Thursday, April 14, 2005

The Teacher as Learner

Internet connectivity problems at home have precluded posting since Monday's entry, not to mention astounding busy-ness on my part. That said, the week flows on towards its natural end tomorrow. Ah, the built-in entropy of the work-week.

After teaching on Tuesday night, I was struck by the fact that there is so much I need to learn in order to teach well. One might assume that, as a nurse with almost ten years of professional experience, I could expound on various topics with little preparation. Au contraire! As a "generalist" nurse with little specialty knowledge, there are some subjects about which I can talk quite knowledgeably, but there are many others which I have scant thought about nor dealt with directly during my tenure as a nurse. Home study, note-taking, and lecture prep are simply de rigeur these days, and I'll be admittedly relieved when the semester is over and I can rest my neurons a bit. Still, teaching is enervating and fun, and in the final analysis, I generally leave school tired but uplifted by my interactions with my students who often challenge my thinking with provocative questions, bringing their own unique visions of the world to class.

As a first-time professor, I'm relying on my students for feedback, and I try to read the energy in the class to determine whether I am hitting the mark or not during the course of a lecture. I also try to elicit verbal and written feedback but few have taken the initiative to offer constructive criticism. Last week, I was humbled when the class announced that I had been unanimously chosen to be the speaker at their graduation ceremony, and they waited on the edge of their seats until I would confirm my acceptance of such an honor, which I quickly did, of course. They may even hire my son as the graduation photographer (he will be a newly-minted professional photographer after his graduation on June 2nd).

Learning abounds, and it is often as teacher/professional/caregiver that we receive our most humbling and instructive lessons. Today I witnessed first-hand the enormous love and mutual respect between a mother and her thirteen-year-old son. They are both my patients, and we were meeting with the amazingly astute and gifted PhD-level psychologist with whom I work. I was first blown away by my colleague's counseling skills (she makes it look so easy!), and I was further enthralled by the sincerity of the mother's verbalized dedication as a parent of a troubled but lovable child. Thirdly, I was incredibly and wondrously struck by the slow but inexorable emotional opening demonstrated during the session by her son who is the only teenager on my caseload at this time. Something shifted during that session, and it was humbling and satisfying to be present for its unfolding.

Today I also learned some lessons from a married couple with AIDS---I think I've mentioned them before---who are both my patients. Her disease is much more well-controlled than his, but he has made some progress, only to regress when he decides independently to stop his meds for a few weeks from time to time. We spoke intently for thirty minutes or so and they were quite sincere in their gratitude and recognition that I am simply trying to assist them in making positive choices for themselves and their two small children. On the verge of tears, I assured them that I was not lecturing them, rather, I was simply communicating to them the gravity of their decisions and the potential repercussions which I could not promise to assuage if they chose to not follow the best medical advice available at this time. Our eye contact was intense, and the feeling of being together in that room---truly together as a team---was palpable.

Thursday evening presents itself as a deep breath, four fifths of the week behind me, the final push tomorrow. The struggle is to be in the present, and to glean from those daily interactions as much learning as can be squeezed from each morsel. I'm more successful some days more than others, but it's truly the only game in town.
Post a Comment