While pondering what to write about this week, I Googled the phrase “first do no harm” because I had a vague sense that it pertained to an oath of some sort, but I couldn’t remember what it was called. When Google reminded me that it is from the Hippocratic Oath, my curiosity took over and I looked up the history of the term.
Interesting fact: the phrase “first do no harm” is no longer officially part of the modern Hippocratic Oath, though the intent of that phrase is ever-present. Another fun fact: people love things that come in sets of ten. For example, there’s the Ten Commandments, the Bill of Rights to the U.S. Constitution, the modern Hippocratic Oath, and the teachers’ Bill of Rights that has been proposed in the Tennessee Legislature (SB0014/HB1074) and needs to become law as hastily as possible. As education professionals, we should take a similar oath when we receive our apprentice licenses, which enables us to become full-time teachers. As far as I can tell, such an oath does not exist; therefore, I have created my own, written in the same style as the modernized Hippocratic Oath.
- I swear to fulfill, to the best of my ability and judgment, this oath.
- I will honor the gains of those educators in whose steps I walk and will gladly share my knowledge with those who are to follow.
- I will always work for the intellectual betterment of my students, avoiding, as much as possible, the twin traps of over testing and teaching to the test.
- I will remember that education is both an art and a science, and that warmth, sympathy, and understanding may outweigh the bubble sheet and the homework assignment.
- I will not be ashamed to consult my colleagues when the skills of another are needed to help a student.
- I will respect the privacy of my students. Most especially must I tread with care in matters of life and death, and I will do everything lawfully within my power to protect a student’s life.
- I will remember that I do not teach a data point on which I will later be judged, but a human being, whose desire to learn and become a productive member of society are of utmost importance in the classroom.
- I will encourage my students to think critically whenever I can, and I will always look to incorporate ways for students to act creatively.
- I will remember that I remain a member of society, with special obligations to the foundations of future societies.
- If I maintain this oath, may I always act so as to preserve the finest traditions of my calling and may I long experience the joy of educating those who seek my help.
I believe in my heart that educators are well-intentioned. Sometimes lawmakers and other bureaucrats get in the way of us doing what is best for our students. For example, a person only needs to follow the money trail for a brief moment to discover the foundation of the accountability movement that is so pervasive in every public school in the country. One company or another profits from every standardized test that students take. It’s a billion dollar a year industry that is quite adept at generating a need for its products.
Sometimes, however, teachers get stuck, or groomed, in the mantra of “this is always how we’ve done things” and end up creating work that is detrimental to students’ success. For example, it is common practice for elementary school teachers to assign homework--despite the overwhelming evidence that it is not beneficial to enhancing students’ performance. Earlier this school year an elementary school in Vermont banned all homework and they have already declared the experiment a success--after only one semester! Especially with recess constantly being put in time-out during the school day, it’s more crucial than ever that these young learners have time after school to play, and be curious, and investigate things. After all, the entire concept for this article began when I did that very thing myself. Perhaps if educators took an oath, like the one that I wrote above, it would have a positive impact on how we operate our classrooms. In any case, it couldn’t do any harm.