26: A Tough Decision

26: A Tough Decision

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Just for Preteens

A Tough Decision

I would prefer even to fail with honor than to win by cheating.

~Sophocles

When I was in my first year of junior high I was an average student. I got all A’s and B’s and had many friends. I had one secret, though: I cheated. I cheated starting from about halfway through the fifth grade, which was when the work started getting difficult. I didn’t want to get held back or fail the grade and have to see all my friends move on without me. So, I did the only thing I could think of — I cheated. The real fact was I just couldn’t pay attention and learn the new subjects. I cheated all through the rest of fifth grade, even on the TAKS (Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills). And it didn’t stop there.

As I moved into sixth grade I was making new friends and leaving old ones behind. I seemed like a regular sixth grader. None of my friends knew I cheated, mainly because I cheated off their papers too. As junior high went on and teenage drama started entering my life, I found it harder and harder to pick up and learn the few things I did learn. So I began cheating on everything. It became more difficult to cheat, since the teachers began to put me in the front of the class, possibly to watch me more closely. Because of this, my grades started to drop quickly. Some of my teachers asked if everything was okay. Of course, I just said I hadn’t been sleeping well, which was the only excuse I could think of at the time. When I thought things couldn’t get harder, I started getting picked on by the other kids.

I thought my life would never get cleaned up and I would never go to college or be a zoologist (my dream job). That’s when I started to consider telling someone. The first person I told was my best friend, Sherry. She was really smart and she was the person I told all of my secrets. Of course the one thing she said was, “Elizabeth, you need to stop. You need to tell the teachers and clean this all up.” Of course, I really didn’t plan on telling because I was scared. I thought that the teachers would never look at me the same way again, that they’d never be able to trust me.

I was gravely wrong. I continued cheating all the way through the semester exam. But after that I got seated by the kids who also failed, so I couldn’t cheat off the smart kids. My grades plummeted. I didn’t know what to do, so I went back to Sherry. She told me the exact same thing again, but this time it meant something to me. I took it to heart and thought, “My teachers will forgive me. It’s not like they’re going to hold this against me forever.”

That time I was right. Sherry and another friend, Taylor, who I also told, finally convinced me to come clean. It was the longest Thursday of my life. Finally, the dreaded fourth period came around, which was when I had Mrs. Burnum, my science teacher. She was the teacher I felt most comfortable around, so she was the one I had decided to tell. Right after the bell rang, I walked up to her and asked if I could talk to her outside. At that point I was sweating and shaking. She asked what was wrong.

I just poured everything out. I explained why I had failed the mock TAKS test. I emptied everything I had bottled up. Mrs. Burnum said that the teacher I took my mock TAKS with, Mrs. O’Conner, should hear my confession. Mrs. O’Conner, who taught reading and language arts, was the strictest teacher I had. Mrs. Burnum accompanied me to her classroom and, with a reassuring nod, eased me into telling Mrs. O’Conner. She nodded while I was explaining and when I finished I could tell she wasn’t happy. But all Mrs. O’Conner said was, “Elizabeth, you know cheating is wrong. It is never the right decision. Why did you do it?”

First, I sighed with relief that I wasn’t getting detention, and then I explained how I would have most likely gotten held back and hated to see my friends move on without me. I just couldn’t let that happen.

Mrs. Burnum gave me an unhappy look and said, “Elizabeth, if you had told someone, you know you would’ve gotten help.”

I nodded, fighting back tears.

The next thing my two teachers did surprised me. They told me they weren’t happy, but they weren’t angry either. They were proud of me for telling them, even though they were shocked and surprised I’d been cheating for an entire year. But they also said I wasn’t giving myself enough credit — they didn’t believe I could’ve gone a whole year without doing any of the work myself.

Again, they were right. It turned out that as I had been looking at the other kids’ papers, I had been learning.

Mrs. Burnum and Mrs. O’Conner ended up holding a conference with my parents about the whole matter. After the conference the teachers started helping me a little bit more and I ended up catching up on things quickly. I only cheated one time after that and I got caught. But that time it wasn’t because I didn’t understand; it was because I didn’t finish my science review the night before. The teacher told Mrs. Burnum and I got detention for it, but I learned my lesson and I haven’t done it since.

I am still in sixth grade and still learning and preparing for the TAKS test coming up, but now I do my own work and I no longer have wandering eyes. I am happy I confessed, otherwise my life would still be miserable. Sometimes when I get home my mom will ask me, “Haven’t done any cheating today, have we?” And I will always reply, “Mom, you know the answer.” Whenever I hear teachers talk about kids who cheat, I am proud to no longer be one of those kids. The decision to tell my teachers and my family the truth was difficult and frightening, but ultimately it was the right thing to do.

~Elizabeth M.

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