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A Hippocratic Oath for Teachers?

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As part of a new partnership, teachermagazine.org is publishing this regular column by members of the Teacher Leaders Network, a professional community of accomplished educators dedicated to sharing ideas and expanding the influence of teachers.

How many times 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, originally written in the 4th century B.C.

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.

The Teacher's Oath

I swear to fulfill, to the best of my ability and judgment, this covenant:

• I will respect the hard-won gains of those educators in whose steps I walk, and gladly share such knowledge as is mine with those who are to follow.

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• I will apply, for the benefit of my students, all strategies known to be effective, avoiding busy-work in favor of work with real meaning to the students and their families.

• I will remember that there is art to teaching as well as science, and that warmth, sympathy, and understanding may outweigh the textbook reading or the multiple choice test.

• I will work with my colleagues to inspire one another to achieve excellence. I will not be ashamed to say "I know not," nor will I fail to call in my colleagues when the skills of another are needed to help my students.

• If it is given me to enhance a life through teaching, all thanks. But it may also be within my power to cast a shadow over a life; this awesome responsibility must be faced with great humbleness and awareness of my own frailty.

• I will remember that I do not teach a lesson plan, or a reading deficiency, but a human being, whose skills may affect the person's future family and economic stability. My efforts will aim to teach the whole child, and help that child develop in mind and spirit.

• If I do not violate this oath, may I enjoy life and art, respected while I live and remembered with affection thereafter. May I always act so as to preserve the finest traditions of my calling and may I long experience the joy of teaching those who seek my help.

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