Students: The dumb, the awful and the plagiarizers. Part 1

I have taught journalism to college and university students for about 10 years. I have taught news reporting, layout and design, copy editing, law and ethics to several hundred students over the years.

Before I poke fun – with a dash of what the? – at some of my more memorable students, let me point out that many of those I’ve taught have been bright, hard-working and always strove to do their best.

Those are the students who made teaching rewarding because I knew they had a shot to be wonderful journalists and I could do my part to help them.

But plenty of them were spending time and money that were never going to pay off in a career in the news business.

Every college or university professor has seen crazy and dumb stuff from their students. In honour of the end of another post-secondary school year, here are some of my favourites. I will share Part 2 next week. 

1. One student plagiarized multiple passages in one assignment. The problem for her was that the copied text was in a different font. She was baffled by how I knew.

2. I gave my class an assignment to write a news story based on an author who had come to the college to speak. The author was a former journalist, just released a new book, was in talks to have a book made into a movie and had recently talked to Stephen King, one of his idols. There was plenty of territory for a great lead.

One student wrote: “Linwood Barclay spoke at Humber College yesterday.” That’s a terrible lead on so many levels but the biggest problem was that this student didn’t go to Humber. She got the name of her own college wrong.  

3. In a profile, one student wrote that a man’s parents had died in Hitler’s Hanukkah. 

4. My students were told they had to attend a sporting event and write a news story out of it. One handed in an assignment using quotes from Maple Leaf coaches and players from the CBC broadcast the night before. He said plenty of journalists do that. Um, no they don’t.

5. In a second-year copy editing class, we did an entire class on fact-checking. I stressed that meant going to only reputable online resources to check facts.  When it came time to do a fact-checking assignment, the instructions said they had to circle the error, correct it, and state what resource they used to find the right information.

One bright light repeatedly cited Google.

6. I’ve seen some crazy spelling and grammar errors. I’ve also seen some creative invention, too. A student actually wrote the word labializing. Painful gynecological procedure, anyone?



– Meredith MacLeod

If you're a teacher and have some funny stories to share, I'd love to hear them in the comments below.