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Friday, January 6, 2012

Lessons from Fred: Do Your Own Work

     “Okay, Class, take out your Number Two pencils and make sure your desk is cleared of everything else.” The spring of each year claimed several class days for national achievement tests to be given to all of the elementary students in America. Red-headed and well-liked Mrs. Handy had become our Fourth Grade teacher when our original teacher left to have a baby. Today Mrs. Handy was standing in front of the class with a stack of test booklets on her desk.       “Now, does everyone have a sharpened pencil and a sealed booklet with your name on it?” We assured her by the upraised pencils that we did so she continued, “Before you start on this Math portion of the test, I want to tell you that the people who wrote this test included some Math problems that are above the Fourth Grade level. They do that to see if there are students who are capable of doing Math problems above the level of their own class so don’t worry about it if you see a problem that is unlike any you have seen all year. You can try to answer it or, if it makes you too stressed, just skip it. Do all the questions you can answer and that will be good enough for this test.” She set the timer and gave us the “Begin” command.
     Our little hands and brains were really churning out the answers to the problems but, it seemed like the pages were multiplying as fast as they were being turned. I was nearly finished when a long division problem presented itself on the page. We had had some division problems but not with as large a set of numbers as this one. I worked and worked at the problem and finally came up with the number 54 for my answer. Yes, there was such a number listed in the four possible choices so I filled in that slot on the score sheet. Then, I began to question my ability to do the problem. At the same time I realized that Gary was sitting right behind me. Gary was a really smart student and if anyone would know the answer to such a difficult problem, it would be Gary. I was so nervous but, at last, I suddenly turned around to see what Gary had written on the score sheet. It was not 54. The time was running out so I did not give my action much thought. Quickly I erased the score sheet and selected Gary’s answer for my own. I felt sick in my stomach that I had done that but, as far as I could see, no one had noticed me cheating on that one question. I would not do it again; it would be better to miss the answer than to feel this guilty.
     The weeks passed in the usual routine and, then, the results of the Achievement Test arrived. Mrs. Handy wanted us to learn the right answers so we began to go through the test questions that had been missed by the majority of her class. When we came to the difficult Math problem in question Mrs. Handy had this to say: “This question was one missed by every Fourth Grade student in America so don’t feel badly that you missed it, Class. There was not even one Fourth Grader who got the right answer to this problem, which was one from the Sixth Grade test, actually.”
     “What was the answer to that long division problem that everyone missed, Mrs. Handy?” I asked.
     “It was 54.” Well, it was really an immeasurable grief from guilt that thudded in the pit of my stomach that afternoon. I could not even tell anyone that I had got the right answer but changed it because Gary had a different answer! I would be admitting to cheating if I told anyone! If I had been honest and not cheated, I would have been the only Fourth Grade student in the entire United States of America to have answered the problem correctly! Good lesson for a nine-year-old: Do your own work; you might know more than you think you do!
                                     *Names have NOT been changed…Sorry I cheated, Mrs. Handy!

****Have a good weekend!

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