Monday, January 20, 2014

Teaching

[Guest blogger Camille E. Puronen, M.D.]   

Dan starts teaching again tomorrow, 4th and 7th grade English, and is knee-deep in exercise books (example: “The donkey has [drunk/drank] all the water.”), so he asked me to guest-blog.  So here I am.  Dan is obviously excited to get back to teaching.  He went to the shelter today to visit the boys, and afterwards talked about how much better he felt after seeing and laughing with them.

Which of course made me think about teaching.  How can Dan love teaching?  Your success is vicarious, measured in the achievement of others.  Your gratification is delayed, sometimes 20 years or more.  You are not well compensated, not particularly exalted by society, and are frequently at the mercy of parents, administrators, or, in the extremes of age, the students themselves.
For me, teaching has never been a job I sought or relished, but more of an obligation, and given my subject matter, I felt obliged to do it as well as I could.  I’d look over at my medical students, floundering through some UpToDate passage (just scroll down to the summary, sheesh!) and feel bad.  It would be so much more “high-yield” for me to just review ventilator basics than for them to slog through all that literature.  But that means putting my own reading off until 2am, or maybe 3, after they’ve gone off to their call rooms.  Sigh!  I’d do some teaching, crack some jokes, and send them to bed. 
Of course, sometimes I did have actual fun.  I enjoyed the challenge of taking something complicated and trying to make it simple—making connections, slinging new threads in the brain’s electric cobweb.   But still, I couldn’t see what Dan got so excited about.  Waking up early to stand in front of a room of pre-teens, no thanks.
Thankfully Dan, and teachers like him, aren’t like me.  For whatever reason, they love it!  Dan can ham it up with 12-year-olds all day.  He can carry on for hours about whatever his principal tells him to:  ancient Chinese history, native peoples of Washington State, British grammar (my personal favorite).   Maybe one day, he’ll teach a class on “Effect of the Bill Simmons Era on the NBA Market Share Among Televised Professional Athletics in the US,” or “Markers of Athleticism in Professional Basketball—By Decade,” or “Comparison of the Gulotta/Peisch/Romano-Meade (GPR-M) Analysis of the Cultural Relativity of Larry Bird,” or, when he’s getting old and cantankerous, “Worst Picks of the NBA Draft,” and then he will have reached nirvana, and only an anchor position on SportsCenter would draw him out of his meticulous and all-consuming lesson-planning.
What was I saying?
So, in sum, it is with more than a little surprise that I find myself in a teaching job.  This is Dan’s territory.  Why waste my time on other’s learning when I have so much to learn myself, and am continually running out of time to learn it in?  Why read for others when I need to read so much myself?  Good teaching takes so much time, patience, and genuine love for other people.  There’s the standard answer, that you never know something so well as when you teach it.  But then I remembered:  I’m basically a socialist!  And who is more fundamentally focused on the greater good, the health of the collective than teachers? They understand, perhaps intuitively, that the individual empowerment conferred by good teaching is an investment in everyone’s future.  Besides that, it really is gratifying to teach someone something.  Just one thing!  
And Dan does that every day!



6 comments:

  1. thank you Dr. for you have put into words the reason I have spent 35 years teaching and coaching young people. I am not a gifted as my two sons, but I have tried to make a difference for the kids.
    Bill Gulotta

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  2. Hello Guest Blogger! Since I am married to a teacher and the mother of sons who are teachers, I truly have witnessed this profession as a "calling". As you have stated, the compensation or accolades are lacking and not what compels one to teach. I think the gratification from working in this profession are the relationships with young people along with an ability to motivate, excite and encourage lifelong learning. Of course, love the picture of Dan reading to Eric and Liam!

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  3. Camille,

    At the risk of repeating myself - maybe even on this blog - I want to share an image of teaching with you that I first heard presented by David Mallery, the Director of Professional Development at NAIS and a gentleman who ran one of the best week-long seminars on teaching at Westtown School in the summer. He compared teaching to the act of planting a garden on the opposite side of a 10' wall. You spend a life-time tossing seeds over this wall, never being entirely sure that things are taking root, and every once in a while you step back and catch a glimpse of a sunflower over the wall. The head of this sunflower gives you renewed hope that the other seeds you have been tossing over the wall are also growing. It does take special people to embrace a profession on those terms . . . and the entire profession is better when someone chooses to do so.

    Liz and I have decided to retire in June . . . and, as we approach that conclusion, we reflect on the tremendous opportunity we have had to plant that garden for 40 years. We will miss the kids and that wonderful relationship that develops in good classrooms, but we head for this next chapter without any thought of missing some of the other "stuff" that comes with this profession.

    Continued best wishes for a great experience for both of you . . . your life path is no less a calling than is teaching. When you come home we can have a beer while E sleeps!!

    Les

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    1. Les, thank you for the analogy. I'll use it.

      Congrats to and Liz and approaching retirement and 40 years and fantastic teaching. I wish I could have been in your class.

      We wish you well.

      Dan

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  4. Hey Camille, nice work. I particularly enjoyed your digression into the National Basketball Association. If you looking to brush up on contemporary trends and concepts in professional American basketball so that you might better understand Daniel's future classes, might I suggest a series of youtube videos entitled "Bill and Jalen's NBA Preview." They're really excellent and I believe you'll find them both useful and enlightening.

    Aaron

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    1. As Camille can attest, I've thoroughly researched those videos myself. Definitely enlightening.

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