A Teacher’s Oath

May 30, 2012

This is my contribution to the second Purpos/ed 500 words campaign.

I swear to teach to the best of my ability. I swear to do everything I can to develop my students’ intellects;  to teach them some of the best of that which has been thought and known. I want my students to partake in the full fruits of their civilisation and will not willingly leave anybody ignorant or convinced of a falsehood.

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. I will strive to improve my knowledge and my teaching. I will make decisions in the interests of my students and their learning, not on the basis of what they want, what I believe they should want or what I would enjoy. I will not seek comfort rather than challenge, consensus rather than truth, or socialisation rather than learning. I will be unashamed to teach.

I will also be unashamed to be a teacher. In my lessons I will not be a friend, priest or substitute parent to my students. I will not be a motivational speaker, entertainer or agony aunt. I will seek to be a teacher that you would choose to be taught by only if you wanted to learn. I will not seek personal validation, praise or gifts from my students. I will not sacrifice their interests to the pursuit of my career, a need for attention or for personal amusement. I will consider myself to be there for the benefit of my students, not the other way around.

I will carry out my professional duties, but will never let managers obstruct learning where this can be avoided. The learning of my students will always be a priority over approval from managers or inspectors. I will seek to maintain my autonomy  and respect the autonomy of my colleagues. I will seek advice from those who teach well and avoid advice from those who don’t. I will make decisions in my students’ interests even when those with power, including the power of patronage, would disagree with me.

I will maintain order in my classroom so that my students can learn safely and without obstruction. I will treat them with consideration and encourage them to treat each other the same way. I will not hesitate to challenge any threat to learning. I will defend my authority and that of my colleagues. I will not hesitate to express support for the value of learning and the virtues of the intellect. I will never write off a student, nor seek to inhibit ambition. I will never pretend the mediocre is excellent, or that the unacceptable is acceptable.

I promise that should I find myself unable to keep to this oath, then I will leave the teaching profession.


  1. ima gonna post this to my wall for the students to see.

  2. Thanks for your contribution! I don’t really feel qualified to respond given I’m not a teacher but it would be great to see what others think. I love your approach to the campaign, slightly wary that it sounds a little regimented/confined but love your passion for the profession.

  3. Unfortunately, it would appear that the ‘Headteachers’ Oath’ is directly contrary to most of this.

    • There’s probably a blogpost in that. “I promise to hide in my office…”

  4. i rather suspect Gove would agree with this oath- or am i being naive?

  5. “…Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
    And – which is more – you’ll be a Man, my son!”

    There are one or two dead fairies lying about the corridors after that lot. But … but… it’s a much better position on which to base action, a program, a career, a lesson.

  6. I am very interested in what makes a ‘profession’ why are teachers having trouble being seen as ‘professionals’? It’s not going on strike, the doctors are going on strike and they’re not suddendly seen as un-professional.

    My opinion is that teachers don’t use their own judgement. I have been told (among many other things) – ‘I don’t know what to do, we have to stick to the curriculum’, or ‘it’s the Local Authority policy so that’s what we do’. I can’t imagine a hospital doctor denying a diagnosis or treatment because of what a hospital administrator says. They would stand up for themselves, their judgement and their patient, they may lose but that’s another matter. We trust a professional to do the right thing. I think that may be what’s been lost.

    So I think teachers need to grow a pair and have more confidence in themselves.

    I also think, like doctors in the past, there ought to be a hippocratic oath for teachers “do not thwart children”.

  7. My eldest goes to secondary school this Autumn. All I can say is, I hope she is taught by people who could sign up to this credo.

  8. This may be a little bit controvercial to say here, but won’t the idea of being like a mentor to your students be hindered slightly when it comes to exam time? I’m not sure which age range you teach, but as a student in the middle of exams, it is more helpful to have a teacher that will help me get the grades to go to university than an agony aunt

    • My bad, I mis read that line

  9. Excellent summary of a teacher’s obligations to his/her profession.

    l look forward to reading what you feel should be an Administrator’s Oath.

  10. I find myself re-writing the last line slightly: I promise that should I find myself unable to keep to this oath, then I will move into management.

    Then there’s another alternative: I promise that should I find myself unable to keep to this oath, then I will become a union rep.

    Oop. That’s a lot of powerful people I’ve just upset.

  11. Isn´t this the key to it all? : ¨…only if you wanted to learn.¨ A workable credo, one that I like to think I applied, or at least tried to. I reckon that teachers were defeated just as much as the miners. As Caroline says, time to get serious. There´s a lot at stake.

    • Indeed. I left teaching – or at least initiated an extended break from it – because I couldn’t reconcile myself with the fact that it was allegedly my fault that pupils didn’t want to learn.

      In fact, when it comes down to it, the sad truth that pupils have had any willingness to learn drummed out of them by poor parenting and target-driven government is the fundamental tenet behind Andrew’s blog, isn’t it?

  12. […] to be committed to honesty, integrity, fairness, or even the value of the intellect. I have spelt out before the values which inform me as a teacher, but it is remarkably personal because there simply […]

  13. Reblogged this on Scenes From The Battleground and commented:

    A couple of years ago I wrote an oath. It was a declaration of my own values as a teacher. Some agreed with it, some hated it. Nobody would ever suggest that others should be made to swear it. We are a divided profession. For some of us, education is an academic pursuit. Our job is to make children smarter, and in order to do this we must have authority to tell children what to do in order to become smarter. For others, schools are (in R.S.Peters’s words) “an orphanage for children with parents”. They are social institutions designed to develop in children particular values that their parents cannot be trusted to impart, and to provide the companionship and affection their families and communities cannot be trusted to provide. From this point of view, academic learning cannot be a high priority, and expecting children to be compliant is simply ensuring that the society the schools are trying to engineer is authoritarian.

    For this reason, the teaching profession does not have a shared set of values. Just a series of disputes. This is why some of the arguments have been so intense, and why the attempts to enforce the latter position, about ten years ago, created a culture of fear for those of us holding the former position. Tristram Hunt’s latest failure to understand how education works (it can be found here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-29482160 ) is to suggest that an oath can be written to commit teachers to “the values of their profession”. To pick one set of values and make teachers swear loyalty to them, is not to improve teacher professionalism, but to brainwash the profession into thinking that we must be on one side of the debate. What he hasn’t asked is “whose values?” But then we know, ever since he made it to the front bench, he has gradually adopted the values of the progressive camp. He has moved to opposing attempts to increase rigour, and, instead, has been proposing to replace academic learning with the teaching of “character”. The last thing we want is an attempt to force us all to commit to those values. If progressive types wouldn’t commit to my oath below, why should I have to commit to their values?

    The one argument that I’ve seen used to defend the idea is that it would be a step towards reversing the undermining of the profession. This is to confuse political rhetoric with reality. People who hated Gove, used to selectively quote things he said (not what he did) and declare “that’s attacking the profession”. But it was always just hot air. It is such an easy attack that Nicky Morgan said pretty much the same thing about Tristram Hunt in her Tory party conference speech. It doesn’t mean anything other than “I don’t want anything to change in teaching, if you do then I am offended”.

    If we want to raise the status of teaching, it doesn’t take gestures; it takes tough choices. It takes more cash. It takes better training. It takes making it tougher to become a teacher. It takes reforming management. It takes making the job less unpleasant to do.

  14. […] couple of years ago I wrote an oath. It was a declaration of my own values as a teacher. Some agreed with it, some hated it. Nobody […]

  15. […] a cracking one from Andrew Old’s brilliant ‘Scenes From The Battleground‘ blog site. This might […]

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