“An Open Letter to the Students that are Retaking My Final Exam aka 5 Lessons from Talking or Cheating on My Exam”

By Mr. Westbrooks

Background: The following open letter was included in a make-up final exam for students who were caught either cheating or were under the suspicion of cheating. Their task was to read the letter and respond to it by writing a letter back to me. You can find the original version of the final exam open letter here.

I wonder if any of you went through the exam and felt remorseful at the end after you read my open letter about taking your education seriously. My guess is probably not, based on your actions during that part of the exam and after. I would like to assume the best, but I’m also familiar with some of your unscrupulous behavior from last year that just seems to be incorrigible. (As you can see, I removed the vocabulary section of the exam, and decided to throw a few of those words in this letter.) Below, are 5 lessons you should take away from having to come to school another day to retake your final exam.

  1. I’m not picking on you.

As you probably know, you’re retaking this exam because you either cheated or you talked/laughed excessively. Before I go any further, I need to emphasize that the talking and laughing was excessive talking and laughing. I say that to say other students were talking and laughing and even trying to discuss exam questions at various points; however, they did it for a little bit and stopped. You all, on the other hand, did it for the majority of the period. So, I didn’t immediately decide to give you a zero the first time you talked or copied off of someone else’s paper. I put at least five checks next to your name before I did that.

You can also argue that I didn’t give you any warnings, but I would argue that it’s fair that I didn’t give you any warnings. All of you retaking this exam aren’t new to this school and the expectations. In fact, there’s been such a strong emphasis on test-taking throughout your years in school that you’re familiar with assessment expectations from your previous schools. For too long, especially at this school, you’ve received too many empty warnings and not enough real consequences. Without real consequences, you don’t learn from your wrongdoings, and without learning from your wrongdoings, there’s no improvement in your character.

Anyway, to put that part about warnings simply: You know better.

  1. The consequences should’ve been much worse. Be thankful.

I know you’re mad as hell that Thursday wasn’t your last day of school and you had to watch your average drop two letter grades. Before you start moping, sucking your teeth, and hiking on me (see definition #2) behind my back, understand that you’re very fortunate that I’m allowing you to retake this exam. If you were at a different school, you would be stuck with that zero. If this was the SAT or PARCC, your scores would’ve been canceled, meaning they wouldn’t count, and you would have to completely retake the test. College is another level. If you talk, you’ll get a zero and removed from the room, BUT IF YOU CHEAT, you will get kicked out of that college/university entirely. That means you don’t just fail the exam or that one, specific class; you get kicked out of school COMPLETELY.

As you can see, disruptions and cheating are very serious matters. Although I probably shouldn’t be giving you chances like this, I want to give you a fair warning now, so you won’t have to suffer a rude awakening later on. You also can’t give the excuse that you didn’t know, because you heard it from Mr. Westbrooks.

  1. Respect the people that put in the work.

I don’t need to say much about talking and laughing. When you’re doing that, especially constantly, it’s distracting and you can’t really concentrate on what you’re doing. Even if people say that it’s OK, they may not really feel that way. They might say that it’s OK for you to talk and laugh while they’re working, testing, or learning because they don’t want to become the enemy. You may not seem to care about your own work or education, or you may disrupt class or the learning environment, because you’re struggling with the work, but don’t bring down the other students who are trying to learn and do their best. Either remove yourself, or talk to me privately so you can receive additional help. That’s what I’m here for.

Students put a lot of hours into learning, studying, and completing challenging assignments. The students you refer to as the “smart kids” or “good kids” weren’t born Respeck Saucewith knowledge and the ability to earn decent grades and pick up on certain skills and information quickly. They had to be trained to become that way. It takes a lot of work, practice, and sacrifice to reach that point. How does it look when they put in the hours, days, months, and years to be academic achievers, and you merely put in a few minutes to copy their answers, but you both end up enjoying the same benefits? That’s like you slaving hard at a job for 40 hours a week, and letting someone who sleeps all day at home take half of your paycheck. That sounds crazy, right? Well, that’s what you’re doing when you copy other people’s work that they put time and effort into. I don’t care if you get the liquid bottle or the powder in a can, but you need to “put some respeck” on your classmates’ names and work!

  1. You’re bad at cheating anyway, so just don’t do it.

Let’s be clear: This is not a challenge for you to prove me wrong, but I want to lighten the mood a little bit by pointing out how terrible you are at cheating. Well, you probably won’t find this funny, but I’m laughing at you. First of all, you were super obvious. You saw how small and open the room was, so of course I’m going to notice you looking at someone else’s paper. Secondly, you go on your phones to Google, and copy answers that make no sense…at all. On the “Harrison Bergeron” fill-in-the-blank, question, I gave you a small blank to fill in with ONE word (The answer was dystopian by the way). But, what did you do? You wrote a paragraph in the space below the question, and drew and an arrow to the blank. Really though?? And can any of you tell me what the word “interval” means without looking it up? No, OK. To make matters worse, you all didn’t have enough sense to change the words so everyone didn’t have the same answer. You had the same exact answer…word for word. Really though??

Don’t take this as you need to find sneakier ways to cheat. Just don’t do it!! Study! Pay attention in class! Don’t have side conversations! Ask for help, not the answers. I’m not supposed to call students mean names, so that’s not what I’m doing. I’m talking about your behavior and not your character or personality. With that being said, the ways in which you all tried to cheat was stupid, very stupid.

