The Harshest Truth a Student Has Ever Taught Me as a Teacher

That I am not the unbiased person I thought I was.

Let’s call him Bubba. He was in a required freshman year experience class that all faculty rotated teaching. I normally teach statistics and research methods.

Students are required to write a paper on any topic, as a method of our gauging their knowledge of things like APA style and that a sentence begins with a capital letter and ends in some form of punctuation. This assignment allows us to intervene early with students who simply cannot write and refer them for tutoring in their first semester.

Bubba sat in the back of the room, cowboy hat tipped down, boots on the chair in front of him, chewing tobacco. Never said a word.

The title of his paper was something like “The Use of Allegory and Metaphor in the Works of John Steinbeck.”

I assumed he had copied or paid for it. There was no way this kid wrote it. I consulted a senior professor about what to do and she said, “Invite him to your office to discuss it. If he wrote it, he’ll be flattered. If he didn’t, he’ll be busted.”

So, I did. Bubba tips back his hat, looks me in the eye and says,

“Well, ma’am, when I was on the rodeo circuit, my partner gave me this book, The Red Pony, because I had to do a school book report and since it was about a horse, me and him figured it would be good. When I read it, though, it was about a lot more than a horse …. “

Bubba went on at great length about all of Steinbeck’s books that he had read and what they meant to him personally.

I was SO glad I had followed the advice to ask him about his paper instead of accusing him of cheating, and did I ever feel like an idiot!