Marking papers is exhausting because it has become a sad game of suspicion and also because I can’t help being appalled at how shallow secondary education has become –yes, I said secondary. First part: my second year students plagiarise from sources I can easily find and, then, they claim they’re actually quoting ‘indirectly.’ Others plagiarise from sources I can’t find and it’s a case of their word against mine. Second part: students who have produced very weak papers in which apparently no guidelines have been followed claim they have indeed followed them and are frustrated that what they thought were good papers are actually failures. I’m tired, very tired, which is not the mood a teacher needs to prepare for the oncoming semester.

So, dear students: when suddenly perfect sentences appear in the middle of your papers, written in a vocabulary and with a syntax that only a native speaker with a PhD would use, I grow paranoid. There should be a name for those sentences that somehow jump out of the text to stare at me and challenge me to find where they come from. I HATE wasting my time checking the internet for ‘evidence.’ All teachers do. It’s absolutely necessary to learn the difference between quoting (using “quotation marks” and a reference for the author, book, page…) and simply copying; it’s also necessary to understand that paraphrasis means repeating ‘in your own words’ what the author means, not copying without quotation marks. How come you don’t know this? And how do we distinguish the cheeky, cheating students from the confused ones?

In the tutorials with second-year students who had failed their papers I feel increasingly sorry for them, as, one by one, they reveal the limitations of their secondary education: this is the first time they write a paper (just 1000 words long), use bibliography, are asked to quote. Many present papers with a nice bibliography they claim to have read but simply don’t see that if it is not quoted I can’t know how they have used it. Quotations are often dropped into the text, rather than use to support an argument they’re developing. They have checked the guidelines, they tell me, read the sample essay. What can I tell them, I wonder? Read articles, there’s no more guidance I can offer. Of course, we have lost 6 credits, a whole semester, in the first year with the transition to the new degree, 6 valuable credits which might have helped us teach our students writing techniques. Instead, they’re taking who knows what.

Then, there’s this other matter: the furry ball in the stomach. This is what I feel I have when I must see a student who hasn’t played by the rules but who doesn’t understand why I’m so annoyed at this. It’s tense, it’s ugly and I simply don’t like it. And, typically, it always happens when it’s too late, and the wretched paper in question has been marked, not during the semester, when I may spend my office hours doing something else for lack of visits… Wasted resources, as I said in a previous post.

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