Why don’t teachers take an oath?
It always puzzles me why teachers aren’t given the opportunity to take an oath. They do it in other parts of the world so why not in the UK?
We all know about the Hippocratic Oath that doctors take and in England and Wales those who decide to become police officers take an oath or attestation and swear allegiance to the Crown at the point of becoming a constable. So, why don’t teachers take an oath before entering the classroom?
Do No Harm
Sir John Jones in his wizard book The Magic-Weaving Business thinks we should have a teacher oath and he has had a bash at writing one. His version goes like this:
I do solemnly swear that I will, to the best of my ability, work with the young to help:
- form people of love, care and compassion who have a deep appreciation of beauty
- develop people who serve others by their gifts
- raise people to distinction
So help me God.
You might not agree with some or all of the oath. Maybe the most contentious part is the last line because this isn’t inclusive and you’d be right.
Take the oath
Of course other teacher oaths are up for discussion.
Here’s a cracking one from Andrew Old’s brilliant ‘Scenes From The Battleground‘ blog site. This might be a bit long at just under 500 words but there is a lot of wisdom in there and plenty to discuss. Here’s just one part of it:
“I promise never to waste my students’ time with activities that serve no educational purpose. I promise never to seek to entertain rather than to educate. I will choose my teaching methods on the basis of how they will aid learning. I will be blind to educational fashions, uninfluenced by incoherent ideologies and sceptical of unproven theories.”
Now that’s a pledge worth taking. He also goes onto to say “The learning of my students will always be a priority over approval from managers or inspectors” and “I will never pretend the mediocre is excellent, or that the unacceptable is acceptable.”
Anthony Cody (2007) has made his own covenant and for him this includes applying “all strategies known to be effective, avoiding busy-work in favor of work with real meaning” and Heiderscheidt (2003) “will seek to constantly improve my skills as a teacher.”
Azoury (2016) believes we need to adopt the “Socrates Oath” and “promise to honour and respect the uniqueness of children, nurture and care for each and every pupil in their care throughout their career.” Compare this to MP Wilkinson (2011), the Socratic Oath for Educators proposed by Walter L. McKenzie Jr or The Socratic Oath by the Academy of Professional Teachers and download your own copy.
Taking an oath might, for some, be nothing more than symbolic window-dressing. They say that it just ticks a box and would be essentially meaningless.
But I disagree because it reminds us of the responsibilities we hold and the core values of our profession. Tristram Hunt, once Labour’s shadow education secretary tried to get oath taking for teachers on the agenda.
On a visit to Singapore, he was impressed by their system which includes a public statement of teachers’ commitment to their profession. Teachers also get a compass as a symbolic gift directing them towards their responsibility “to provide a sense of moral purpose and virtue to young people”.
Unfortunately, Hunt was mocked on Twitter by immature comments from those bankrupt of professionalism and others saying the oath was a gimmick. Far from it. An oath wouldn’t allow some teachers to make a mockery of their duty of care.
The Comenius Oath
Like the Hippocratic Oath, our first responsibility should be to “do no harm“. Beyond this, what do we say as a pledge? What words can we populate an oath with? It needs to emphasise fairness, equality, dignity and professionalism. Well, one option would be to say the Comenius Oath.
In Finland the teachers’ union, Opetusalan Ammattijärjestö (OAJ), introduced a new oath for teachers to take called the Comenius’ Oath. This was designed by an independent ethical panel to “strengthen the professional ethics and identity of teachers” and the OAJ says its “wish is that this oath goes into the hands of all teachers all over Europe and across the world.”
The oath was named after John Amos Comenius who was a Czech educational reformer and remembered for his innovations and teaching methods.
Teachers can take the oath at anytime and the OAJ’s regional associations organise opportunities for teachers to take it such as part of their World Teachers’ Day events or annual meetings. The idea is that you read the entire text, say “I swear” and make this a visible declaration. Could our teaching unions buy into this and do the same?
Publicly declaring the Comenius Oath is an opportunity to clarify the highest standards of teaching and to energise teachers to fulfill key promises.
The teaching profession can benefit by committing to an ethical pledge. Surely this is something all purposeful 21st century teachers would want to do anyway? This would enhance our status and helps us reflect on the values, principles and children’s rights we need to respect.