Teaching: We're Detectives, Lie Detectors, Judges, Prosecutors, and Defendants

Will the accused rise? Why are all of you standing? 

Teaching is a difficult profession. There are the common complaints of long hours, little prestige, even less pay, and the fact that so many people think they can do your job without any kind of training. There are more, but I'm preaching to the choir here, right?

One of the most frustrating aspects of the job though is the fact that I am, in addition to being an educator, also an investigative and judicial arm unto myself. My jurisdiction is the classroom, and yet extends to any place I can see within the bounds of the school grounds. I am responsible not only for my own students but for any student in the school.

I'm master of all I see at any given time, but I also have to be in charge of things I haven't seen, and in many cases, can't even prove.

For instance:

The majority of the month of March has been spent working on an essay and presentation for my class. The students have spent three works on this assignment. They've endured intense editing and criticism from me so I can justify the grades I gave them. They cover a ton of different standards and it was a big assignment, so I had to be very picky. For many kids they're not used to this level of scrutiny in their work, but they endured it from me. 

Given that they've spent so much time on this assignment, and that the topics were picked by them, they're proud of their hard work and believe in it. (Letting your students pick what they work on, within guidelines, is a great way to increase engagement, by the way.) 

Imagine my surprise, then, when one of my students was giving his presentation and it seemed that it had been changed from his original stance (positive) to the opposite. Let's say they were comparing the relative merits of Chevrolet vehicles vs Fords. This student was pro Ford. His presentation, though, right at the end, suddenly turned unfavorable vs Fords. How could this happen? I teach some kids with special needs, but none to the point that they suddenly change their minds on a topic they've spent three weeks on - and - forget that they had changed their mind.

Something was afoot.

I sighed, put on my investigation hat, and got to digging.

One of the advantages of doing so much work in Google Classroom is that Google saves all the changes made to documents. Even better: they time stamp the changes and label who made them. I sent the student's slideshow permissions to myself by sharing the slide show on my Google account, and I dug into the editing history.

The mystery gets interesting here: my student made his last edit on Wednesday at around 1:30 or 1:45. My class ends at 2, and, I have no students for the remainder of the day. We share laptops, for sure, but they shouldn't have access to each other's accounts. Yet, around an hour later, someone accessed the slideshow and made some subtle changes that reversed the author's positions. Google lists that person as being the student who owned the presentation. I know he didn't sabotage his own presentation almost an hour after he finished it.

Who, then, made those changes?

I have two obvious suspects, the student's partners who took the opposite stance (Pro Chevy.) They were working in close proximity on their projects because students were encouraged to collaborate with their peers and examine each other's arguments. Of course, pointed questions this morning turned up nothing. I'm left with further detective work.

What I'm planning so far is to see if the school's security cameras show anyone entering my room while I was out and accessing a laptop. This seems unlikely to me, as most students are off our hall at that time of day, and they would have been conspicuous. Interesting, though, in that I was out of my room for most of the planning period due to a meeting. I think that my co-teacher was also out of the room, so it's within the realm of possibility.

The other option is that someone accessed the victim's account using his account credentials. Probably this was done while they were at school with a device, as evidenced by the time the account was accessed during school hours. (Students get out after 3, this was done around 2:45.) 

So now I'm engaged in detective work trying to hunt for whomever changed the slides. It may turn up nothing, but we'll see. 

This is just one of the many mysteries I'm working on, as a classroom is an ever evolving place with so many actors within and without it that have an affect, again, within and without it. This little mystery now involves one of the assistant principals and also the IT guy because I'm not willing to let someone sabotage one of my students and get away with it without my trying as hard as I can to solve the problem.

I've solved mysteries of missing belongings, bad words uttered, kids misbehaving, food related, items related, on and on. 

I am not just an educator when I'm in my classroom, I'm also a detective. And when the detective finishes his work, I'll be a prosecutor, and when I'm done presenting the evidence, I'll pass sentence as a judge.

We teachers wear many hats, and a good portion of those hats have to do with law and rules enforcement among our students. We have to be fair arbiters of justice, otherwise, the whole system you find yourself the linchpin of will fall apart. Just as you would not trust a justice system which does not serve in your best interest, neither will your students trust in you if you are not at least perceived to be fair. 

Do your best to serve justice while you're a teacher, and the students will love you all the more or it, even if it means wearing a lot of hats and taking up some time. It's worth it.

Jeff Hewitt