Sunday, January 29, 2012

To catch a plagiarist

This week I find myself identifying with these words spoken by Liam Neeson in the movie, Taken.

"What I do have are a very particular set of skills.  Skills that I have acquired over a very long career.  Skills that make me a nightmare for people like you."

The background: Before we went on winter break, in fact, about 10 days before the break started I assigned a winter break project.  I've learned from experience that kids tend to stop coming to school in the few days before a break, so, if I want everyone to do the break project, I need to tell them way in advance.

The project: To choose from a provided list of holidays and celebrations in Spanish speaking countries and write a 3 page research paper, including a picture.  I had an awesome list of both holidays related to religious celebrations and non-religious celebrations, holidays from a wide variety of Spanish speaking countries, holidays that had to do with fashion, or animals, or food.  In other words, at least one of these holidays should have appealed to every student.  I also had a list of suggested things to write about.

The details: Once again my experience kicked in.  Although this assignment is for a Spanish class, I asked for my students to complete the assignment in English.  Why?  I explained to them, they simply don't have the level of Spanish required to complete a research paper, they are not behind where they should be, in fact, very few 2nd year Spanish students would be able to take on such a challenge, and be successful.  I told them that in the past, students have used online translators or asked Spanish speaking friends to "help" with their assignments, both scenarios that would earn them a 0 that I wanted to avoid completely.

I even wrote at the bottom of the assignment sheet, "Please refer back to our classes plagiarism policy which can be found at the end of the student contract you and your parents signed in September."

Unfortunately I think the warning is where I went wrong!  I'm pretty sure my students read to the end of the assignment and read the word "plagiarism" and thought to themselves: "Oh yeah! I'll just do that! I don't need to do my project at all."


I caught so many plagiarists! For an assignment written in English! It was ridiculous.  It was so easy, I didn't even have to go into many of my skills acquired over many years à la Liam Neeson's character.  The kids who plagiarized pretty much all used the same websites, wikipedia being one of the top ones, and despite having a list of about 20 holidays they all wrote about the same three or four.  Super easy, super frustrating.  When I suspect plagiarism, I turn to trusty google, and type in the phrase.  If it comes up, fabulous.  I print the website, get out my highlighter and highlight everything that has been copied.  I staple everything together and return it to the student with an explanation and a purple 0.

Some kids actually plagiarized the entire three pages. I am shocked and appalled.  I'm also a little offended that they didn't think I'd question their continued use of the word "lorries".  Really guys?

I had one girl come to me crying, because this grade counted in the test/quiz/project category, students who plagiarized grades dropped drastically.  When I asked her why she was upset now after making the choice she made she replied "I didn't know it would effect my grade that much." Now, I know 10th and 11th grade students have been warned of this in other classes, they know better.  Although I hate to see someone crying, this is not  a lesson she (and many others) will soon be forgetting. What lesson would they have learned if I had NOT given zeros?

If you liked this, you might like Catching a cheater

Thursday, January 19, 2012

The Perks

I love my job, I really do, but like life, sometimes things get tough and ridiculous.  One of the perks of being a teacher however, is the wonderful world of student loan forgiveness.  I mean, I have an absolutely ridiculous amount of student loans (mostly thanks to deferring loan payments for two years while I was taking online french classes, what was I thinking?!) so it's nice to have a little help.

The first benefit teachers can get as soon as they start working is actually for loan cancellation....awesome!  Loan cancellation pretty much means the balance of your loan goes away, sometimes over time.  The loan cancellation I am getting is for my Perkins loan.  Every year I fill out a form, have an assistant principal sign it and use the fancy stamp, then ship it off to the Perkins people.  Boom! A couple weeks later I receive a letter showing me that a certain percentage of my loan has been cancelled and a new form to repeat the process the following year.  Yes it is annoying to have to fill the form out every year, but it is incredibly satisfying watching that balance decrease each year without having to pay a cent.  

Perhaps the most awesome part of the Perkins deal?  The accrued interest is also cancelled.  I think the Perkins people are teacher lovers, or at least appreciators. Here are the details.

The benefit that actually prompted this blog post is the Stafford Loan Forgiveness Program.  After you've been teaching for five years (my five year anniversary is February 1st!) you can apply for a portion of your direct loans to be forgiven.  $5,000 for elementary or secondary teachers, a whopping $17,500 for those teaching math, science, or special ed. Once again, have someone at work validate the form, and voila. Well, hopefully voila, I have yet to apply for this one myself.

The program that seems to be the most awesome, yet requires the most time teaching is the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program.  After making 120 consecutive monthly payments, (that's 10 years folks!) your remaining balance is forgiven.  Amazing.  There are some catches, you need to consolidate your loans with the direct loan people and be in one of three or four approved payment plans.  Follow those rules and you are golden.  The direct loan people are very helpful in assisting you in the consolidation and payment plan picking process.

Do any teachers know of any loan forgiveness/cancellation programs that I haven't listed?  I would love to hear about anything else that has worked for other people.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

I'm tired of working for crazy people.

In a passively aggressive turn of events, our administration is now only allowing teachers to leave the building during our assigned lunch period.

Yup, that's right!

Want to run out for a cup of coffee?  Or perhaps a bottle of water since the water at school is BROWN?  Need something out of the car?

No dice.

You can only handle this business during your lunch period.  We have lunch and one other "prep" period, allowing for minimal out of the building time anyway.  Why enforce this crazy rule?

To top it all off, we are now required to sign in and out with the times we're out of the building.

Why to treat your staff like badly behaved children.