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Thursday, February 23, 2012

No More Copying For You!!!

This week on the Thursday Confessional, I thought that I would confess a regret that I have carried around with me for quite a while.

And, to lead up to this, a story about one of the worst years in my school career.

For any of you who have been following along with this blog, you might know that first grade was an absolute nightmare for me. The teacher made me feel like I was useless, I was treated terribly by some of the kids in the class, and it was just a mess of a year.

As it so happens, first grade was a year in which I did something that I'm ashamed of now.

Now, I hear some of you saying...first grade? Really? That was twenty-five years ago!

Yes, this much is true. I've held onto a regret for that long. But, my hope is that once I explain what that regret is that most of you will understand.

Prior to first grade, I would watch quite a lot of educational television, read a lot of educational books, and play with educational toys. And, it wasn't because my parents made me either. I wanted to. They were things that I enjoyed to do. I certainly didn't think that I had an edge over any of the other children in my class, but looking back on it, I think that may have been the case.

Any doubt that I may have had about that was more or less eliminated during our journal time. What we had to do was draw a picture of something that we did during the day (which granted most of my journal entries were made up, but the teacher didn't need to know that minor detail), and then underneath we would write down what the activity was that we were doing in the picture.

The problem was that a select few lacked the ability to spell basic words. Which was fine. I mean, it was first grade, and not everyone could spell. But when I was in the first grade, spelling was just something that I was always did well in. Looking back on it, I did watch a lot of Sesame Street and Readalong back in the day, and probably learned how to spell from watching those shows. As a result, I probably could spell better than most in my grade. I'm definitely not stating this to brag about my abilities though. Just because I could spell well meant that I had weaknesses in other areas. I could tell you dozens of stories about how horribly I did in gym class. But, that's a different story.

But, when the other kids in my class got word that I knew how to spell many words, they took advantage in a big way. It wasn't an uncommon sight to see a group of kids running up to my desk to ask me how to spell a word or two to finish their homework. They never went to the teacher, because the teacher always told them to figure it out for themselves the best way they knew how.

Unfortunately, the best way they knew how was to ask the big tall kid wearing the green and navy blue sweatshirt how to spell 'cat', 'dog', 'ball', and 'snowman'.

Even more unfortunate was the fact that I was the type of kid who would gladly tell the kids how to spell anything they wanted because I had the misconception that by helping them out, they would become my best friend, and that we'd hang out by the monkey bars all recess long.

It was a fleeting dream, and I wished for it to become true.

But once I helped them out with their schoolwork and the recess bell sounded, the very kids I helped out either ignored me, or made fun of me. I couldn't understand it as a kid. I helped them with their schoolwork, and they still were just as mean to me as they were before.

Then I had the ridiculous idea that maybe telling them how to spell words in their journals wasn't enough. Over the next little while, I took it one step further. When we had to do assignments that were given a grade, such as a spelling test, or a math assignment, I would write my test in such a way that it made it incredibly easy for my neighbours to copy every answer that I had written. Never mind the fact that I was unsure that my own answers were absolutely correct. Because the kids in my first grade class had deduced that I was the 'smart kid', they felt as though they needed to be 'smart kids' too. And, my thinking was that if I helped them become 'smart kids' by letting them copy off of my paper, then that would get me true friendship.

As I stated before, just because I was great at spelling meant that I was weak in other areas. And, in this case, my brain definitely was not working right.

Eventually, the French language teacher that would come to teach us for an hour a day got wise to the whole plan, and she purposely made me sit in a spot away from all of the other kids. She saw that the other kids were copying off of my work, and she wanted to nip it in the bud. So, I was isolated from the other kids in the class as a result.

Here's the thing though. When this had first happened, I remember being so angry and upset at the teacher. She was taking me away from my “friends”. I didn't understand why she had to be so mean by separating me from my friends. It's not until now that I realized that she probably did me the biggest favour that anyone ever really could. So, before I continue on with this, I want to send a shout out to Madame Ruston. Thank you for doing what you did.

Because it wasn't until years later that I realized that I totally regretted doing what I did back in the first grade. And, this leads to today's confession.

THURSDAY CONFESSION #8: I regret letting my classmates copy off of my schoolwork, if only for the reason that it made me feel like less of a person as a result.

Let's start with the obvious reason why right off the bat. It didn't get me any further ahead with my peers. In fact, I probably kicked myself down a couple of notches by letting people copy off of my work. Let's be realistic here. Some of those kids that I let copy off of my work had absolutely no intention of becoming my friend whatsoever. They got what they wanted out of me, and once they had it, I was of no use to them anymore.

I mean, granted, these are six year old children that I'm speaking of here, and six year old children can be quite fickle at times, changing their minds faster than most people change their socks. But when they kept doing it on a repeated basis, it really spoke volumes about the type of kids they were. At the same time, it also spoke volumes over how gullible and naïve I was as a six year old boy. But, at least I can look back and own up to it now.

If I had the brains back then, what I wished I had done was set up a wooden stand similar to the Psychiatric Help stand that Lucy Van Pelt had in Peanuts cartoons, and charged the kids in the class five cents per letter for each word they wanted spelled. If I had done that in first grade, I reckon that by eighth grade, I would have made enough money to retire in Cabo San Lucas.

(A gross exaggeration, mind you, but at least I would've gotten something out of the deal.)

Alas, not even charging kids for spelling words would have made me feel better about it.

Looking back on it, it's easy to say that I “helped” my classmates learn how to spell by telling them how to spell the words. But, did I really “help” them? I have to say, no.

