Every day is a test. Sometimes, we have only a fraction of a second to make a choice that could impact our lives forever.
It was this very predicament that haunted me one day as a senior in high school. It was the beginning of the school year and I already had senioritis. I felt done with high school and ready for college. Graduation seemed so close and yet so far away.
The year would have been perfect if the school hadn’t required us to take four years of math. It was not my favorite subject. But, being the ambitious person that I am, I was determined to do well.
My teacher called me up to her desk. She remembered that I had missed class yesterday and needed to take the make-up test. She pushed up her glasses as she told the class that she’d be right back. She motioned for me to follow. We went to the classroom next door. The room was empty except for an older math teacher who was writing equations on the chalkboard. I had never seen him before.
My teacher placed the test down on a table and asked the other math teacher to supervise me. The smell of dry erase markers filled the room. The sound of silence made me feel at peace. I was ready to take this test. The anticipation was killing me.
I looked down and started doing the problems. Question 1 was a piece of cake. Question 2 came out of the book with different numbers. But then I got to question 3.
I felt some heavy breathing over my shoulder. “Would you like me to help you?” the math teacher asked.
What was my teacher thinking? Not only did we have to do funny things with our calculators but then we had to graph the answer in number 4. I tried to do the problem maybe five or six times. I erased my work so often that the paper was starting to become thin. I resorted to crossing out and starting over but that didn’t leave much room.
I felt heavy breathing over my shoulder. It was my supervising math teacher. He looked at me and smiled.
“Would you like me to help you?” he asked.
I looked down at the paper. The answer was obviously, yes. I would have been crazy not to want him to. His plaid shirt and big glasses gave him instant great math teacher status. But the real question lingering here was whether or not it would be the right thing to do. The offer was so tempting but should I give in?
The room grew silent with just me and my thoughts. Yes, I wanted the help. In fact, I needed it desperately! This early in the year, college was still up in the air. These grades counted big time. This wasn’t just a test; it was my future itself.
Furthermore, the teacher wouldn’t get me in trouble for my taking him up on his offer. It was a safe bet. Every student’s dream is for the teacher to take the test with him. This was even better than cheating off the person’s test next to you. Who knows if they know what they are doing? Moreover, my answers wouldn’t be inconspicuously close to anyone else’s wrong answers. No one would see. No one could tell on us. No one would ever know.
I also reasoned that the purpose of school is to get an education. The teacher was here to teach and I was here to learn. Wasn’t the point of taking a class to master the material? If I didn’t understand it, shouldn’t I have someone explain it to me?
Perhaps the teacher would simply guide me to the right answer and not give it to me. That wasn’t cheating, was it?
I couldn’t think of a rational reason not to take him up on his offer, but I could think of a million reasons why I should.
I almost said “yes.” But the feelings in my heart overpowered all the reasons my intellect was giving me to accept.
This was wrong. I could feel it in my gut. I couldn’t do it even if I wanted to. And trust me, I wanted to. But my conscience wouldn’t let me. Maybe no one would ever find out but I would feel as if I cheated myself.
“No, I’m good,” I said with a fake smile. I felt like pulling him by his shirt tails as he walked away.
I’d like to tell you that I felt that what I had done was right but the more I went through the test, the more I regretted the decision. In my gut, I felt I did the right thing but I still questioned myself.
The educational system is success driven. Getting an “A” in a class is what we are congratulated for. Doing well in school is a ticket to a college education which, in turn, is a passport to a great job which leads to money, the key to survival in the modern age.
Practice doesn’t make perfect; it makes permanent.
The idea that anyone can make it by working hard is the cornerstone of the American dream. But so often, we focus so much on achievement that we forget that real success is overcoming the obstacles life places in front of us. To maximize our potential as human beings we need to be both driven and ethical.
Making a moral decision is not always easy. But in the end, we are not our degrees or our bank accounts. We are the sum of the choices we make. Practice doesn’t make perfect; it makes permanent. If we practice being a good person we will become one.
Life is not defined by what we accomplish but how we grow. It is how we deal with and overcome our struggles that truly define what type of people we are.
I don’t remember what I scored on the math test. That wasn't the real test I was taking that day. It was the test of integrity. In the end, how I did on the math test had little impact on my life. Since then I got into a great college and graduated with honors. But my conviction to do the right thing when nobody was looking taught me what type of person I choose to be. I’ve taken many tests since but looking back, this is the one of which I am most proud.