When a Teacher Plagiarizes

I have made the assertion that there are people that I have plagiarized in my life. There’s my uncle Mike, who was a teacher like I am now. There was Ed who we lost this past year whose life will always be a living example of what I try and do. Both men have/had something I wanted and wore life the way I want to wear it. So, I copied them. And they let me.

But that is not the type of plagiarism that I am talking of in this post.

To “plagiarize” someone’s actions and traits is simply emulating those people – doing what they do in life situations, acting as they would act, prioritizing as they would, and proactively acting on situations as they would.

There are artists and athletes who idolize and emulate practices that their heroes have done in the past. It’s a form of respect and admiration.

But I want to talk about plagiarism in its denotative sense.

Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary gives the simple definition of plagiarism as:

“: the act of using another person’s words or ideas without giving credit to that person : the act of plagiarizing something.”

“Words” or “Ideas.” Passing them off as your own.

Vanilla Ice will forever be associated with a “hit song” that literally lifted a bass line from a collaborative effort from Queen and David Bowie, both legends in musical arts. “Ice, Ice, Baby” still plays every so often on the radio and when I hear it, I think of what an interesting tool it is to teach students about plagiarism. That, and it’s stupid to infringe on the work of icons who literally span generations with their art.

What Vanilla Ice did and what Robin Thicke was found guilty of recently is called copyright infringement. It is nothing more than plagiarism – taking someone else’s work and passing it off as your own.

Plagiarism might one of the worst offenses a professional can commit in many fields, especially if it deals with writing, research, or education.

Imagine if a journalist, novelist, speechwriter, speaker (Melania Trump), or any other professional who uses words for a living were caught intentionally plagiarizing. It could be the death knell for a career.

But for the case of a high school teacher, conscious plagiarizing can be even more egregious.

And there are reasons why and it has to do with the role of a high school teacher and the state of respect that is afforded to high school teachers in general in today’s society.

If a student commits an act of academic infringement on a paper or simply “copy and pastes” an assignment from a website or another source without giving credit, the punishment can be quick and severe.

  • A “0” for the assignment.
  • Suspension
  • Revocation of a recommendation to the student’s top college selection.
  • A reputation.
  • A spot on a record that can be checked.
  • Loss of trust.
  • Class rank loss.

There are even instances when the student has committed academic infringement and another student, jealous of the offending student’s recent acceptance to a college, calls the college and gives the admissions board a tip to check.

Get caught plagiarizing in college and you are expelled. No refunds.

Yes, it’s happened. There exists that kind of competition in high schools, the same competition that may tempt a student to get “help” from someplace else.

But if a teacher does this type of action then much worse can result because it is not an infringement that occurred; it’s a besmirching of a profession that not only takes extreme pride in the pursuit of intellectual honesty, but promotes that very same honesty and integrity in students and their work. In fact, the profession calls for teachers to expect that intellectual honesty from students.

We as teachers must practice that intellectual honesty because we are setting a standard for students to emulate (or “plagiarize” in a way) in the future.

To commit conscious plagiarism is giving students the very permission to do the same because an example has been set. And it undermines the integrity of the profession and the very teachers who spend enormous amounts of time making sure they are grading and helping students create better ORIGINAL works.

When a teacher plagiarizes someone else’s work and words it also works against the respect that today’s teachers are fighting so hard to gain and maintain. There is an election in less than three weeks that literally can change the terrain for public education and create a change in momentum for how the public respects teachers.

An instance of plagiarism by a teacher does not help this one bit, especially if it was done intentionally with deliberate tactics for a large audience who may be deciding on whom to vote.

Simply put, it weakens a profession.

And angers me to no end.