Monday, June 14, 2010

IMU Learning Series 03 - My Experiences as a Lecturer

I remember my first few years as a lecturer between 1995 and 1998. I entered the classroom ready to go! I enjoyed lecturing the students and sharing knowledge with them. I saw them struggle and succeed. I loved being in the classroom! I woke up each morning, excited to go to university. The hardest part of my first few years as a lecturer, was not what happened in the lecture hall. The hardest part was what took place after a grueling university day - the preparation. My life consisted of two parts: at university, and preparing for university.

The paperwork was overwhelming for me. Letters from the office room, notes from parents, queries from the students, papers to mark, mail of every sort, articles someone found interesting, fundraisers, permission slips, purchase forms for the lab materials, and my own lists. In addition to the above schedule was my regular pathology hospital work every morning from 8 am to 10 am.

In the evenings, if I were able to go back in time, I would tell myself to relax! While teachers are amazing, and somewhat resemble superheroes, we don't have to do everything! Decide what is important and don't stress over the rest!

Coming to think of it, I have had several moments of experiences during these 15 years: the best, the worst, the funniest, and the most embarrassing experiences of my teaching career.

During my first year as a regular medical lecturer, I was teaching in a dental college, in a class that had managed - with their attitudes and behaviors - to drive out their former pathology lecturer. One day, in a burst of rage and frustration, I uttered the words “Jesus Christ!” Soon after, someone left a picture of Jesus Christ himself on my desk. It was a humbling lesson in self-control and in not letting students get the better of me.

What did I learn from the experience? That you're never too old to learn!

One day, I explained a concept to one of my post graduate pathology classes. That afternoon while reviewing what I had done, I realized that I had made a mistake in my explanation. The next day, I started class with the words 'I am sorry,' and then I gave the correct explanation. Instead of being angry, the students clapped and thanked me for acknowledging my mistake!

Lesson learned: Do not be afraid to accept responsibility for your errors.


One of my worst experiences as a lecturer to post graduate medical students on Pathology was a senior student who just didn't want to learn to use technology – computers, microscopes, histokinete, immunohistochemistry, etc (We had to train these PG students to be future lecturers too, in addition to being specialists). He had made up his mind that technology was something he was not going to get involved with. Moreover, he was rude. He talked when I was talking, did everything except what was asked of him, and basically refused to be part of the class. I tried standing close to his desk, asking if he needed help, ignoring him… It was hopeless. To make matters worse, he was a doctor in his mid-30s whom many others looked up to.

During one histopathology laboratory training session, I reached a point where I couldn't take it anymore. I asked the class to stop and listen. I told them I understood that some people didn't want to be there and if they didn't want to participate, they should leave so others could learn. I didn't have a problem with them leaving, I told them - although I would be required to note down their names - but if they stayed, I said (looking directly at the offender), they had to be quiet and participate. I also pointed out that if their students acted the way some of them were acting, they would be assigned punishment. Then I stood behind the person causing the problems. He quieted down after that; although he didn't always follow the assigned tasks, he did stop complaining. Later, though, I heard him talking in the hall about how I was treating him like a child and had embarrassed him in front of the rest of the class.

About five years later, he went on to lecture in the same University, while practicing in the same hospital. When he met me, he chuckled about the episode. He now is a big user of technology. He never actually apologized to me, but when other lecturers had problems, he helped them and told them they should pay attention to what he was saying.

The best teaching experiences occur when you see the light bulbs flicking on and know they understand. I have had the pleasure of training many people, some with weak thinking skills and so scared they are going to break something that they are afraid to do anything. When they learn that they can do something they never imagined they could do, or realize that the science and technology will save them time, a wave of enthusiasm washes over them. It is such a nice thing to be a part of.

The very best moments are when someone you've taught tells you that you are extremely patient (I am not normally a very patient person, but add critical sarcasm in my lecturing conversations!) or comes back later to tell you how much they've used the skill you taught them, or how what you taught them has helped them be a better doctor.

Another great moment is when they are so excited about what you are teaching them that they constantly comment about how much it will help them, or how much fun they are having.

Those are the lessons you wish you could repeat over and over. They are what keep us doing what we do!

No comments: