The Socratic Oath

By S. Anandalakshmy

I have often wondered why the profession of teaching had no specific code of conduct, while doctors had the Hippocratic Oath. With the help of a young doctor in my family, I managed to get hold of an English translation of the Hippocratic Oath and decided to develop one for teachers, on similar lines. For such a code, the name of Socrates seemed eminently suitable. He was renowned for his ability to draw out ideas from his students, not just to provide the right answer or solution. The verb “educare” means to draw out and is the root of the word “education”.

There would be some general principles concerning a teacher’s conduct applying across the board, but the specifics of the Oath would depend on the stage of education and the chronological age of the children in the care of a teacher. There would therefore have to be at least three or four variations of the oath. I have decided to use here, the one for the caregivers of the preschool age child.

  • I will try to know each child as a person and not make comparisons among children.
  • I will always listen carefully to the children and not dominate the classroom.
  • I will ensure that there is no bias based on level of ability, gender, caste, class or religion.
  • I will provide a variety of situations for children’s self-expression, giving scope for originality.
  • I will not punish any child physically or by humiliation.
  • I will be aware that a sense of fairness and compassion are the best disciplinary methods.
  • I will treat the parents as friends, who share the concern for the child’s development.
  • I will be inclusive in my approach and not allow any child to feel isolated.
  • I will maintain a learning space where children make friends and are happy.


Teachers’ Day in India is celebrated on the 5th of September every year to mark the birth anniversary of one of our greatest leaders, Dr. Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, the second President of Independent India (and first Vice President), who was a celebrated academic and an eminent teacher. All over the country, teachers are showered with renewed respect. This post is a tribute to teacher-student relationships, and we are honoured to feature the words of our own guru, Dr. S. Anandalakshmy.

The Socratic Oath is special, and we believe it makes us think seriously about teaching and learning. When we were researching the topic, it came as a pleasant surprise to see that someone else had also toyed with the idea. Find the link here to another attempt at writing an Oath for teachers:

Some more thoughts:

I now stay in Dubai, and all the people I know here are expatriates, coming from different parts of the world to make Dubai their home. The main concern of a family with kids before moving is to find a school for their child which matches learning goals, and not departing too much from those respected in our native countries. It is quite reassuring to note how similar our expectations are as parents, even though we may be coming from different parts of the world. Today, as my five year old went back to school, I could see the anxiety on parents’ faces as well as anticipation and even excitement. As a mother, I was secretly praying for my daughter to have a memorable day as these questions crossed my mind: When they go back to school after a break, do you still wake up anxious making sure everything is organised for their getting back? Are you extra careful that they are calm, healthy, happy and comfortable about getting back to school? While dropping them to school, what are your thoughts and what are your expectations from their teachers? At what age does a parent stop worrying about these matters? This morning after dropping my little girl, I got back and sat down to update our blog, ‘The Socratic Oath’ helped to settle my thoughts and I sincerely wished my child’s teacher believes in and practices these principles. Pooja

Oaths we can add- Punya Pillai

I do believe that these could also be listed:

-I will be guided by children’s voices

-I will seek answers to how children ‘feel’ about what they are learning

-I will assist children to think with the heart and feel with the mind, and back again

-I will explore and respect learning that children receive from their homes, neighbourhoods and give ample time to those topics in class every day

-I will explore multiple ways of teaching a concept

-I will teach children skills from other environments as well

Reshu adds: We don’t really teach, we can simply assist in learning. In this life, everyone is a learner, so:

-I will be a learner always, a student among students myself

Shashi Shukla, who is a teacher of teacher trainees believes:

Taking an oath before entering into a profession can ensure that one understands the value of the profession and its commitments. I am in total agreement with the use of ‘The Socratic Oath’. As a teacher I should be aware of the responsibility I carry with me to the classroom. Being with young minds help us grow and learn each day but is that happening in reality? Do we soon forget this responsibility?

Today we view a teacher as an authority, but if learning is essentially a collaboration between minds, then why should it be hierarchical? As I prepare young adults to become teachers, many more questions pen up before me. My doubts often overtake the solutions I have before me. One critical doubt I always confront is that each student, each trainee, each class is unique, how do we ensure that standard lessons are made available before everyone. Every day of my teaching, I reflect on my preparedness, the interaction with the group of learners in my class; but with each passing day the conflicts of the classroom and other spaces remain same and even intensify. I am plagued by doubts. I also feel that posing questions is easy but answers are hard to find. Are there solutions to these doubts about theory and reality and the mismatch between?

Even though I teach adults, the Socratic Oath brought several incidents to my mind and it helped me refocus my thoughts on my place in the classroom.

