Life as an ESL teacher: When Pedro tried to cheat at his English test …

Some of my very favourite multicultural experiences have come from my years spent working as an ESL teacher, both abroad and here in Australia. Teaching English to students from every continent not only got me wondering just how many continents there are, it also had me regularly wondering if my students were learning as much from me as I was from them.

Pedro’s life lesson (aka why not to cheat on your tests)

One of the funniest moments in my ESL career is one I can picture as though it happened yesterday. It’s a story I often tell when people ask me what life as an ESL teacher is actually like – because I want them to know it can be hilarious! And I’m sure Pedro would agree.

Life as an ESL teacher

Life as an ESL teacher is fun (and poor Pedro is not in this picture!)

Brazilian students and punctuality

So, first up I have to explain that Brazilian students and punctuality are not phrases that usually go together in one sentence. Of course there are exceptions, but most Brazilians you ask will happily tell you that being on time is not one of their nation’s strong suits.

The student in question, Pedro, was a Brazilian boy. I say boy because at the time he was only 17 years old, a fact that was marked in big capital letters on our class list, because it meant we couldn’t take the class to the pub on Friday afternoon (the legal drinking age here in Australia is 18). And before you ask: yes, we did often take the class to the pub, and of course it was fun but I can honestly tell you I had numerous students who only gained the confidence to start talking in a foreign language once some beer was involved and it really truly helped them!

Like many Brazilians, Pedro had a bit of a tendency to come to class kind of late. It was a bit annoying but much more annoying on a Friday, because we were required to give our full-time classes a written test every Friday morning. On this particular day he arrived just as the rest of the class were finishing off the test, so he offered to take a chair out to the balcony and do the test out there.

English tests and wind gusts

I agreed and sent Pedro outside with a copy of the test, while back inside the classroom I had the students swap their papers around and mark each other’s tests. There was the usual discussion over “half right” answers because everybody wanted to get a good score, even though it wasn’t really important for anything at all!

Suddenly, Pedro burst into the classroom. “Teacher, teacher!” he shouted, because many of my students said that – it was a custom in their country rather than using a name, although it took me a while to believe that it wasn’t just because they’d forgotten my name.

“You won’t believe this,” Pedro said, and I thought that he was probably right. He dragged me outside and pointed over the balcony and over the fence into the property next door to the school. “That’s where my test is!” he said. “The wind came very suddenly and blew it out of my hands!”

Life as an ESL teacher

Life an ESL teacher was SO much fun (and poor Pedro is not in this picture either!)

The real story about Pedro’s English test

I was a bit surprised when Pedro offered to start the test again on a fresh copy, but I fetched one and gave it to him, then went back into class. Later on I marked his test and his result was reasonable but not stunning.

It was some weeks later before Pedro confessed what had really happened, but it’s probably not what you think. He told me (I don’t remember why, but in a moment of extreme honesty I suppose) that when he was first sitting on the balcony writing the answers to his test, one of his classmates came out to use the bathroom, and Pedro stopped him and asked him some answers to a question he was having trouble with. He wrote down these answers and just as he’d finished that: whoosh, along came the wind and his test flew away. “It was God or something, Amanda!” he told me. “I was being punished for cheating!” That’s why he’d been so keen to try another copy of the test … and why he promised he would never cheat on another test again.

My life lessons from Pedro’s English test

I laughed and laughed when Pedro explained the whole story to me. He was so sure that fate had come back to bite him (and fast) because he’d asked a fellow student for some answers. But as for me, I learnt that I should always suspend judgement until I really know the whole story … and that this and so many other reasons were why I loved life as an ESL teacher.


(Random related note for any German readers/Für meine Leser, die deutsch können:

I know I have a few German readers and I have to tell them that the inspiration for this post was my friend’s new book – Angelika Bohn’s Wem die Deutschstunde schlägt – which is all about the hilarious tales Angie has from her time teaching German as a foreign language. Ang and I taught for the same school in Germany and the book is HILARIOUS. Also … was für die deutsche, meld euch mal! Dieses Buch von Angelika Bohn ist voll lustig, ich habe mit ihr in Heilbronn gearbeitet. Es geht um ihrer Erlebnisse, als Deustch-als-Fremdsprache Lehrerin.)


  1. Poor Pedro, at least he confessed and I’m sure he never cheated again!

Speak Your Mind


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.