  1. It will catch up to you.

I hope this doesn’t happen, but let’s say after you finish reading this letter you still choose not to listen. You find better ways to cheat, you don’t get caught, or you never receive any real consequences. Just know that, you may think that you’re getting over, but it will catch up to you eventually. It may come in the form of you getting kicked out of college, or it may end up being exposed as an incompetent and ignorant student or worker, because you never really learned anything or put in any real work. Quit while you’re ahead, or suffer serious embarrassment later on.

Peace,

Mr. Westbrooks

Read the students’ responses here.

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An End-of-the-Year Open Letter to the Students of My English Classes

By Mr. Westbrooks

Background: I drafted this open letter and included it as a part of my students’ final exam. The purpose of the letter was for them to analyze an example of literature being as social commentary and to give them some parting words to reflect on over the summer. The students were also required to respond by writing an open letter back to me. Some of their responses will be included. Note: The letter was a last-minute decision, and I wrote it about an hour before the exam lol, so there was definitely more I wanted to say but didn’t have time to write.

To the current English 2B students and the larger Class of 2018:

As most of you know, I like to keep things interesting, so rather than finding a social commentary text that someone else wrote, I decided to write to you directly. With the exception of the new students that arrived this school year, we’ve been together off and on for two years now. A lot of your classmates from freshman year are no longer here for various reasons. For those of you who are still here, I’ve witnessed some of you grow behaviorally and in terms of maturity, and I’ve witnessed some of you grow academically. While we’ve made some progress, I have a few areas of concern that I would like to bring to your attention briefly. All of my comments connect to theme of taking your education seriously.

Your Education is Bigger than Grades

Passing your classes — or even earning A’s and B’s in your classes – is not an accurate indication of whether you’re prepared for the next grade or even life after high school, regardless of what you decide to do after you graduate. This is especially true considering that the work and expectations at this school aren’t challenging enough. We both know this, because I’ve heard some of you on a few occasions talk about how “easy” this school is. However, we also both know that I’ve never tried to allow my English class to be too easy for you. Just look at the social commentary posters that many of you struggled with, but eventually completed. You shouldn’t be content with school being easy, especially when many of us are far behind teenagers in other schools, states, and countries.

When you’re only concerned about earning average or good grades, you become more focused on finishing your work rather than actually learning or gaining a deeper understanding of the material. Knowing how much growth we need to make, I find it shameful that we only complete learning tasks when it’s a part of the grade. What’s even crazier, is that some of you even turn down extra credit opportunities! Even if you don’t think you need everything we’re teaching you in school, the process of learning is a habit, and it trains your brain to solve other problems that may be more relevant to you.

Yes, You Do Need an Education

Many people probably have a narrow understanding of “education.” When the word education comes up, many of us automatically think of school. But in fact, education comes in many different forms. Here are my thoughts on college: College isn’t for everyone, and everyone shouldn’t attend a college/university after high school; HOWEVER, I believe every student should have the OPTION of attending college. There shouldn’t be any student leaving high school without the skills to be successful at an institution of higher learning. Also know that earning a college degree isn’t a guarantee of financial success, but it could be if you use the higher education system to work for you.

I want you to think about education more broadly, and take it seriously. Education is any type of training or learning. You have other options besides going to college, enlisting in the army, or just getting a job. You can be an electrician, mechanic, plumber, barber/hair stylist, beautician, etc. You can own your own business, which is very important. We’re all familiar with street entrepreneurs aka trappers who employ themselves by selling illegal and destructive products in the ‘hood, so why can’t we take that entrepreneurial mentality, and start businesses that are both legal and productive?

My last point on the necessity of education: Along with attending school or learning a skill/trade, you also need a proper education of yourself. Even if you’re a platinum rapper or earning millions in the NFL, NBA, or MLB, you still need this knowledge. One of my favorite teachers (I think it was Tony Browder) once said, “Money without consciousness (awareness, knowledge, wisdom, and understanding) leads to destruction.” Money alone can compromise your morals or cause you to make stupid decisions that will lead you to losing your money.

Many of us don’t know the history of who we are and where we come from. It’s important for us to know this “old stuff” in order to give us guidance for the present and future. I hope you picked up on this lesson from our social commentary project that history repeats itself, and if we’re not aware of it and take proper action, we’re doomed to make the same mistakes that our ancestors made. On a positive note, studying the achievements of those who came before you is inspirational, and it takes away all excuses for you not being excellent. Educate yourself on who you are. Read more books (I’m not only saying that because I’m an English teacher). Watch videos and documentaries, and visit museums. There are even Instagram pages that you can follow that can provide a starting point towards knowledge of self.

Don’t Wait Until After High School

I hear some of you say “Oh, we’re still in high school, and we’ll worry about that stuff after we graduate.” No, start now. In reality, other kids your age started taking their education seriously and working towards their after high school goals in elementary school. It’s never too early to get started. The earlier you start, the better chance you have at being successful. Because of the education we’ve been given so far due to our background and where we live, we have a lot of catching up to do, and we also understand that we have to work twice as hard to get where we need to be.

Final Thoughts

I hope you read this entire letter, and you take heed to my words, and think seriously about them over the summer. I wouldn’t write this long letter if I didn’t care about you or want to see you do well. You are the present and the future, and all of us adults are depending on you to make our future better than what it is now.

Peace,

Mr. Westbrooks

Read the student responses here