Good teaching is everywhere.

CC licensed photo shared by Flickr user Julie K in Taiwan

I recently had a date with the dentist (you can see this here to know more about them), thanks, in no small part, to the daily office deliveries of student birthday cupcakes and cookies and cake. (We have yet to become one of those schools that bans birthday treats. And I’m perfectly okay with that.)

As I reclined in the not-at-all-comfortable chair and tried to think of anything other than my cavity being filled, I realized my dental hygienist was working with a student hygienist. I learned she was only in her fifth day of working with the practice.

I know some people get turned off when a student/junior/in-training practitioner is tasked with serving them, be it at the doctor’s office, a law firm, a restaurant, an insurance agency, or the mechanic. They are paying good money for the service. Why should they have to do business with someone who is not as highly qualified as the professional they normally deal with?

Not me. I think it’s fascinating. At the dentist’s office, I listened carefully to the interactions between the hygienist, Lynn (weird coincidence, I know) and her student. It was amazing. What I realized, in a very short amount of time, is that Lynn is a fantastic teacher.

She possessed all of the qualities I would want my teachers to have. Her care and concern for the patient was evident. She asked me repeatedly if I was okay, comfortable, and she did so in a soothing voice. I knew she wanted me to have a good experience. In these interactions with me, Lynn was modeling for her student what good “chairside” manner looks like.

The conversations between the two professionals was an even greater testament to her skill as a teacher. She asked her student questions. She showed her how she used certain tools and techniques she used to prepare medications, ready things for the doctor, etc. At one point, Lynn elaborated as to why she performed a certain way, why she preferred one technique over another. She provided a rationale and a purpose for learning. The student asked questions freely. She described what new things she was learning in her coursework and Lynn reflected upon those insights, comparing them to how she was taught. And, like all great teachers do, she relinquished control. The student performed a variety of tasks at my visit, all of which were met with specific, constructive feedback and praise. “I like the way you…” “You really do a fine job with…” I heard the words “thank you” from both parties no fewer than 20 times.

I know this post is lacking in its technical description of what exactly the two hygienists were discussing because, let’s face it, I had no idea what they were talking about, but that didn’t matter. They could have been speaking a foreign language and I would still have been able to recognize that the relationship between these two professionals was vital for the professional development of both the student and the teacher. The pain in my jaw seemed to diminish with each passing second, as I focused instead on what an amazing act of teaching I had the chance to witness. Shouldn’t all of our student teachers have this type of practical experience as they’re entering the field? How can we as administrators help to facilitate this? I am very eager to invite student teachers into our building. I encourage my staff to serve as their hosts and mentors and to make the most of their experiences together, and in 99% of cases, both parties involved learn an extraordinary amount from one another- all to the benefit of our students!

The people who design teacher evaluation systems, the educators I encounter in my daily work as a principal and those in my virtual network all want to know, “What is good teaching?” It’s definitely difficult to put into words. To make the definition of what it means to be a good teacher fit into some kind of mold with rubrics and exemplars and dollar amounts attached. I do know this: you know it when you see it. It’s magical and inspiring, and our job as administrators is to find it, hone it, and help everyone strive to attain it. Do you agree?

For more thoughts on what makes a teacher great, check out these posts from my colleagues.

Cross-posted on Connected Principals

5 Replies to “Good teaching is everywhere.”

  1. Of course it may have been that this dentist has come upon the perfect way to distract a teacher while in the chair… especially a Principal!
    Regards, Deb Hogg (Sydney, Australia)

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