Wednesday, November 13, 2013


I received a number of responses to my story about the two students who turned in plagiarized work in my creative writing class last semester. Now that that term has ended, I think I need to post the conclusion to that bit of drama.

The day after I met their other classmates, the two came to see me in the office, though separately. I had dropped word that I might be willing to accept a new story from them, though I hadn't really decided yet. They both came to me bearing some typed up sheets.

There was a difference in the approach, though. Student D presented me with a letter of apology (I have it on file) relating why he did what he did. Along with that was his new story, which I declined to receive. We had a short chat wherein I impressed upon him the gravity of his offense (or I thought I did.) I told him to be sure to return to class, because he had a lot of restitution to make.

Student E, on the other hand, came to me teary-eyed, but said little. Instead, he pushed some pages to me and mumbled: "My story." I handed them back to him and said: "This is not what I'm looking for." I was hoping he would get the hint, but he didn't. He turned and left.

Student E never returned to class. I asked his classmates for some news about him, and they told me that he had stopped attending all his other subjects as well. Such a shame, really, because he was one semester short of graduation.

Even prior to this incident, Student E was the least engaged in the entire class. While not openly hostile, he affected this faraway look. Whenever I addressed him directly, he would mumble and shrug. Because he had done poorly in prelims, I asked him privately what was the matter. He explained about some family health issues; I told him I sympathized, but that he would still have to step up. I thought I had gotten through to him, but it turns out I hadn't.

Pressing his classmates further, I learned that he wasn't really interested in Education; that he really wanted to take up something else instead. So perhaps catching him in the offense may have been a blessing after all. Instead of limping through a course he didn't like, he finally got the impetus to pursue his career path of choice. (But it turns out he enrolled in Education in another school anyway.)

What would I have done if he had actually apologized, like Student D, and continued in my class? Just replacing the plagiarized assignment wouldn't have been enough. Because of the offense, I needed to mete out some form of punishment, preferably a constructive one. And so I had planned to make them write, by their own hand, five pages worth of yellow sheet every meeting until the end of the semester. That was what I asked Student D to do.

I thought that after the talk I was done with Student D, but alas, that wasn't the case. On the meeting following, I gave him the instructions. He gave me a little attitude, but set out to work. He had his iPhone with him, and from time to time, he would glance down, but otherwise, he was writing. At the end of class, I collected his work but didn't read it yet. When I did, I was livid.

For the writing assignment that he plagiarized, he turned in a Western. And what was I reading the second time around? Another Western! Had he copied the story from his iPhone the whole time? I had a mind to fail him then and there.

I frothed for a day. I ran this new work against Google to determine where he got it from. My search turned up nothing. I finally read it (still rather angrily); it was badly done, it was derivative, but I couldn't say for certain where it was copied from. The thing with Westerns, apart from being a largely alien genre to Filipinos, is that it follows a rather limited set of conventions. The characters are cardboard, the plots are repetitive and derivative. Plagiarized again? Hard to tell, but I had no proof.

And yet, even if it was original, albeit a badly written one, it seemed to me that he was mocking me by sending in something from the same genre. I expressed this to one of his more mature classmates, who sighed: "Wala giyod na siya'y buot."

I called Student D again, and made my displeasure known. He broke down in tears, apologized for not having any good sense, but maintained that he had not copied the story. Would I give him another chance? "I really haven't decided yet," I said. I was still angry. "Come to class; do the writing assignments. But there's no guarantee that you're going to pass."

For the remaining meetings, I had him sit up front, separate from the rest, no iPhone, no bag, no notes, just a pen and yellow pad. Instead of short stories, I instructed him to write five-page essays, but I would supply the topic on the spot. All this while I carried on with the rest of the class.

The funny thing was: the essays were halfway decent. The structure was logical and the examples from personal experience rang true.

On our last meeting for the semester, he resumed his seat up front, with yellow pad and pen. He looked to me to supply the topic for the day. I thought a while and finally told him: "No need. We're square now." The rest of the class erupted in applause.

For all that effort, Student D would only get a passing grade at the borderline of a failing mark. That was what I had originally planned to do.

The past semester is gone, and we're now at the start of a new one. I won't be handling that class in any more subjects, and in fact the department hasn't given me any writing classes this time around. Which is just fine by me, so I can concentrate on my IT subjects. It's hard changing gears all the time.

Still, I'm left wondering two things. First: why did Student D do what he did? Was he really just lack the imagination? Did he mean to test me? Was it a call for attention? I'm afraid all I have are speculations, but I'm not going to spend any more time thinking about this.

Second: did I do the right thing? Up to now, I still do think about how I decided the matter. As some people pointed out, plagiarism would be grounds for expulsion in other universities. On the other hand, in another prior case in school involving a large number of students, the final decision came against the teacher. Regardless, on my own part, would it be right to throw away three-and-a-half years of study on the basis of an offense? So many questions, but for which I don't have clear answers.

I like to think that ultimately I decided to err on the side of mercy. God have mercy on me.