Cheating in the EFL Classroom

Another thing they don’t teach you in TEFL Training

When I look through the CELTA Trainer Manual and the Trainee Book – there is not one single page on cheating. Not one single word! It is as if we are pretending that it is not a problem for those of us who teach in public schools, colleges and universities.

We can actually spend more than a couple posts on the issue of cheating, but I am going to help you first with some ideas that can help keep you out of trouble.

I’ve not yet worked anywhere that had a policy that cheating was okay. But I have worked many places where cheating was going on and rules against cheating were not enforced.

As we are all aware there are formal and informal procedures that go on in all institutions such as schools. How cheating is dealt with is an issue that often has vastly different formal and informal procedures.

What’s Wrong with Mr. Tucker?

While you might think that some schools will happily back you up when you catch cheaters, you will sometimes find your zeal quickly dampened.

I worked once at a school in Saudi Arabia with a very strict anti-cheating rules and this school was excellent for backing up their teachers when it came to discipline in general. But if you caught people cheating just a bit too often (like maybe more than once!), the question quickly became, “What’s wrong with Mr. Tucker? Why do people cheat in his class so much?”

Yeah!! Teachers that were too successful at catching cheaters were often in trouble themselves and brought under scrutiny to see why THEY were such a problem. Welcome to the real world . . .

Prevention is the Key

There is a good lesson in the question of “What is wrong with Mr. Tucker” and issue is prevention.

Understand that your job as a teacher is not to bust cheaters, but it is to prevent cheating. To not allow cheating does not mean that your task is to catch people at it. In a school setting it usually means that your job is setting up the environment so that people won’t cheat.

Preventing cheating is relatively easy unless you have a classroom that is bursting at the seams with students. And even then you can schedule two different exam times and test people in smaller groups even in your office if you have to.

Have your students leave their books and telephones and other devices in the front of the room where you can see them. Have students take tests and exams only on paper that you give to them. They should take their seats only with a writing implement.

Have strict absolute rules about no talking and about keeping one’s eyes only on their work. I used to post a big notice on the marker board that said, “No Talking, No Looking and No Crying” (for those who hadn’t studied). Put a couple eyes in “Looking” and a crying face next to the “Crying” and you can remove a bit of the tension of being strict.

Walk about the room. Don’t sit at your desk or at the lectern grading papers or reading a book. Standing in the back of the room and walking about quietly is the best way to help students resist temptation. After a few years you will have a good laugh at some of the wonderful ways students try to cheat.

TED’s Tips™ #1: Try to determine the level at which your school will support you in fighting cheating. If the informal rule is that they don’t want you creating any problems at all – there are informal ways of enforcing rules. I have more than a few times walked up behind a student as he was beginning to slip out a cheat sheet and just taken it out of their hand and walked away. Cheating was prevented, the student was happy they weren’t busted, so didn’t say a thing – and the school was happy too. That is not ideal. But it is one way to deal with it informally.

TED’s Tips™ #2: Prevention works best if you talk with your students about cheating and what the rules are BEFORE they take an exam. About exactly what is allowed and what is not. Talk about the rules both in the class preceding the exam and at the beginning of the examination period. If you are an educator, believe in education and teach your students to NOT cheat.