Teachers: Do No Harm

Recently I was watching an episode of Scrubs, one of my all-time favorite shows, and they were reciting the hippocratic oath: DO NO HARM.  This is a great oath to follow even for us as educators.  It should be one of the primary oaths we operate by as we are here to help ALL students and not to cause them harm.

In Kids Deserve It by Todd Nesloney and Adam Welcome, the message becomes clear that we need to be ones who are there for ALL students.  One of my favorite sections is titled “Everyone Needs a Cheerleader” and contains one very important part:

“We have to figure out ways to build up and champion our students – to let them know we love them – no matter what.  We believe in them and will stand by them.  We will be their cheerleaders!”

This quote reminded me of a student I had the pleasure of working with early in my career.  This student joined my class from another teacher at semester time and did not pass the first term.  He seemed to struggle to keep up with his peers in the class and this caused me to keep him after one day just so I could listen to him.  I wanted to know why he thought he was not being successful and how we can work together to help him.  What he told me shook me to the core as a young teacher.  He talked about his unpredictable home life where he had to help get his younger siblings ready in the morning and this made it hard for him to get to school on time.  He talked about how he had to miss school often to help at home or because he was so stressed out, because of things that were happening in his life, that he didn’t think he could handle school that day.  He also said that he felt like his teachers didn’t want him there as he kept getting snide remarks and non-verbals whenever he asked for help after being gone or just when something was tough.  He said that he felt that if his teachers didn’t want him there, why would he want to be there.  He just felt like some of his teachers thought he was not capable of being successful and that his path in life was already set.  He felt like others had given up on him and even if he did improve his attendance, they were not open to helping him.

I made sure that day that he left my classroom always knowing that I was there for him and that I would do whatever it took for him to be successful.  If he needed more time, he got more time.  He shouldn’t be punished just because it might take longer for him to learn it, the learning is most important and not the time it takes.  If the textbook or resources we were using weren’t making sense, I would find another one to fit his needs.  Most of all, I told him every day that I was there and that I would listen, that I wanted him there and I wanted to help him.

How many of our policies or procedures end up doing more harm than good?  How many things do we do in hoping to “teach” responsibility but all we do is end up making it harder for struggling students to succeed?  Do we fully empathize with our students who are not already achieving at a high level, who are struggling and need more time or different help?  How many times are we afraid to take a deep look at what we are doing because it might show that we are not doing what we wanted to do for students?

We have to make sure that we are trying to help all students.  While it is easy to feel pride when a high achieving student ends up going on to great things, we should feel just as great when we are helping our students to succeed in their own ways, especially those that have not been told they can be successful.  So many of our students struggle because they learn differently or at a different pace than their peers and they quickly feel like the system is not made for them.  They struggle with a concept or a reading and all of a sudden they are behind, they lost points that can never be made up, and feel like they can’t get out of the hole they are in.  How many times do we sit down and let those students, who are struggling, know that we care about them and are here for them?  How often do we think about all of the issues that our students are facing outside of school?  We can’t forget that not every student has a great life outside of the classroom and that their home life is not going to help, but yet our  classrooms can be those safe places for all students.

How many of us are willing to ensure that we follow the oath of DO NO HARM?  How can we better help all students and make sure that students know we are pulling for them and we are there to help?  How can we make sure our classroom policies and procedures aren’t doing more harm than good?  How can we make sure we are actually listening to our students and making sure they know we will always listen to them?  How can we make sure we are focusing on helping ALL students to learn and not just following a policy or procedure because that is the way we have always done it?

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