Monday afternoons are my teaching time. In addition to my Monday afternoon schedule, I occasionally receive some minor teaching assignments on other days of the week. I would say that on average, I spend approximately three quarters of a day every week at the National University of Singapore (NUS).
When I first moved to Singapore, I was initially involved in the teaching of undergraduate dental students. After doing approximately two years of undergraduate teaching, someone at the NUS Dental School thought it was a better idea to get me to spend more time teaching post-graduate students in the specialty area of Prosthodontics. That someone was the former Dean of the Dental School, Professor Keson Tan.
September 1, 2014 started off as a usual Monday except that this was also the beginning of the academic year elsewhere in the world. This was the fourth time in a row that we had an all female enrolment in the graduate prosthodontics program. All in all, we had nine young female dentists in the program this year – I was the only rose among the thorns on Monday afternoon. After the usual pleasantries and chit-chat, towards the end of the day, I received a card from one of my graduate students, wishing me a “Happy Teacher’s Day.” The nine ladies jointly gave me a Teacher’s Day card!
I have been teaching on a part time basis since the early 1990s. I had the privilege to teach quite a few students in North America and Asia at both the undergraduate and post-graduate level but I have never received a Teachers’ Day card from my students before.
This reminded me of what my UCLA mentor, Dr. John Beumer, once said when he received an award in 2005. When we met up at the Asian Academy of Prosthodontics luncheon, he told me he received a teaching award from UCLA for the first time since he started serving there in 1972.
Getting a teaching award based on a popular vote from all the students is not easy at all. Popularity usually means that the teacher has been ‘nice’ to the students. I could see how proud and happy he was. It was special because he, being the foremost authority in the field of maxillofacial prosthodontics and implant dentistry, had this ‘UCLA experience’ school of thought. Most dentists/students respected him tremendously and may have found him a little intimidating at times. John said he received the award not because he changed to being ‘nice’ but rather it was because some students were not happy with him the year before.
Dr. Beumer had been the Chair professor in prosthodontics at UCLA for decades. While many dental schools were cutting down on the graduation requirements in the discipline (citing changes in epidemiology, demographics, etc..), his student found that they were getting no similar reduction in the requirements like their counterparts elsewhere. The resentment was bad enough that they called a meeting with Dr. Beumer and voiced out their displeasure of having to go through all those ‘old school’ clinical requirements.
Dr. Beumer spoke his mind as usual. He simply said he could not care less what the other schools were doing – he was there to maintain the standard of the school at UCLA. UCLA students could choose to be unhappy about it but he was there to make sure they were clinically good for members of the public who may seek treatment from them.
This certainly was not a message that the students were looking forward to hear. However, they finally understood why they were made to do what they were made to do – It was for the ‘STANDARD’! Their standard!!
Obviously, this conversation was unpopular but yet powerful enough that the class gave him the support by casting their vote wisely. They agreed that this was Dr. Beumer’s passion. This was tough love. They were not being short changed like the others. They were given solid training, and after all, they had a great teacher in Dr. Beumer.
My mother-in-law was formerly a teacher. My wife’s family also has a long list of teachers. I am doing what I am doing because I had numerous great teachers and mentors. We, collectively speaking, are who we are because we had teachers who changed our lives. There is no doubt that teachers are probably some of the most under-appreciated professionals in the world. I found it mind boggling when I hear some people say they ‘hate’ their school and want nothing to do with the school after they graduate. It is sad.
For the last many years, I had only 9 students at any given moment. My direct contact with the graduating dental students is limited to 2 two-hour seminars a few months before their final examination. I have close to no chance to ’get popular’, so it is unlikely I will get any teaching awards. However, getting a ‘Teacher’s day’ card is still a brand new experience to me.
Maybe the students were quietly hoping that I may write an easier final examination question? Maybe, I finally made a small progress? Throughout the years, I am always thankful that I have always learned something from my students.
My uncle Ed says he tap dances to work. I would say I break danced to work this morning.
Thank you teachers, thank you students.