Master Plan

by Jennifer Sims
Assistant Professor, Dental Hygiene Program

When I began teaching, I told myself that I would work hard to ensure that my students would be successful. I came up with a “master plan”; one that I thought was foolproof.  Very early in my teaching career, I realized that while my “master plan” worked for some, it failed miserably for others.

“Jason” is one of the students that I am speaking of.  His hometown was in Northern Michigan, and he lived in an apartment off campus.  He rode the bus to and from school, often arriving at 7:00am for an 8:00am class.  He worked three jobs, and at age 19, was totally supporting himself.  He worked at MSU Food Services, and was thrilled to get this position because he was given one free meal per shift.  His second job was at a local fast food restaurant, where he was able to secure a scholarship totaling $2500 per semester. He amazed me with his work ethic, resourcefulness, and positive attitude.

The passion that he showed in the classroom and clinic was unbelievable.  He was not a student who excelled in written coursework, but if given the opportunity to do a hands-on activity, he was amazing.  He had a true talent for building relationships and educating his patients.  He was the first student to complete his service hour requirement, continuing to volunteer after his requirement was fulfilled.  He would ask great questions, and was always willing to listen to constructive criticism.  Before graduation, he made a commitment to continue his education and finish his Bachelor’s degree, and I knew he would be successful.  He had the desire and drive to succeed.

As educators, we need to remember that each student is coming to us with different triumphs and tribulations.  We need to make sure that we are sensitive to these differences, and furnish them with resources to ensure success. While “Jason” wasn’t a great writer or test taker, he was amazing in other areas, and is a fantastic Dental Hygienist with clinical skills that exceed most.  In our arsenal of teaching methodologies, we need to adapt our “master plan” to the students that come to us, allowing them to show us their strengths (and weaknesses) through various activities.  We need to realize that we learn as much from students as they learn from us, and that in teaching, there is no such thing as a “master plan” that will encompass all students.