Teaching, Teaching, Everywhere! without a thought, without a care..

If you polled the general public about the quality of teachers, I believe the results would point to a majority feeling that the over quality is low.  There are a number of reasons, events, books, media that I could go into but I’ve been thinking about a recent experience that I had that has given me a different perspective.

Not too long ago I was given a surprise test.  I almost stopped and asked “Is this a test?”  It was not for a grade, but was a very appropriate context for testing my knowledge. I was sitting in a doctor’s office and my “test” was one question.  “What is your prescription?”  Now I feel this is a very valid an appropriate thing for a patient to know their medication and for a doctor to inquire about this knowledge.  However, the thought that went through my mind was, “Why are you asking me? Did you forget to write it in my file that you are looking at? Oh, wait.  I think he’s testing me.  Does he realize he is talking to someone with a graduate degree and an undergraduate degree in Chemistry?”  I answered the question and the appointment moved forward.  This scene has been replaying in my mind recently as I have been thinking about how everyone is a teacher.

In my situation above, it was very appropriate for the doctor to be my teacher. However, the only part of teaching he did was give me an assessment.  The teaching…well, it was less than stellar.  In the visit when the medication was prescribed he, himself did not state the name of the medication, just wrote it on note that his assistant then called into the pharmacy.  Nor did he go into any specifics of what I should expect, what I should watch out for or even that I should take the medication first thing in the morning on an empty stomach with a full glass of water.  (Google and the pharmacist provided that information.)  Not to mention that the doctor had been so focused on other things that I had to remind him to look at my blood work – which was the indicator for the prescription.

There are so many places where we teach and learn.  I would have to say there is an overabundance of bad teaching all around us. Of course, I must admit that I look at everything through a teaching lens – customer service, websites, overhearing conversations.  Any teacher looking at that scenario above can imagine what would happen to a class full of students if they were tested on something that was based on the example of teaching.

Contrast my doctor experience with my favorite dentist.  I have had a number of dentists since my early childhood, but only one took the time to explain what he was doing.  When I needed a bridge, he raised my chair, pushed aside all his instruments on the tray and pulled out a pen.  He proceeded to draw examples of bridges and what my options were.  Now that, was good teaching!

I was reading the comments on a recent education article and one of the people made the comment that any person with a high school diploma could teach.  He then described how he bought some books and taught his child to play the piano. I do believe that there are many basics that can be taught from a book, a website, a How-to pamphlet.  But real teaching is so much more.

Taking the piano example – my own mother did start me on my piano path.  After a year of us clashing she sent me off to a friend who taught piano.  I would sort of practice, play my pieces in my lesson and do lots of talking.  Then my piano teacher moved away and I went to a “real” piano teacher.  I must say that first year with Mrs. Ford was torturous! I absolutely refuse to play anything to this day that has the word mazurka in it.  It was a mazurka that Mrs. Ford used to break me of bad habits I had “learned”.  Up until this point in my piano learning experience I had my gift of sight-reading to get me through just about anything.  But there is more to playing the piano than just connecting the notes with the keys on the piano.  Mrs. Ford and that mazurka started me on the road to learning those other things.  She actually DID teach me.

So knowing that everyone will somehow be teaching in whatever field they are in, perhaps we should add a class on how people learn to undergraduate studies.  Maybe generals should include a class on teaching.  I can think of a several former bosses that would have benefited from an improved ability to teach.

I lived near Hollywood for several years and was surrounded by actors and aspiring actors who talked about working on their “craft”.  Teaching is an art.  It is a “craft” to be constantly worked on and improved.  I think we need to stand up and expect more from the haphazard teaching that happens around us each day.  We need to demand better teaching, in all aspects of life, not just school.

As an added side note, based on my surprise test experience along with several other similar incidents, I decided to fire my doctor.  I want a doctor who is a better teacher.

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