generous.

Just out of curiosity, I googled his work and, lo and behold, found the exact film review that he’d painstakingly hand-written on his two A4 sheets. He’d then evidently copied these a second time during the SAC.

Two days later, the principal summoned me. He questioned my supervision of SACs; demanded to know how I could have allowed this cheating to take place. You see, Harry had run home and told mum that his wicked teacher had accused her precious child of cheating. (By the way, how stupid was this kid??)

I explained exactly how Harry had managed to conceal his cheating and produced the article that the boy had plagiarised. Principal ordered me to ensure this never happened again. I must tighten up the procedure for SACs.

But mum was not mollified. Her hatred of me was put into writing for the record. How dare I suggest that her son wasn’t capable of producing A plus work? She trusted her son. Her son would never cheat. The teacher – me - was unprofessional and shouldn’t be allowed to teach let alone teach Year 12. And here’s the rub. Even after being shown the plagiarised documents she still didn’t believe that her son had cheated.

This incident prompted a review of our procedures for SACs. Students would no longer be permitted to use prepared notes during SACs.

Dictionaries would, however, still be permitted.

This year we’ve had a few incidences of students writing essays in their dictionaries. This happened in one of my classes. I was immediately suspicious when I noticed a student studying what appeared to be the Z section of his dictionary as soon as the SAC had begun.

In another teacher’s class, a student had meticulously typed an entire essay in about a 6 point font and had pasted it flawlessly throughout her dictionary.

Another of my students had his bag under his desk and for the duration of the SAC was taking surreptitious glances down at a page of prepared notes in his bag. I was very grateful to the student who dobbed him in because I had no idea, even though I was closely supervising. I just didn’t see him. He cheated so deftly and looked so innocent.

Another student, according to the posse that dobbed her in to the Year 12 coordinator, allegedly wrote parts of her essay on tiny scraps of paper concealed amongst the pencils in her pink pencil case. This one couldn’t be proved – the cleaner had emptied the bin where she’d allegedly disposed of the evidence - and the student had to be given the benefit of the doubt.

Now all bags and pencil cases must be placed at the back of the room before the SAC begins. Dictionaries must be surrendered to the supervising teacher at the start of the SAC. This hasn’t stopped kids writing essays on hands and arms. One desperate student had an intro on her palm and a topic sentence on each finger!

The craft of writing SAC is a joke. Our current practice – necessitated by the rifeness of cheating - is to ask students to produce a draft of each piece that they intend to complete in the SAC. Teachers comment on this first draft and make suggestions as to how it might be improved. Students must then reproduce this piece under exam conditions. Students with good memories can then vomit up what they’ve remembered. As if writers produce ‘finished’ pieces of writing in 90 minutes under such conditions.

We spend lots of time theorising about ‘Teaching and Learning’, and what is ‘powerful to learn’, thinking of all these wonderful ways to inspire learning. But this is the reality of the pressure of competition, disadvantaged desperate kids and the ENTER score.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

What’s not working for me in teaching: meetings.

School Council Meeting. I’m wedged between two largish people at a long table. The table groans under its weight: plates of party pies and sausage rolls, hard cheese, soft cheese, three types of dips, rice crackers, sandwiches, with various tempting fillings, cut into little triangles, plates of sliced carb rich fruit. Squeezed amongst the plates and cups and saucers and brightly coloured paper napkins are drifts of papers to which people will talk as the meeting proceeds. I’m starving but food at this time is prohibited for me because I have Type 1 Diabetes. (And no, I don’t want a plate of carb free food at this juncture. Perhaps I’ll blog on the joys of diabetes some other time.) Besides. My father’s disdain for church ‘bun fights’ rubbed off on me a long time before I was diagnosed with diabetes.

So I’m the only person at the meeting not slavering with glee at the repast spread before us. The abundant food adds to my torture. My nose is almost in a plate of food but there’s nowhere to which to remove it. (My nose or the plate.) The chairs around the table are remarkably upright and close. I can almost feel the ample flesh of two enormous upper arms – one on each side of me – not mine – especially as they reach delicately across me for party pies before tucking them into their pie-holes. (One grasping hand has fake red manicured finger-nails at the end of sausage fingers adorned with too much bling.) The person on my right has gappy protruding teeth and talks with food in her mouth. Pastry has flaked onto her left breast and down onto her enormous navy polyester clad thigh.

I shouldn’t be noticing these details, a hidden agenda, I should be focusing on proceedings. But if I do I will fall sideways, probably onto the cushiony arm of the person on my left. In fact, it’s an appealing thought. I’m unutterably tired and the meeting is so god-awful boring that I’m nearly sick with stifled yawning; my eyes, barely open, are blurred with exhausted tears.

I should just pack it in. But I’m an elected staff rep at the beginning of a second two year term. I feel I’ll be disappointing my constituents if I resign. Laugh out loud.

Earlier. Same day. Curriculum Committee Meeting. I loathe this one. Our Leader lacks emotional intelligence and a sense of humour. The members of committee must mind the eggshells. (I wonder what it’s like to have people walk around one on eggshells.) The meeting, as usual, is repetitive and unproductive. Intelligent people with great ideas repress them lest Our Leader take umbrage, roll her eyes, and sulk for the next three weeks. My two worlds almost collide when we are taught how to blog on this very site. (Big scary adrenalin rush, but my secret is still safe.) We are to have an on-line ‘conversation’ – “these professional conversations – spotto new buzz word - are the most important aspect of Teaching and Learning”. Not a bad idea, but woe betide anyone who upsets Our Leader on-line. I clench every muscle that will clench for the duration to avoid letting Our Leader have it.

At the previous meeting Our Leader sanctioned me for making some innocuous quip, which got a laugh from those who dared to. The minutes possibly recorded my loud “It was a joke! Fuck!” Very unprofessional, I admit. (Another committee member later suggested that, for the benefit of our dour Leader, we should hold up smiley faces on poles to indicate levity.) Anyway, for the rest of the meeting I recited the lyrics of American Pie in my head to calm myself. (By the way, this works very well. I recommend it.)

The meeting ends eighty minutes after it began.

I’m dying with fatigue and I’ve still got to get through School Council.

I should just pack Curriculum Committee in. So much stress is not good. But I enjoy other aspects of being English Coordinator. Curriculum Committee is simply penance for The Fraud.

Same day. Six on. Double Year 12, double Year 7, double Year 10.

And I haven’t even started on the oxymoronic Professional Learning Teams.