This I Believe

Marie - Batavia, New York
Entered on January 25, 2007

I believe our children, our students can not learn in an environment of shame or hopelessness. I believe that every time an educator offhandedly or purposely demeans a child, that child’s self-esteem is forever affected. I believe that education can not take place when intimidation and degradation occur in the classroom. I know teachers are humans with flaws and incapabilities, but the one thing they shouldn’t do, ever, is hurt a child’s sense of self worth. I truly believe educators need to be positive in the classroom, must be encouraging to students, or be forced out of the profession.

My daughter’s science teacher called her out for asking too many questions: “Are you slow?” he asked. One day he took her raised hand to mean she “must be mentally retarded.” The topper: “Why do you act like a foreign exchange student?” These remarks and slurs resulted in tears and fear, and, of course, an intense dislike for the subject and the experience of the classroom. My daughter needed me to save her from this atmosphere. I only managed to get her switched out of the classroom. I was informed that other students seemed to understand the teacher was “joking” and that my daughter was thought of as “too sensitive, too emotional.”

Physicians in the United States of America take an oath upon conferment of their medical degrees. Their “permission to practice” hinges upon their willingness to comply with this oath. The oath is ancient and sacred, the cornerstone upon which the profession is built.

It reads, “First do no harm.”

No matter what physicians do, they must promise that they will honor patients’ rights to receive care that won’t hurt the body in any way. How wonderful an invention the Hippocratic oath is. He taught the populace that the last thing someone who needs help needs are suggestions from a professional that prove ultimately harmful.

Why is it that educators don’t take that oath? Why is it that we confer upon professionals who operate upon our bodies more ethical and moral responsibility than we confer upon those professionals who “operate” on our minds? Certainly interactions with medical doctors are less a part of the average person’s life than are interactions with educators. The average child spends 7 hours in school over 200 days a year. Those hours are spent in close contact with professionals who do not take an oath to “first do no harm.”

Educators are taught to not “touch” the body, but they are taught to intimately engage the mind. Isn’t the mind in need of as much protection as the body?

I believe educators should take the Hippocratic oath. I believe educators should agree to never belittle, undermine, or affect negatively, any student’s sense of self-worth and promise. I believe students deserve a safe and welcoming classroom, a place where their ideas are nurtured and their minds can grow without fear of being trampled down by cruel words or wrong intentions. I believe teachers must first do no harm — then and only then will we have eager learners, students who reach for their goals and believe in their abilities to achieve them.