A Test of Integrity

I tapped my foot impatiently. The bell had already rung, and the other class would need all the time they could get. 'Thorough Student' hurriedly scanned her last sheet, and gave me a sheepish grin as she handed in her test paper. At last!

I hurried up the aisle, set to gather my materials and head into the next lesson. And stopped. Two students from the other class, Dafna* and Miriam* were reading something in the front of the classroom. I could almost feel the niggling question mark hovering in front of them. As I neared my desk, the corners of my mouth turned down into a grimace, a frown, and then a terribly astonished face. I actually felt this transformation, bit by bit.

The girls sensed me approach and guiltily fled the room.

What to do?

What to do?

I slowly piled the completed test papers and made my way into the hall. What to do? I met a teacher on the way, and whispered my dilemma. "I would fail them," she recommended, "just a full-out zero." I couldn't do that. I just couldn't.

A few anxious girls met me at the doorway, and I quickly answered their last minute queries and sent them to their seats. The class rose respectfully as I entered, and I wondered still - What to do? I distributed test papers to the rows nearest me, and paused again before I reached Dafna's seat. I returned to the teacher's desk, wrote her name and drew a star at the top of her paper. I gave out the rest of the tests, found Miriam and marked hers as well. "What is that?" she worried. I still wasn't sure what it was. "I just need to mark your paper." I told her.

 What to do? What to do? What to do?

I wandered through the aisles during test time, pondering all the while. In the end, I let Dafna and Miriam complete and turn in their test papers like the rest of the class. They are strong, diligent students, maybe not the top of the line, but good students nonetheless. I just didn't have the heart to fail them.

I'm going to speak to them, I think. Maybe when I return the tests on Monday, or maybe during lunch time tomorrow. Perhaps I should have spoken with them straight away, but I just didn't have the words. What to do? What to say? Still, this is a teachable moment, and I won't let it slip through my fingers. After the lesson, I spoke with a few people to work out a little routine. I'll praise them for their drive to succeed, discuss integrity and analyse bein adam lamakom. Then I'll put the question to them: What to do, girls? What should you do?

*Names were changed to protect the privacy of students

How would you have dealt with this little scenario?


  1. It is a toughie, no doubt about it. I think so far not doing anything is smart, since if they have any sense of right and wrong they will be slowly simmering in guilt. Exploit that; the longer time you take to talk to them, they may actually hurriedly confess.

    Wait until after scoring the papers, since you don't conclusively know. False accusation can be a terrible scar for a youngster (I was there. Never got over it.)

    If they both suspiciously passed with flying colors, maybe make a speech to the class, as whole, about integrity and decency and its importance in Judaism, and how proud you are of your students that they would never dream of coming by a good grade dishonestly.

    Nothing like a little Jewish guilt.

    1. Hmm... I was afraid they might think I was letting them off the hook by waiting. But I suppose the LOOKS I gave them were rather obvious.

      There isn’t much to accuse them wrongly of - I clearly saw them standing at my desk, reading the questions from the test paper. Won't make a huge difference in their scores, since they took the test a minute later themselves. It was probably just to reassure themselves. I would assume they came in to ask their friends for a heads up on the questions, as students do, and chanced upon a far more accurate resource.

      I might use some of your words - thanks. BTW, I feel like I've been visited by a celebrity ;)

  2. Wow definately felt the tension as i read that! Hmm what to do? What to say? No, failing is not the solution but definately a great lesson here you can now impart upon your students either as a whole or individually.
    I once had a teacher who gave out a list of questions to answer. The page was titled - is this considered cheating? It was a long list including everything from copying someones homework to looking at another girls test for answers. It just put everything in perspective and left a great impact!


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