I have a large stack of essays to grade, so I stock up on snacks and beverages and lock myself in my office. I read one essay after the other and provide detailed, encouraging feedback for each student. Suddenly, I'm reading an essay that shifts in tone, vocabulary, and voice. I know the student didn't write it. My stomach churns. I want to throw up. What should I do?
Why did the student plagiarize? Why-oh-why? Now, how am I supposed to stay true to institution regulations regarding plagiarism while staying positive and encouraging to students who may be new to the idea of "stealing words"?
What is Plagiarism?
There are several definitions. The one I chose to use in my presentation comes from Murdoch University in Dubai. I chose them because they have an informative video about the potential consequences of plagiarism. It's an intense video, so I've only showed it to my students once, but it brought up a lot of great discussion questions and really dives into why students might choose to plagiarize and why it's wrong to do it.
Murdoch University states that plagiarism is "the unauthorized use or close imitation of the language and thoughts of another author and the representation of them as one's own original work." When I ask my students what plagiarism is, they yell, "it's cheating!" That about sums it up as well.
I sit crossed-legged on a home-made rug, my long skirt draped over my knees. "I know Jesus lives," I say to the African family. A young mother holding a new born sits with her husband on a faded green love seat. The father holds a toddler picking his nose. Three other kids, various ages lean against the wall. They all stare blankly at me and my companion who fans herself with a brochure about God's plan of happiness.
"He loves you, " I continue. I make my hands into a heart, and the teenage girl with braided hair smiles. She talks in Sudanese to her family. Her dad says something back, and we wait for the girl to translate for us.
"My father says he likes your message," she tells us. My companion stops fanning and gives me a thumbs up. "But," the girl continues, "he wonders if you will teach him English. You see, he just lost his job, and it's very difficult to find work in Australia."
For the next few weeks, my companion and I prepare English lessons for our new friends. Our materials are limited, especially because we don't have access to the internet, a printer, or any English teaching books. We cut words and pictures out of church magazines and pamphlets, draw pictures of food and house hold items and prepare flash cards.
Although a writing tutor for a writing center before my mission, I feel completely under qualified to teach English. As we meet more families with similar needs and requests, my efforts and desire to help increases, but I still can't help thinking There's GOT to be a better way!
After serving for a year and a half, I got on a plane headed home to the United States of America. I gazed out the window after take-off and vowed that I would come back and "finish what I started." I would find a way to better teach English to these families in Australia.
The Writing Center and Connect2English
After my mormon mission to Australia, I quickly enrolled in college classes. I studied English literature, which was interesting and enjoyable, but didn't help me learn how to teach ESL. The classes focused on teaching English literature to junior-high and high schoolers, which I knew I didn't want to do.
While studying, I worked as a tutor in the writing center, like before my mission, and met with a few ESL students there. I found a lot of satisfaction and joy from working with them one-on-one. A friend of a friend asked if I'd like to help him with a small business he started. It was called Connect2English. Basically, high-schoolers from Taiwan wrote short writing assignments in English, and then met with me (or another English "teacher") via Skype to talk about revision strategies.
Teaching English as a Second Language Degree
After I finished my Bachelor's degree in English literature, I learned that I could earn a degree in actually Teaching English as a Second Language. I researched schools and found that ASU had what I wanted, so I packed up my drums and headed there!
My methods for teaching ESL as a missionary were good, but limited. I was right that there "is a better way" to teach ESL, and I learned them during my years at ASU. I became a student worker and communicated with ESL students daily. I learned about materials development (adapt, adopt and create). I did three internships and made friends and life-long connections along the way. Upon graduation I began teaching at ASU and then, later, at a community college, which is where I am now.
I never considered becoming a teacher before my mission. I'm grateful for those families and short time I had to share with them flash cards of lettuce, tomatoes and bags of potato chips. It led me to my career of teaching English as a second language.
I'm still a growing instructor, so I'm not perfect, but I love my students and want them to succeed. I have yet to teach English in Australia. Sadly, I don't think I ever will. Even if I did, I don't think I could find those families. I try to give each of my students the care and love I believe each student deserves. English is tough! I admire my students for learning and seeking ways to improve their circumstances so they can work and feed their families.