Anthony Cody, a digital colleague of mine, recently wrote a column for Teacher Magazine proposing a Hippocratic Oath for teachers. "How many times," he asked, "have teachers contemplated the respect accorded doctors of medicine and ruefully shaken our collective heads, wishing we were given a fraction of that? One difference is that physicians traditionally swear on some form of the Hippocratic Oath…
Teachers adhere to codes of ethics and performance administered by the states that license us, but as a profession, we lack an agreed-upon credo. I offer up for discussion and amendment the following draft and invite you to share your reactions and your own suggested language."
Anthony’s code is well written, detailing thoughts and feelings that I have long had about education. It inspired a sense of responsibility, forcing me to carefully think about the wide-ranging roles that I fill in my classroom and in the lives of my students.
And it elicited this comment from Garnett, who claims to be a graduate student:
"This notion is absurd, and indicative of a growing neediness and
chest-thumping in the teaching profession. The reality is that
teaching as a profession has never been taken seriously, and will
always find itself in that nexus between a job and a career. With the recent scandals involving teacher misconduct capturing public
attention, I recommend that that focus shift to closer scrutiny of
the training, selection, and supervisory process."
My initial reaction was not fit for print….
My current reaction may not be either.
You see, I’ve come to believe that Garnett’s opinion is offensive only because it carries a measure of undeniable truth. We grumble daily about low pay, long hours, bus duty, few resources, scripted curriculum, standardized tests, cheating kids, difficult parents, grading papers, filthy restrooms, interrupted planning periods and annoying colleagues.
While all of these "complaints" are real aspects of our work that prevent us from succeeding, we often do little to stand up and assert control over our own profession. "I don’t have time to get involved," we cry. "It won’t make any difference anyway, so why bother." "It’s not my place to ask questions." "My principal doesn’t care what I think." "There’s no way to make my voice heard."
Explaining inaction with excuses does nothing to further our goal to be seen and respected. Instead, inaction cheapens our claim that we deserve to be recognized and compensated like other professionals—and puts us on the sidelines as critical decisions are made by those furthest from the classroom.
It’s time that we reestablished our credibility again. We must work to make empowerment less risky and more rewarding by studying issues, reflecting on practices and sharing what we know beyond our classrooms. We must hold colleagues accountable for failing to responsibly serve students, supporting those who can improve and uncovering those who won’t.
Until we do, we’ll be left thumping our chests and looking needy.