When I first arrived in Moscow, one of the things that stuck out the most was my students' attitude toward cheating. In Ulsan, Korea I am surprised by the lack of cheating and the amount of tattle-telling that goes on.
In Moscow cheating was all around, not only in the English classroom, but I heard stories about cheating at University. I met students who had no problem with plagiarism and were perplexed when I confronted them. At first I was shocked. Then as I came to understand Russian culture a bit, and discovered the pressure put on students, especially at University, I became more lax myself. I still discouraged cheating but no longer saw it as fundamentally wrong. I encouraged my students to do their own work, if only to see how well they knew English. My goal was not to punish them if they didn’t know the English we had gone over, but to assess how well I had taught the subject matter. In order to understand this, an honest test, with no cheating was necessary. Yet, I also discovered that sometimes by “cheating” students are actually helping each other out and possibly learning something, as long as it’s not the blind cheating that happens under the intense pressure of the Russian University system. (Please see the recent comment on my previous post on cheating, Kimberly in Russian: Китберли)
Like Russians, Korean children are under insane pressure to do well. They go to school in the morning, and when they are done with school, they go to a private academy for one subject, then another, then another and hardly have time for a proper night’s sleep, let alone homework. Yet, when it comes to cheating, in Korea the opposite of Russia seems to be true.
Given the stress Korean students face, they seem overly sensitive about cheating, especially after my experience in Moscow. Many students cover their tests with books or papers as they complete them to hide them from other students, and they don’t hesitate to tell on each other for the smallest amounts of cheating. I have been blown away by how serious Korean students take cheating. Even during a game my students will complain, “Teacher, he’s cheating!” Additionally, I have had students come tell me, in the teacher’s room, before class has even started, that another student didn’t finish their homework. I try to discourage this kind of peer pressure. While the Korean teachers push these students to the max, as their culture expects, as the foreign teacher, I have the flexibility to be more lenient and more forgiving. Also, I do not see any value in tattle-telling.
Of course, my personal philosophy on cheating has also changed since the first time I walked into a classroom in Moscow. At first I refused to accept any cheating. I had constant conversations with my students about it. I talked to them about the feeling in the pit of my stomach when I cheated and was confounded that they did not have this same gut reaction. Now, I nearly participate in cheating. As long as homework is done by the time I walk around to check it, I accept it. I usually ignore if a student is hurriedly copying homework from someone else for another teacher. When the students are taking a test, while I discourage them from copying off of each other, I walk around and point to areas that need work and freely answer questions about spelling and grammar. Rather than being strict and feeling like cheating is morally wrong, I want to give students confidence and create a relaxed environment, where they can enjoy learning English, even if it means accepting cheating now and then.