YCteen publishes true stories by teens, giving readers insight into the issues that matter most in young people's lives.
What's New
Email Newsletter icon
Write for Youth Communication: Video
Behind the Scenes: Teen writers describe what it's like to work at YCteen.
Follow us on:
Share Youth Communication Follow Represent on Facebook Follow Represent on YouTube Follow Represent on Twitter
Follow Represent on Facebook Follow Represent on YouTube Follow Represent on Twitter
Cheater to Tutor
I wasn’t helping my friends by giving away the answers

Names have been changed.

When I was a child my parents always told me to do the right thing, and up until 10th grade the right thing had seemed obvious to me. I tried my best to respect adults, share with others, and get good grades in school.

Getting good grades seemed especially important. All through school, I’d spend evenings studying first and relaxing second. My parents emphasized schoolwork before games, and I agreed. Most of my peers, however, chose fun and games over education. They’d go to the park all day instead of studying, copy homework, and talk during class.

In 6th grade math became more difficult as we began learning algebra. One day during an algebra exam, the person sitting next to me tapped my elbow. I’d never spoken to her before but she pointed at a question on her exam and I knew she was asking for help.

I was reluctant to help her because I didn’t want to get in trouble, but I felt pressured. I thought that she would blame me for her bad grade if I didn’t help. I also didn’t think it was a big deal because it was only one question, so I carefully slid my exam near her and watched as she hastily copied my work. I looked up to make sure that the teacher wasn’t watching, and then I continued with my exam.

Later, she thanked me and I felt proud to have been able to help someone. I knew that I was breaking a rule and I was a little disappointed in myself but, at the time, I thought the good outweighed the bad.

After that, I helped other people occasionally. Sometimes I was compensated with candy. I found it difficult to say no to my peers. I felt as though people would begin to dislike me if I didn’t help them.

When I entered high school, classmates offered me money to help them whenever I said no. I felt more uncomfortable when money became involved, but I was being rewarded for doing something that came easy to me, and essentially required no effort.

Additionally, my parents rarely gave me money, and it was nice to have some for a change. I didn’t say yes to everyone though. I didn’t appreciate being used, so I only helped friends who had helped me before. For example, sometimes when I forgot a handout a friend would take a picture of his or hers and send it to me via e-mail.


One day in 10th grade, my math teacher, Mr. Paul, looked at me as he passed out our exams. A friend at my table had received the same grade as me, something unusual. Mr. Paul figured that she cheated off me and so when he gave me my exam he said: “You’re not helping your classmate by giving her the answers.”

image by YC-Art Dept

I pretended that I didn’t know what he was referring to, but it was obvious that I had helped my friend cheat. She had copied my work number-by-number and the jump in her test grades was too major to go unnoticed. (I’d been helping her for a while, but this was the first time she’d copied all of my work.) However, because it was math and there were only so many ways to solve the problems on the exam, he didn’t have any real evidence of us cheating. So I wasn’t actually punished.

Still, knowing that Mr. Paul had figured out what was going on made me feel ashamed. My parents immigrated to the United States in 1990 not speaking English, and mathematics was one of the only school subjects familiar enough to them that they could teach me. Ever since then, I’d always loved math and kept a good relationship with my math teachers. Now my teacher-student relationship was on the line, and I feared that my math grade would fall.

I became unhappy with my decision to help my classmate cheat. I realized it was dishonest. It wasn’t fair to my classmates, who weren’t learning anything; to my teachers, who were trying to teach everyone; or to myself, since I was letting others get credit for my work. I was also worried because I knew that the teachers at my school discussed various students with each other. If word got out that I was facilitating cheating, it could negatively affect my relationships with other teachers and even my grades in other classes.

Of course, even if I’d wanted to continue helping others cheat, it would have been a lot harder after Mr. Paul discovered what I was doing. He began to isolate me during exams, and my peers’ grades plummeted. It was disconcerting to watch them fail.

To be honest, part of me did feel like they were getting what they deserved. They had never wanted to do the work to succeed, and even though I’d been helping them, I’d always felt that they didn’t even try. But I helped them in spite of this because if they failed, it meant the teacher had to re-teach the lesson, making the already painfully slow pace of the classwork even slower.

Now that some of my friends were failing, I also felt responsible for allowing them to take the easy way out and copy me rather than study. I had let them become dependent on me and now they were helpless, doomed to fail unless they all of a sudden changed their lifestyles and studied daily. I looked at the sad expression on my friend Sharon’s face as she got her latest test back. She looked at me and said, “You have to help me.”

Hand Up, Not Hand Out

As I thought about how I could solve this dilemma, I recalled a quote that a teacher once told me: “Give a man a fish, and he’ll eat today; teach a man to fish and he’ll eat for the rest of his life.” I thought about the quote and concluded that if I just gave my peers answers, they would forever require help. But if I instead explained how I approached problems until they understood, they would be able to solve things by themselves.

Although it required a lot more time than just handing over answers, I figured that the review would make my grasp of the material even stronger. The only problem was that I couldn’t possibly help all of my friends, since tutoring just one person took a lot of time. So I tried to help those willing to put in the effort to do better.

The very next day I asked Sharon if she wanted me to tutor her. She responded with a smile, and declared yes. After school she stopped by my house and I spent a few hours tutoring her. Although I wished I could have been spending my time on my computer, I didn’t regret helping her. We had a few laughs and Sharon was able to quickly grasp the concepts I taught her.

It felt great to see Mr. Paul smiling at Sharon as he handed her a test with “90” written across the top. Sharon smiled proudly and held her exam out to me and declared, “Look!” Mr. Paul knew that I was tutoring her, and as he walked by me he smiled.

I was able to instill confidence in my friend and gain Mr. Paul’s trust back, while sharing my passion for math with Sharon. I was still proud of my abilities, but now I could also be proud that I’d rid myself of the habit of helping others cheat. To this day I still tutor my peers in other subjects in my spare time. Tutoring has helped me to build relationships with my peers and allowed me to become stronger in each subject.

horizontal rule

For Teens
Visit Our Online Store