The content and opinions found on this blog are mine alone, and do not reflect any position of the United States Government or the Peace Corps.

July 30, 2010

Catch a cheetah by the toe

I have a very strict policy about cheating in my classes: if you cheat, you get a zero. End of story. Not doing your own work is the same as not doing any work at all.

Since grades alone cannot deter cheating here, I also assign punishment work that students must complete, or else take a zero on the following exam or assessment. This sounds harsh, but these kids are so unruly in large numbers that I have to suspend sympathy for them. Otherwise, they wouldn't take me seriously because they know I won't cane them (despite the other teachers' opinion that "an African's ears are on his ass"). Personally, I think a difficult or humiliating punishment is more effective than caning. Caning hurts a lot, but it is over quickly, and tends to only stave off bad behavior for a day or so before students relapse.

Last week, as I was marking a physics quiz I'd given, I caught six girls cheating. They were all giving the same incorrect, nonsensical English answers to a series of short answer questions. So I called them each into the library/office/teacher's lounge (we have a space problem at "Kizesco High"), looked them straight in the eye, grilled them on why they cheated until tears welled up in their eyes, gave them each a zero on the quiz, and told them to get out of the office immediately and each write me a full page apology letter. If they did not submit their apologies before the final exam a few days later, they would get a zero on the final.

You'd think this would be enough to stop the cheating. But, as usual, Uganda surprised me: two of the girls copied each other's apology letters. Verbatim.

How dumb do they think I am?

I still haven't figured out what to do with those two. Probably fail them for the term. The other students at least wrote their own letters. But one of them blamed Satan for making her cheat, instead of taking responsibility herself. Another thought that filling the page with idiomatic expressions would get her back in my good graces:
The reason as to why I coppied is that Idid not read the books. So that's why trying to eat ahamble pie in the nick of time or this time. So teacher may you please put my appology in consideration after the anchent has been burried and then I will concentrate on my books and leave those issues of playing after I have seen that copping is bad.
I told the girl that I accepted her apology, but that she should work on her English.


  1. This post scares the shit out of me. I just got medically cleared by the Peace Corps and am waiting for my invitation to teach somewhere in Africa. I'm pretty prepared for the living in the bush part, but I'm scared shitless for the teaching part. Glad I found your blog, though! I'm jealous you're in Uganda - I was there earlier this year and loved it! I think Lake Bunyonyi is possibly the most beautiful place on the planet.