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Although there have been countless studies about the prevalence of academic cheating and its negative effects on students and teachers alike, another facet of the same impulse is even more widespread: students lying to us at school. While even the most jaded teacher may laugh at the old “The dog ate my homework” excuses, none of us finds a steady barrage of student lies nearly as amusing. Sometimes it seems as if our students lie to us so openly and frequently that we are engaged in a unpleasant daily battle with them.
It is a sad and sometimes unsettling fact of our profession: our students will sometimes lie to us. The reasons for their lies are as complicated and numerous as our students themselves.
“I did my homework, but I left it at home” is perhaps the most common lie that students tell us. It is so common, in fact, that many of us reflexively do not accept these words as true after hearing it for the fifth or sixth time in one day. Woe to the poor student who really did leave his or her paper on the kitchen table or in the printer—no one will accept that as truth.
Lies can have a seriously damaging effect at school as well as on other aspects of life. The biggest negative effect of student lies is the destruction of trust between teacher and student. When that relationship is damaged by lies, it is not easy to recover it. No teacher finds it easy to be constantly on guard against lies. At the same time, no teacher finds it easy to be taken advantage of by manipulative students.
So, what are some of the most effective ways to manage student lying so that you can maintain a positive relationship with your students and not feel as if you are wearing a sign that says “I am a sucker for any excuse” across your forehead?
1. Strive to find a mental middle ground in your attitude. Yes. Some of your students will not be truthful. Others will be. This seems to be one of the less pleasant things about our profession that you really can’t control as completely as you would like.
2. Strive to see student lies as a problem that you can cope with instead of just reacting to the issue in an emotional way. Remove as much of the negative emotion you may feel at being tricked and redirect your energies in a positive way.
3. When you find that a student has lied to you, privately deal with that student. Don’t compound the problem by humiliating the student in front of classmates with an angry confrontation.
4. Instead of accusing the student directly, ask questions that will lead him or her to admit the truth of the matter. This is especially important and effective with students who have had momentary a lapse of judgment and integrity and who will self-correct when given an opportunity.
5. Contact the student’s home when necessary. Sometimes it takes a united front to tackle the underlying issues that have encouraged a student to lie.
6. Once you and the student have completely worked out the problem, assure the student that the matter is resolved and that you intend for both of you to move forward. Be matter of fact and friendly in your dealings so that this can really happen.
7. Be a role model of integrity yourself. This is crucial if you are to be able to successfully tackle the issue with success.
At this time of year, you and your students have probably settled into the various routines that you need to make your classroom run smoothly. They know what to do at the start of class, how to hand in papers, and how not to pack up at the end of class until you give the signal. Although there is a great deal of comfort in this familiarity, it is all too easy for busy teachers to overlook another kind of familiarity that is crucial to the success of a classroom—the endless stream of positive connections that good teachers work hard to foster each day.
Because our students are infinitely complex beings, making a positive connection with them is not only a necessary action, it is one that needs to be made and remade every day. Every encounter with students has the potential to make them feel confident and successful and willing to work to achieve their goals and master the material you have for them. Unfortunately, each encounter can also be one in which you lose the fragile respect you may have gained earlier in the term through neglect if not through actual missteps. Here are just some of the many small actions that you can take to make sure that you have fostered a positive relationship with as many of your students as possible.
It does not take a long time or much effort to do the things in this list, but the rewards will be more than worth it.
1. Tell students that you do not intend to give up until they are successful in your class.
2. Celebrate birthdays and other special occasions.
3. Focus on your students’ strong points. Too often teachers focus on correcting weaknesses instead of encouraging students to take advantage of their strengths.
4. Break long assignments into smaller, more manageable chunks of work.
5. Place students in mixed-ability groups. When teachers group low achievers separately, it sends a message of defeat.
6. Provide opportunities for students to self-evaluate so that they know the extent of their progress.
7. Teach your students the skills that they need to be successful students. Good time management, organization, and efficient study skills will all make it easier for them to achieve.
8. Offer a mixture of assessment types so that students can demonstrate their knowledge in a variety of ways.
9. Acknowledge it when a student is having a bad day and offer to help if you can.
10. Make sure that you use plenty of formative assessments so that students can know if they are on the right track.
11. Invite inspirational guest speakers to encourage your students to work hard.
12. Instill a sense of responsibility for their own success in your students. Teach them that they control their own destinies.
13. Ask about an event that a child is anticipating.
14. Differentiate your instruction so that all students can reach success.
15. Write students personal notes. Be brief. Be positive. Show that you believe in them.
16. Set aside time periodically for students to set goals and then assess their progress in achieving them.
17. Help students determine and then work with their learning styles. This awareness will help them work to reach their potential.
18. Students need specific encouragement as well as praise if they are to continue a positive behavior.
19. Display encouraging mottoes and slogans from achievers who struggled early in life.
20. Provide ongoing support for less-proficient learners as well as enrichment opportunities for all students.
21. Harness the power of positive peer pressure! Have students work toward common goals.
22. Build intrinsic motivation into every lesson. Offer small, tangible rewards occasionally, too.
23. Have students share successful study strategies with classmates. Informal peer support can be a powerful tool.
24. Make it a point to monitor frequently. This will allow you to help students when they first experience difficulties.
25. Consider holding periodic ceremonies to recognize students who have reached goals or who have otherwise been successful.
26. While you should never water down the curriculum, you should alter the way you teach it so that all students can learn.
27. Use wall charts, stickers, and other motivational tools to make student success visible to all.
28. Use positive labels as often as you can so that students know what to call their success and how to repeat it.
29. Take time to discuss the dangers of substance abuse, gangs, and unprotected sex with older students. This will help them stay focused on their positive goals.
30. Call on all of your students and not just the ones you think know the answer.
31. Attend after-school games, performances, and other activities.
32. When a child speaks to you, stop what you are doing and really listen.
33. Assign the work groups in your class. Don’t let cliques choose their friends.
34. Schedule team building activities when you place students in groups so they can learn to work well together.
35. Set class goals and work together as a team to achieve them.
36. Let your voice be the kindest one your students hear all day.
37. If a child is ill, pay attention. Send him or her to the nurse. Call home.
38. Let your expression reflect the pleasure that you take in your students’ presence.
39. Have no invisible students in your class. Speak every child’s name every day.
40. Contact a child’s home with good news.