In the last issue, we looked at the Dental Defence Union’s Annual Educational Awards, which are due to take place in November.
These awards recognise exceptional teachers within the profession and, each year, confirm the Dentist Teacher of the Year, Vocational Teacher of the Year and Dental Care Professional Teacher of the Year.
However, how do you know a good teacher and what is it that makes them stand out from a mediocre crowd? As students and young professionals you are best placed to comment on the teaching within dental schools.
It’s clear that different schools take various approaches. Some favour starting clinical work almost straight after your first few weeks at dental school, while others prefer to concentrate on the theoretical aspect of the course.
Similarly some schools praise the effectiveness of outreach training, while others want to focus on teaching cutting-edge techniques.
The chances are that whichever dental school you chose, the quality of the teaching on offer was one of the factors that persuaded you to apply. And, of course, once you had taken your first tentative steps onto the training ladder, it was the people on the ground who were increasingly important, not the lofty ideals and targets of the school curriculum.
So what separates an outstanding teacher from an average one? It’s a difficult question to answer because what works for one student might not for the next. But bearing these differences in mind is probably the solid foundations of any good teacher. It is all about recognising what each individual student responds to, whether that is practical explanations, repetition or endless written work. Devising the right strategy for each student on the course gives them a sense of personalisation and ensures that no one slips through the cracks.
The effectiveness of a really good teacher can never be underestimated. If you think back to the range of subjects you were taught at secondary school, I bet the ones you most enjoyed were those where the teacher really connected with the class. It’s those teachers that can ignite a spark of interest in an otherwise apathetic, adolescent mind and can, in turn, go on to shape their future career.
Of course, finding an inspiring teacher is a treat especially when you get down to the serious business of dental school – but what happens if you’re not quite so lucky?
What if you happen to stumble upon a distinctly average tutor who doesn’t quite connect with you enough to feel confident about upcoming exams? The first thing to
remember is not to panic. Just because you don’t quite understand everything you are being taught doesn’t mean that you are going to fail your exams.
The key to success is to have a strategy to improve your knowledge and the most important part of that strategy is communication. Communication between students and teachers is an essential part of the teaching process.
In the early days of dental school it may seem that tutors are incredibly busy people who don’t have time for your questions, but in most cases they will make time to see students. Schools will usually assign you a personal tutor in your first year who is there for you to check in with throughout each term, but that doesn’t mean you can’t approach individual subject tutors as well.
Try requesting a meeting with the teacher when it is
convenient for both of you, so you won’t be concerned about time pressures. Then, before you go, write a list of questions you want to ask so you don’t forget anything while you have their attention.
If you feel a follow-up meeting would help, schedule one there and then. Or why not try keeping in touch with regular emails? If this doesn’t work, try enlisting the help of your
personal tutor. They may be able to talk to their colleague on your behalf and initiate dialogue and a plan of action.
Finally, don’t be afraid to ask for help, sometimes even the best of teachers might not notice when a student is struggling.