I could tell “Sally” was struggling. Fifteen minutes into the exam, she asked if we could make it an open book test. I said “no”. She hunkered down and got back to work. Another 15 minutes passed and she asked if we could make it a group exam. That window had passed. I said “no”. She got back to work. Then she asked specific questions about the exam problems. I gave a hint that I had hoped would point her in the right direction, but to no avail. The struggle continued. The 75-minute exam period was a long one, not only for her, but also for me as I watched everyone eventually file out of the room except for Sally. Alone in the room with time about to expire, she raised her hand and gestured me to the back of the room where she was working. I thought “finally, she is going to turn in her exam and leave.” As I approached her, I said, “Are you finished?” as I reached for the exam. She said “no” and clenched the exam to her chest. “What can I help you with?” I replied. She didn’t reply. She stared at me with a glare I could not interpret. I now know the glare was part curiosity, part mercy, and part insinuation. Slowly, painstakingly slow it seemed to me, she pulled the exam away from her chest, and there it was staring me in the face.
At this point in the story when I told my dean and my work wife about the incident, they both assumed she had exposed her bosom to me as an indication of exchanging sexual favors for a passing grade on the exam. They were wrong—but close. What was staring me in the face was a $100 bill attached to the exam. The intention was the same. At the time, I guess the going rate for an “A” on the exam was a hundred bucks.
I immediately explained to Sally that the offer was unacceptable behavior. She got the point and submitted the exam (after removing the Benjamin) and left. I reported the incident to my dean. I documented the incident and reported it to the dean of students.
I guess I can partially blame myself. As part of my self-deprecating humor in the classroom, I would always refer to myself as poor because I only earned a mere schoolteacher’s salary. I guess Sally missed the sarcasm and assumed her offer would be mutually beneficial. I have not used that joke since this incident.
I often wonder what would have happened had I accepted the bribe. Would another c-note appear every exam? Would Sally try this tactic in all her classes? Would I have sent the message that this was an acceptable method for conducting future business? I still wonder what kind of upbringing or environment led Sally to believe bribery was acceptable. I wonder even more why community college students are carrying around $100 bills!
In the end Sally turned out to be a pretty good student. When she applied herself, she did well. For the remainder of the semester, I pretended nothing happened that day which allowed us to carry on a relationship befitting a student and her instructor. On the inside I was distraught. To this day, that was the most uncomfortable I have ever felt in the classroom. I dreaded going to that class in fear of a repeat incident. But time heals all wounds. I feel like I should have some profound learning experience from this incident, but I do not. Maybe I learned that one should expect the unexpected in the classroom. Maybe I learned that you cannot prepare for the unexpected. Maybe I simply learned that integrity is always the best response.