A Teacher’s Oath

October 12, 2014

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) 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.

Scenes From The Battleground

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…

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  1. I can see why you are concerned about Dr Tristram Hunt, Cambridge Academic produced by a highly traditional academic education. He is inarticulate and clueless about how state education works to an even greater extent than most other SoS and Shadow SoS. Not a good advert for a purely traditional approach? The highest levels of traditional schooling not producing people with any understanding of the world of the people they are managing. For me education is not only about making children smarter although that is an important part, it is about learning sensitivity to how other people think and respond to things, looking after physical, emotional and mental health too and understanding life in more general terms. There is not much point in being the smartest person in the world if your health is compromised by a lifestyle that could easily be improved through education or becoming Secretary of State and fail to get the people who you want to change the system on board. I don’t see much evidence of academic high performance on its own is the answer to this.

    • Hunt is a bright man who is compromised by the party he has opted to join. Everything else he has done is a very good advert for the academic education he has received, and a particularly good advert to bright children from a poor background. It’s a shame that political and personal expediency has made him seek to deny his own advantages to others.

      • Shows being bright and having an Oxbridge education don’t guarantee practical competence. Hunt is the son of Julian Hunt, Baron Hunt of Chesterton so hardly a role model for those from a poor background. I’d say Lord Sugar might be a better example but I don’t think he went to Oxbridge ;-). Interesting how people a lot younger than me don’t appreciate health to be as influenced by lifestyle as job prospects are by academic results. I can only assume that it is because they found success academically rather easy so therefore everyone needs it whereas a change of lifestyle is not so easy so conveniently it is unimportant otherwise they would need to be a role model for that as well :-)

  2. […] A Teacher’s Oath | Scenes From The Battleground […]

  3. ‘There is not much point in being the smartest person in the world if your health is compromised by a lifestyle that could easily be improved through education’

    What a weird (not to mention philistine and down-dumbing) statement. It should be obvious to all but the most determined to keep people down that the more skilled and knowledgeable you become, the more able you are to move out of the conditions that make your lifestyle unhealthy, through the wider range of jobs that you are able to access and the higher salaries that you are able to earn, and the more able you are to ensure that your children never experience those conditions.

    This is quite apart from the great benefits to mental well-being of being made aware of the world outside your immediate locale and social group, and of being given things to be interested in. Academic education makes you healthy. Those who deny it to their pupils actively seek to keep them in the conditions which they claim to decry.

    • Hardly dumbing down, just realistic. If economic success was only about academic prowess university professors would be the highest paid people on the planet. As I said, it’s not unimportant but it seems the people who claim it to be the be all and end all tend to be those that have narrow experience in the wider opporrunitied that life has to offer.

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