The Solemn Duty of Educating

Featured image is creative commons licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by Raed Mansour


The community is suffering. Students are frustrated and they're looking to me to solve the problem. I'm faced with deciding whether or not my commitment to an individual students takes precedence over my commitment to the class as a whole.

creative commons licensed ( BY-NC-SA ) flickr photo shared by ShawnMichael

I mentioned earlier today in a tweet that Audrey Watters had a post back in January about applying the Hippocratic Oath (albeit, for education technology, but the application is the same) and it's really stuck with me. I'd never read the oath, but now I have one printed and hanging next to my desk. I've started to re-purpose some of the lines in the 1964 rewrite of the Oath to apply a little more to my day to day work.

I will apply, for the benefit of students, all measures which are required, avoiding those twin traps of overtreatment and educational nihilism.

I think the first time I had a student leave my room was in my third year teaching. My temper doesn't get pushed too much and I can usually let the little things roll on by. Small redirection and nuance have been powerful tools for me, and they'd worked relatively well. This year, though, it's a whole different story. I don't feel like I've given up hope that these students can learn or improve, but my toolbox is feeling more and more empty as I try more and more techniques to rein in the behaviors.

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.

I really resist having students leave my room. Perhaps it's hubris, perhaps it's stubbornness. I refuse to fall into a habit of removing problems rather than resolving. However, at what point do we move on from individual situations and focus on the whole? Am I shirking responsibility as a teacher by relegating individual students to situations where learning is impossible? On the other hand, by keeping students in the room, am I relegating the whole class to the same fate?

creative commons licensed ( BY-NC-SA ) flickr photo shared by E.L. Malvaney

I will remember that there is art to teaching as well as science, and that warmth, sympathy, and understanding outweigh the expectation of compliance or any grade awarded.

Finding nuance in a situation where patience feels like the enemy is difficult. The more time I take to try and weave a better plan together for individuals feels like time lost for the other 22 people in the room. I'm falling back on old habits and a bad attitude about students. My empathy is running out and I'm entering a realm where I'd rather have compliance than a real rich atmosphere for learning.

If it is given me to arouse curiosity, all thanks. But it may also be within my power to stifle the desire to learn; this awesome responsibility must be faced with great humbleness and awareness of my own frailty.

I realize that it's the teacher's burden to always remember the ones we lost - those we couldn't connect with or engage. In the end, I'd love to have my cake and eat it, too. I think I can still do that - there are bright spots, and we celebrate those days. But, I'm responsible for the learning environment as a whole.

ἀσκέειν, περὶ τὰ νουσήματα, δύο, ὠφελέειν, ἢ μὴ βλάπτειν

4 thoughts on “The Solemn Duty of Educating

  1. Ken Bauer says:

    I just remember to dig this out. I had the comment saved from March 5 when it appeared your blog was eating my comment.
    ========
    Thank you so much for this Brian. I strongly believe that education of our students is a longer process and more complicated than what happens in the classroom during our time with our students. Our reputation definitely precedes us, the students entering my classroom already have heard about my style, my humour and more days or years before entering the first day of class. It takes time to gain the trust of students that “this Ts way of teaching” works and is indeed intentional with a plan behind it.

    Often those “PITA” students come to visit us semesters or years later (or decades) to tell us the effect we had on their time as students and their lives afterwards. The moment is difficult but we step back to look at the big picture. That aspect reminds me of this post a colleague shared with me about parenting today: https://medium.com/@IjeomaOluo/parenting-advice-don-t-kill-them-177b00122ca8

    From my very limited view of your situation now with your return to the classroom I think much of what happens in your room is caused by the factors that put you there and the fact that you don’t have that benefit of reputation with the students in the school that takes years to develop.

    Also, thanks for reminding me of Audrey’s post, that gives me another article for my course next week on the 4th pillar of Flipped Learning. Nice timing my friend!

  2. […] The Hippocratic Oath really parallels education. More on that somewhere else. […]

  3. […] Brian Bennets’ post (http://blog.ohheybrian.com/the-solemn-duty-of-educating/) he discusses our role in searching for every lost student, sometimes sacrificing many to save one. […]

  4. […] parece interesante la forma en que Audrey Watters y Brian Bennett comparan la medicina con la educación, en los términos de que el profesor tiene una […]

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