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National Editorials & Columns

The Cheat Sheet for Life

I am not a big fan of most teachers, and certainly a screaming majority of the ones I had growing up. Teachers only stood in the way of my desire to grow up and become the person I wanted to be. So even from an early age I worked against them in every grade I miraculously managed to pass.

In the 13 years I traveled through the congested bowels of the education system, I honed the unique and distinct ability of subverting and sabotaging the aims of teachers. My more formidable years were more like an apprenticeship in dirty tactics, half-baked schemes that somehow always worked like a charm and last, but certainly not least, cheating.

In the seventh grade I had an English teacher named Mr. Marcum. To me, he was just another mark, like every teacher before that and after.

On the first day of school that year in 1993 he recited a melodramatic monologue of caution to the class about cheating. Belaboring the point and his arms flailing high into the air like a fire and brimstone preacher, Mr. Marcum stated nobody had ever cheated in his class without getting caught.

“And nobody ever will,” he scolded whilst baring his fangs to the classroom as horns sprouted from his hairline.

A gross embellishment?

Yes, perhaps I am being slightly dramatic, but only slightly.

Each Friday we would have a spelling and definition test on 20 words he spent the week attempting to hammer into our nescient brains.

He tried teaching all of us ridiculous sounding words and definitions — words like belaboring, whilst and nescient — that I just knew back then I would never use.


To a rebellious young slacker with an ever-present and deep-seated contempt for authority, I took Mr. Marcum’s Shakespearian tale of caution as more of a dare than a warning.

Challenge accepted.

That’s how I took it.

I knew from that moment on I was going to cheat in Mr. Marcum’s class. In fact, my mind immediately began to reel with deceit, dishonesty and duplicity as soon as he gave the cheating speech.

I didn’t cheat because I was dumb. Dumb people can’t cheat because dumb people get caught. Everybody knows that (except dumb people).

Cheating is such a dirty word, too. Cheating is nothing except outsmarting your opponent. In 99 percent of life’s situations, one succeeds from outsmarting his or her opponent. But everyone always wants to get on their high horse and proclaim that cheating is bad.

My ruse to cheat in Mr. Marcum’s class was pretty ingenious, if you must know. It wasn’t the greatest caper I ever pulled, but it’s certainly noteworthy.

Of the 20 words we were to learn for each test, I would always have a problem remembering a few on the list. So I wrote those words down, along with a brief definition, on a super small piece of index card, which I had taped to the end of my belt.

Each time I was stumped with a word that I knew I would never use — like subterfuge — I would bend my belt upward in an impressive display of sleight of hand and subterfuge.

Even now I look back at those tests and I think they were silly. When I don’t know the correct way to spell a word or I need a definition as an adult I just look it up in the dictionary. Is that cheating? Should I not be using the dictionary to spell and define words correctly, or should I just be going off of memory?

Mr. Marcum never caught me cheating that year, and for all I know I am the only one to ever get away with it.

It is only now in this caffeinated state of clarity that I come to fully understand that Mr. Marcum was the one who bested me.

His endeavor was to educate children about words and to make them care about words.

At the end of the day that is exactly what he accomplished with me — and he didn’t even need to cheat to do it.

To contact Will E. Sanders email him at To learn more about Will E. Sanders, to read past columns or to read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at

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