Primum non nocere/First Do No Harm

Primum non nocere/First Do No Harm

“First do no harm” is usually ascribed to Hippocrates, who devised his physicians’ oath in the late 5th century BC.  Perhaps it’s time that American teachers make a similar pledge.  With the many pressures in modern schools to teach to the test, race through non-viable content expectations, and ignore the development of personal character and other crucial skills and habits which are not included on state achievement tests, perhaps it is time for a teachers’ pledge to honor the well-being of our students and not submit to pressures to violate what we know to be best practice.

In the early years of school it is vital that students develop a solid foundation of language, literacy, numeracy, motor, social and behavioral skills.  And it is also vital that they experience success and fall in love with learning.  Yet in the race for test scores, we have let ourselves be bamboozled into scripted, rigidly paced, and one-size-fits-all instructional programs which damage large numbers of students.  We have stripped our classrooms of play, laughter, movement, music, and joy. We’ve created pressure-packed and anxiety-ridden classrooms and schools. We have failed to achieve significant gains in learning outcomes, and we continue to let the vast majority or poor and urban students fall into patterns of failure.

In a meeting with third grade teachers in a highly regarded school district, teachers told me about their math program.  Rigidly paced instruction.  Every child gets the same lesson on the same day.  Very few manipulatives.  No time for re-teaching or extra practice.  Spiraling, the trainer advised them.  Don’t worry if some of the kids don’t understand the material.  The program will come back and revisit the same concept someday.

We know which students are confused.  We know which students aren’t keeping up.  We can see the fear in their eyes.  But we keep marching forward, lesson after lesson.  That’s our job.

How many teachers would make a pledge to do no harm by following principles and practices they know are aligned to research and best-practice?  Could you make this pledge?

In My Classroom:

All my students will develop the skills and behaviors they need to succeed.

Each child will get the time needed to develop essential skills.

I will offer essential instruction at the correct instructional level for each child.

In my class children will feel physically and emotionally safe.

I will help children discover the importance and joy of learning.

Each day children will experience positive relationships, respect, empathy, and love.