I was in line at the convenience store late one night when I overheard a couple of teenagers talking about school.
The boy and girl looked like they were dating — the constant handholding and moony stares were dead giveaways.
But the topic of their conversation caught my attention — they were talking about cheating on some algebra test.
Unfortunately, I understood their reasoning, although I certainly don’t condone that type of activity.
School is tough. Making the grade is tough.
And sometimes when the pressure gets too much, it’s easy to take the cowardly, lazy man’s way out.
But when the teachers tell you that cheating ultimately cheats the cheater (a high school teacher’s quote, there) they certainly weren’t just whistling Dixie.
I was scared to death to get bad grades in school, and sometimes, because I was lazy, I would opt for the coward’s way out.
I had my tricks.
I had one class that had a lot of heavy-duty reading and writing, and while that is something I have a knack for, the constant literary jungle got overwhelming.
The teacher would give us true/false tests to see if we had read the book — and more often than not, if I could I bought a Cliff’s Notes copy.
But Cliff’s Notes don’t give every little detail, so while I had the gist of the story, the details were missing.
So when the eventual valedictorian of my class would move her pencil twice, I assumed the teacher’s statement was a true one — three pencil movements meant it was false.
And I was correct every time.
Once I was given a golden opportunity — and while there is no excuse for cheating, the teacher in question was a bit on the nutty side. And for me, she was very difficult to learn from.
A friend of mine was also in that class — but no matter what she made on the final exam for the year, she was still going to fail the class.
Unbeknownst to me and without my provoking, she came to lunch one day with a copy of the algebra exam.
I was stunned, but she said, “Hey, one of us should pass.”
I was terrible at algebra. Math is definitely not my strong subject.
So when this opportunity plopped into my lap — I jumped on it.
The thing was, the teacher nearly invited that type of behavior. She allowed students to bring to class a half-sheet of typing paper (yeah, it was still typing paper then), with examples of algebra problems written on them. Her only request was whatever we wrote on those sheets had to be turned in with the exam.
When I actually saw the questions from the exam and got to looking at the algebra book — I noticed the teacher got her exam from all the book’s step-by-step examples.
I didn’t even have to think to pass this exam — I got an A minus, and saved myself from having a D for the semester.
My senior year I had a Spanish teacher who I felt didn’t like me oh so well.
She wasn’t mean to me, per se, but I often got the rough side of her attitude.
Final exam week came, and I did the math a couple times and figured out if I got 100 on her final exam, I would get an A for the semester — which I sorely needed to keep my GPA up.
We had to turn books in the day of the exam, and the teacher accused me of damaging my book. I had not done so, but remember pointing out to her at the start of the school year that pages had been torn out of the back and someone took a black magic marker and colored several other pages.
She dismissed it at that point.
But that day she read me the riot act in front of the class over that stupid book.
I said nothing, but fumed nonetheless.
So the exam was passed out, and I flew through it, just wanting to get it over with.
But what that teacher did next was stunning.
She took up the papers and said she was having us grade each other’s exams.
It was a noisy process, and kids were telling other students who had what paper.
By luck, a friend had mine.
I had written my answers in pencil — and learned a friend of mine had my paper to grade.
I made my way across the room while the teacher was distracted and asked her to change my answers so I’d get 100 on the exam.
I told her she didn’t have to but that I’d appreciate it.
She did — I got 100 on that exam, and an A for the semester.
That didn’t stop her from coming to my parents’ house that night, furthering her accusation I had vandalized the book.
Let’s just say she was put in her place with that visit.
Look, I’m not proud that I did that stuff in high school. But keep in mind at that time I had a teacher in government who was so desperate she’d give the multiple choice answers to the class the day before the test, in order, so all we had to do is memorize “D, C, C, B, A, etc.”
Cheating wasn’t something I set out to do, and again, a behavior I don’t condone. Learning is so much better — I might have sharper math skills.
I might be able to speak another language.
I might be just a little bit more educated — and feel a little less cheated.
John Ross can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org