Let's face it. If someone is given the answer without attempting to figure it out for themselves, I can't really classify that as learning anything. And, every kid that I just told the answer to didn't really learn how to spell any of those words whatsoever. If there was a kid in the class that would just give them the answers any time they wanted them, then what was the point of figuring out how to do things for themselves, right?

And, lo and behold, in my first grade classroom, there was someone who was doling out answers as if they were instant intelligence pills.


And, looking back on it now, I am so absolutely ashamed of myself for allowing it to happen. Because, I can't help but think that in some way, I contributed to the problem that seems to be plaguing schools, places of employment, and life in general.

We now live in a world where people seem to expect instant gratification for the least amount of hard work and effort. I mean, the Kardashian, er, ah...Clan is a prime example of this. What kind of hard word did Kim, Khloe, Kourtney, or any other woman whose names begin with the letter K do to achieve their success? You know, I'm really struggling to come up with anything. I'm certainly not saying that they copied off of test papers, and used people to get to where they were (though they very well could have), but let's make one this clear. I don't consider the Kardashians to be role models for anybody.

And, yet there they are front and center. Famous for doing absolutely nothing.

And, sadly there's examples of people who also do very little to get the maximum praise in the non-celebrity world.

You read of stories like this in the news and through online accounts. People who use cell phones to pass along answers to multiple choice tests. People who download essays written by other people, erase the name of the original author, put their name on it, and hand it in as a class assignment. People who take credit for the work of someone else.

These incidents by themselves now make me see red. It isn't fair that people resort to cheating and lying their way to get through life. What exactly are they learning? How to be a sponge to society? How to manipulate people into getting exactly what they want? How to get the maximum grade possible for the minimal amount of work? It's certainly not how to appreciate a job well done.

Yet there's something that I always wondered.  You know the kids that I helped out as a gesture of friendship, only for them to turn their backs when I needed them?  This is purely hypothetical, but I wonder if they ended up becoming the people who would tell outright lies to get something for free. If they ended up being the people who would blame the teacher for their child getting an F on their report card. If they grew up with the belief that they didn't need to put forth any effort to get what they wanted because they could always find a patsy that would do the hard work for them.

Granted, in a lot of cases, the ones who would take advantage of me the most are people I haven't seen in years (and those people who I HAVE remained in contact with from first grade were people who never did this), but if in fact they did turn out to be the very people that I described in the above paragraph, then I can't help but feel as though I was a smidgen to blame for how they turned out. Because I let them copy off of my work, they didn't really learn how to become self-sufficient, and because of that, there's a slim possibility they may have gotten the impression that they didn't need to be that way.  It sounds silly, but it has always bugged me for some reason.

I now see what my French teacher was doing that day she put me off by myself in class. It wasn't a message towards me saying that I was in trouble, or that I didn't deserve to have any friends. It was more of a message towards the rest of my class that they should learn how to do their own work by themselves, and not to become reliant on someone else to give them all the answers.

I think what eventually woke me up about how what I was doing was not the right way at all was a little project that my eighth grade teacher assigned us. He told us to anonymously write down all of our favourite memories of elementary school, and then he would read them aloud to the class without revealing who wrote what. The intention was for us to be able to look back fondly on our time at elementary school by sharing wonderful memories. Unfortunately, the kids in my class named names. And, from paper to paper, one recurring theme seemed to pop up in my description. One of the only things that the kids would remember me for was the fact that they used to copy off of my test papers.

It was absolutely disgusting and appalling. I felt absolutely sick to my stomach hearing that. Was that all that I was good for? A free ride through school? It was very sobering to hear, and honestly, I felt ashamed in myself that I wasn't able to make more of a positive impression. It's probably one of the biggest regrets that I have in my life. Sure, I gave away information for free so that the kids could get an A on their paper, but for what? I wasn't getting anything out of it, while they coasted through school being completely oblivious and ignorant to what it meant to do a job well done. While I admit my part in the whole shameful behaviour, I doubt that my peers would feel quite the same way. They're probably going around thinking that they were the most intelligent people in the world because they got the best grades in the school, not realizing that they got those grades through deceptive and effortless means.

Or, maybe they spent all their effort coming up with ways TO cheat in life. Who can say, really?

It makes me upset that people like that in the world exist...and it makes me even more upset to know that I very well could have assisted in that when I was a child.

These days though, I've learned from my mistakes, and I never let anyone walk all over me again. I feel that everyone has the responsibility to do their own work, and if they don't do it, they should be held accountable for it. No longer do I let people take credit for anything that I did. I'll help them figure out the answers, but I won't outright tell them what the answers are anymore. The way I see it, I'm doing THEM a disservice for voluntarily offering up answers without telling them how to show their work. I learned the lesson the hard way in that regard.

And, really, while we're at it, shouldn't the teacher be responsible for making sure that the children in his/her classroom are fully capable of understanding the material before assigning them homework? My French teacher seemed to understand this lesson very well. My grade one teacher missed the boat. She didn't tell the kids in the class the answers, but yet, she didn't seem to object when I gladly told them the answers in a misguided belief that they would become my friends. You'd think that by seeing a group of kids around my desk asking me how to spell words would have been a clear indication to her that maybe the way she was handling it wasn't the best approach, but it didn't quite work that way.  I don't see it as making her out to be a scapegoat, just remembering what I saw at the time.  And, believe me, I've been told that my memory is quite good.

I guess the point that I'm trying to make is that I accept my part in what happened. I just wish everyone else could accept their part as well. But considering that society seems to value instant gratification above everything else, I'm not counting on that to happen any time soon.

But, at least by confessing all today, I can at least feel better about myself. At least that's worth something.

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