A teacher’s oath

Labour Teachers /   October 12, 2014 at 7:08 PM 1,264 views

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, 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.

Courtesy of Andrew Old at Scenes from the Battleground

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