Help! My Student Cheated—Why Am I the One in Trouble?

This is the weird academic version of victim-blaming.

Illustration showing a student cheated, but the teacher is in trouble.

Dear WeAreTeachers:
I teach English III in a small town. Last week, I confronted a student after discovering she lifted several sentences from a sample essay online. She admitted to it, and, per our district policy, I gave her a zero and scheduled a conference with her parent. I’m not surprised that the parent was upset and blamed me for “reacting” so harshly and ruining her child’s athletic career by making her ineligible to play volleyball. But I got the shock of my teaching life when my administrator agreed and told me in the meeting that I shouldn’t have made my essay “Googleable”! I felt so flustered that I just said, “I’ll need to think about that,” but I’ve been simmering with rage ever since. Am I wrong to be this mad? Should I have just let it slide? —I’ll Give You Something Ungoogleable

Dear I.G.Y.S.U.,

You are not wrong to be this mad. You would have also not been wrong to kick the meeting door down and storm out.

This is a weird academic version of victim-blaming. Do we tell store owners that it’s their fault for getting robbed because their merchandise can fit under a sweatshirt? Do we tell a child that maybe they wouldn’t have gotten punched by the playground bully if their face was less punchable? We do not. Because that would be ridiculous.

Hopefully the worst part of that meeting was your administrator’s comment and that you weren’t pressured to overlook academic dishonesty. But even so, this merits a conversation with your supervisor. Give them the benefit of the doubt first and the opportunity to explain first—maybe they want to admit reacting poorly under pressure from the parent. But be clear about why you’re having this conversation and how their comment in the meeting made you feel.


“I’d like to chat about the meeting on Tuesday. I value your support as an administrator and want to protect a solid professional relationship. Can we talk about your comment about how I should have made my essay prompt un-Googleable? It made me feel like I shared blame for [student]’s decision to cheat, and I felt embarrassed by the lack of support in front of the parent.”

Dear WeAreTeachers:
I teach elementary music. Parents come to pickup blaring music that is often full of curse words and inappropriate references for children. I’ve asked my administration to talk to them, but nothing has been done. Should I talk to these parents myself? —That Monkey Emoji Covering Its Ears

Dear T.M.E.C.I.E.,

Do you know how much I would love to control what other people do? I would make other cars use their turn signal correctly. I’d will my barista to give me my perfect coffee color every time when adding cream (which is B4 from this image). Critically, I would ensure that my neighbor only uses his leaf blower at reasonable times, i.e., not 10 p.m.

But just because we want something to be in our control doesn’t mean it should be. Unless the music is so loud that it prevents you from hearing their child’s name, it’s not your responsibility to regulate their radio. A lot of parents already feel unwelcome at school, and I can’t imagine that passing judgment on their music choices would help.

Instead, use pickup duty as an opportunity to connect with parents and make them feel welcome, even if their tastes are different from yours. The fact that your administration hasn’t acted on your request tells me they, too, don’t believe this is a battle worth fighting.

Dear WeAreTeachers:
Two years ago, our district moved to being a 1:1 technology school, so each student has a laptop. While this has been great for my middle school students in a lot of ways, I worry about the collective time students are on these laptops during the day. Almost every class has students doing research, writing, or reading articles online, and in many classes when students are done, they’re playing online games. Where do I even start bringing up the potential problems with this? —My Stomach’s Churning With a Burning Learning Concern

Dear M.S.C.W.A.B.L.C.,

Technology is a double-edged sword. As a teacher, I understand and appreciate the positive impact that technology can have on student learning. As a parent, I would not like finding out that my child was spending the majority of the day on his laptop, no matter how high the quality of his learning was.

While there are plenty of guidelines for screen time for young children, the American Academy of Pediatrics doesn’t have a set number for teenagers. Most pediatric organizations just recommend limiting teenagers’ recreational screen time due to the data that correlates higher screen time use with lower scores on cognitive assessments and higher impulsivity.

As a starting point I would recommend gathering data from teachers. Ask your colleagues how often and for what activities students are using screens. After organizing this information, approach a supervisor with your findings.

To be clear, I don’t think teachers or technology are the enemy here. Teachers are required to integrate technology into their teaching. But what happens when their student then travels to 6+ other teachers also tasked with technology integration? Who is evaluating whether this much screen time is good for kids? It’s definitely worth considering the big picture and starting a conversation about whether your school can:

  • Modify certain activities or assignments to be tech-free.
  • Commit to a rotating schedule of weekly tech-free days per content area. If each content area goes tech-free one day per week, that could reduce collective screen time for a student by up to five hours.
  • Consider having screen-free lunches and recess to encourage face-to-face interactions.
  • Highlight engaging tech-free lessons or activities in the school newsletter.

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Dear WeAreTeachers,
This year, I jumped on the train of working only while I’m being paid to work, i.e., my contract hours. While setting boundaries has helped me have a better home and personal life, my work life is in shambles. I’m constantly behind. I feel like I’ve simply traded one bad thing (unpaid labor) for another bad thing (mediocre teaching). What do I do? —Feeling Like a Lose/Lose Loser

Help! My Student Cheated—Why Am I the One in Trouble?