Flattery vs. Frustration
If you’re reading this blog, you probably know that I also maintain a classroom website at www.mrcoley.com. What began in 1999 as a simple site with just a few pages has grown into a pretty extensive collection of resources for my students, their parents, and other teachers. The mission of mrcoley.com is to 1) enhance parent-teacher-student communication, 2) provide resources that will support increased academic achievement, 3) showcase student work, and 4) share ideas with other educators. (Please note that while mrcoley.com is still online, it is no longer being updated since I have left the classroom.)
I love sharing. It’s one of my passions. As stated above, it’s one of the reasons I maintain my website. I have been blessed to have amazing teachers over the years share with me, and my website is one of the ways I’m trying to give back (see my post “Paying It Forward”). I often receive emails from teachers across the country asking for permission to use an idea they’ve seen on my site. I’m always extremely flattered to hear a teacher has stumbled upon my site and found it to be a resource. When asked for my permission to use an idea found on my site, I typically reply with the following words:
"Please feel free to borrow ideas you see on mrcoley.com and use them in your classroom or on your classroom website. I love sharing resources and ideas with other teachers (it's one of the goals for my site). That being said, I firmly believe that educators need to share and borrow in the appropriate way. Plagiarism is not something we accept from our students, and it shouldn't be something we as educators practice. If you decide to borrow an idea and include it on your website, I ask that you include a link back to my site and that you don't copy and paste my exact wording, formatting, and graphics. I have spent years building my site and crafting the text on its pages, so to see it copied and pasted onto another site as someone else's original work is extremely frustrating, not to mention illegal. In short, feel free to borrow the ideas, but please give credit where credit is due, and make it reflect your site and not mine."
Over the past several years, I have discovered many teachers who have found my website, copied my exact words (sometimes entire pages complete with graphics and formatting), and republished them onto their own sites. Believe it or not, I’ve found a couple teachers who copied practically my entire site, word for word, replacing only my name with theirs, without a word of credit. I’m often told by friends I should be flattered, that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. I agree – imitation is a form of flattery. But copying and pasting is a form of stealing. Seeing a teacher imitate my site is extremely flattering. It makes my day each and every time I hear from a teacher who likes my website. Seeing a teacher copy my site is extremely frustrating. There is a difference between borrowing ideas and stealing content. Ideas are not copyrighted – they are free to be copied. Teachers should look for new and fresh ideas to make their teaching better – that’s what good teachers do. Someone’s words, on the other hand, unless otherwise stated, are copyrighted and may not be copied and republished (even if a copyright symbol or notice is not placed on the webpage). Bottom line – granting permission to use an idea does not constitute the right to copy one’s exact words. The exception to this is if material is copied from a source that is licensed under Creative Commons. Creative Commons grants users the right to copy material, provided credit is given to the original creator of the material. In my experience, however, most of the websites I have come across are not licensed under Creative Commons, but rather operate under standard copyright.
So the question is, why do teachers do this? How could a teacher who would never accept this type of action from students model this kind of behavior? I’m sure there are some teachers out there who know exactly what they’re doing and just don’t care. But honestly, I think most of the teachers who copy and paste someone else’s words have no idea they’re doing anything wrong. Sad, but I think it's true. Maybe it’s a mindset of It’s okay, I’m a teacher. Teachers are allowed to do this because it’s for educational purposes.Whatever the reason, it isn’t right. Ignorance doesn’t make it okay.
It's my hope that this post would serve as a sort of public service announcement, because if teachers are engaging in this type of behavior and truly don’t know they’re doing anything wrong, someone needs to say something. Well, I've said something.
Brent has worked in the field of education as a teacher and administrator for 25 years. He is currently Principal of Alta Murrieta Elementary School in Murrieta, California. Read more about Brent here.
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