Some Oaths I took! – Indu Kaura


Oath 1: Dressed up in my most beautiful frock, new school bag on my shoulder, I proudly stand in front of my first school on the first day. I bend down and step inside through a tiny opening in a huge wooden gate. As I enter and raise my head, I see a child standing on a stool in the middle of a courtyard with her hands raised in the air. A bulky figure wrapped in a sari was yelling at her.  All the excitement of the first day at school melted away and I took a quick U turn and ran, out of the gate and into the street, stopping only when I reached home. I make a vow to myself never to go to school. (It’s another matter that I joined back within the year and stayed there happily till class V).

Oath 2: It’s the final exams of class VI and I am sitting on the desk feeling blank about the map in front of me trying to remember where the Ganga river should be marked. Oh dear! Why do I have learn Geography? Why can’t I just have Science and Math? Surreptitiously, I peer into a map that was lying inside my desk for answers. A curious child in the adjacent row catches my movement and complains to the teacher. The teacher gives me a ‘knowing’ look and says to the girl “She is good child. She can never do that.” I gently close the desk and vow to myself never to cheat again.

Oath 3: It is my first day in college and my first experience in a class with boys because of my interest in Science and Math, much to the distress of my grandfather. It would have been easier if I had opted for Biology that was available in a class with some girls. To study math, among boys, and have ambitions of becoming an Engineer in the 60s? That was unheard of in my hometown. Getting my grandfather to agree was a cakewalk compared to securing an entry in the Math class. The teacher declared simply: “I don’t teach girls”. Grudgingly, the Principal persuaded the teacher, who, also grudgingly, granted me an entry into the group. I went to the class for three days and every time he saw me, he put the chalk down, crossed his arms and sat in silence. The boys glared at me, and I felt alone and excluded. On the fourth day I walked out of the class and vowed to myself never to think about Math again.

Peanuts - pe_c160901.tif

Oath 4: Finally I am out of school and in college. Once again I am standing at the gate, but this one is wide open, old and welcoming. Excited and a little nervous, I enter and I am immediately accosted by a gang of girls ready with ideas for ragging new entrants, commanding aggressively “Kneel down.” I look at them blankly “क्या”? They burst out laughing “अरे एक और बहनजी”। I run away crying, nervous and fearful, feeling very ‘small’. Suddenly I hear a voice, “Why are you crying?” And I speak hesitantly, “मुझे इंग्लिश नहीं आती। I am no good.” She smiles and says “मुझे हिंदी नहीं आता। Does THAT mean I am no good?” I wipe my tears and make a vow never to look down on myself. (The owner of the voice is the author of today’s post.

Oath 5: My 11-year old son gets down from the school bus smiling like a cat that licked the cream.

I- So, how was your day? Son- Very nice!

I- Tell me about it? Son- “I was talking to my friend and my teacher punished both of us……”

I- (interrupting impatiently) What’s so good about being punished?” Son- “Wait mom. Let me finish. Ma’am realised that it was my friend who was troubling me, and she said sorry to me. Isn’t she nice?”

I- “Yes, she is! And I am sorry I interrupted. Let’s go home.”  I squeeze his hand gently and vow to myself never to hesitate in apologising to my children if I erred.

Childhood (2)
Everyone wants to learn

Before we close, it is important to also discuss different faces of teachers. In a culture where teachers are celebrated even worshiped, we should maintain a realistic and balanced idea of adult-child relationships and the possibilities therein, both positive as well as negative. Teachers come in different forms, and a recent Facebook post by a friend made us think. Purna Rao, herself a former Principal of a well-known school in Mumbai wrote thus. Here is an edited extract:

“Every 5th September we become emotional about Teachers’ Day, and I see eulogies written by students to their teachers. The profession of teaching is amazing since we are also always learning. Yet, we also need to remind ourselves that unfortunately, this profession has also got itself mired in nasty things like negligence, greed, abuse and corruption. In my personal experience, many years ago as a teacher in an eminent school which was considered a beacon of learning, I found that it was a hotbed for such incidents. Some of the teachers were corrupt and the kids were hostage to their demands in exchange for extra marks or leaked question papers. I found it disgusting that people who were supposed to set an example for children could stoop to such means to make an extra buck! Private tuition and the mushrooming of coaching centres is evidence for the corruption in teaching. And, although I respect teachers, I think it is time we attended to these issues more seriously.  We owe it to our selves and we owe it to our children.”

Meanwhile, here is a link to a report about a school in Gurdaspur where children are permitted to question. Thanks for the link Reshu:


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