I have had students plagiarize before but I have never felt so personally affected by it. These feelings grew out of the intimacy that developed in this classroom. An intimacy, I have argued, that facilitated and deepened the learning that went on in the class. However, this intimacy, for me, also blurred the boundaries of how I should feel and act on some classroom issues. After this event, I shared my troubled thoughts with RiPP team members and was poignantly reminded to make sure that I was really ‘seeing’ my students:
I always think it is a roller coaster ride when you think you have connected with someone and you think you have built up trust and that something is terribly significant and then something comes along and you remember how insignificant it all really is…It feels like something sacred is happening only to see the absolute contradiction taking place as soon as the students step outside.
I slip and act in ignorance and I fall down and in doing this I impact others…I am only more aware because of relationships in my life where people have taken the time to ‘see me’ and the more this happens, the more I act with responsibility (E-mail from Anne Docherty, December 2, 2004).
Choosing to copy an essay off the Internet was not a good choice for these students but it was not something I should take personal affront from. ‘Seeing’ my students meant seeing the bad choices they made as well as the wonderful ones. Rather than feeling hurt by their actions, it was my job, as Anne pointed out, to encourage the students to act with more responsibility through the relationships that had developed. As happened many times throughout this semester, I was the one doing the learning.
The use of students’ personal narratives in the classroom was an effective and exhilerating teaching technique. Student learning of content was enhanced. Student engagement with a variety of aspects of learning was enhanced. The learning climate that was created fostered genuine, egalitarian relationships in the classroom that facilitated the ‘seeing’ of all students and subsequently their learning:
You don’t really sit there and talk about religion and what your personal beliefs are with people you don’t know—but we all know each other and that stuff just comes out. Like the Life of Pi, there’s so much stuff we wouldn’t have said if we didn’t feel comfortable. It made a difference being able to share with each other and discuss (Semester-end taped discussion, December 2004).