“What you do speaks so loud, that I cannot hear what you say.”~ C. L. Stuart.
I suppose all of us can identify a teacher that made a huge impression on us as a child, for good or bad. In teaching ‘dosage calculation’ to nursing students, it is clear that many are traumatized by some early experience in learning arithmetic. You can almost see the terror in their eyes when ‘math’ is mentioned. And yet we all use math everyday, without thinking of it as math. I point to relatable things, like your paycheck. Most of our students are working parents, so I remind them that they all know when there has been a mistake in their paycheck. If they buy something for one child, they know how much they will have to spend on all of their kids.
There are some students who have never been able to see the patterns in math, the relationships between things. So it is not automatic to apply ratio and proportion to problem solving. Solving for x is another challenge. I learned that the best teacher of math is not one to whom math comes easily, because it is hard to relate to those who don’t see the patterns. It is like singing. Some people are born with lovely singing voices. Others cannot carry a tune. I am one of those who thought math puzzles were fun when I was young. Before Sudoku was popular, I had a book of ‘magic squares’. I don’t remember exactly how they went, but it involved filling in the blanks with products or factors to get perfect answers. Fun!
I am by nature a very impatient person, but I learned to be patient from teaching those students who found math to be so challenging and intimidating. I had to relearn the basics – how to teach long division; the building steps of decimals and fractions. I had to unlearn my instinctive way of solving problems so that I could demonstrate how to subtract from one thousand (without a calculator – our children are so tech dependent that they will not survive the apocalypse!). I listened to those who struggled, and learned how to help the next set of students, realizing that unless I taught with compassion and empathy, I could instill a whole new set of traumas.
It had not always been easy for me. In ninth and tenth grade (fourth and fifth form, in the English system), my class went through four or five math teachers, only one of whom was a math specialist. One in particular would yell at us ‘tell me what you don’t understand – what part of solving the equation do you not understand?’ And since our basic answer was ‘all of it’, she would be very impatient with us.
The art of teaching requires many things other than patience and empathy. There has to be a passion for the subject, or the class will not be inspired to participate, will not think it is worth their while learning. There is the element of entertainment. A good story makes a subject relatable, and more memorable. Then there is the science of teaching, of understanding how to reach all types of learners.
I often tell students that teaching styles is one thing, but if a student has not figured out how they learn, the best teacher in the world will not be able to get you across the finish line. Nursing school is hard, and there is much that you have to do outside of the classroom to be able to get a handle on all of the big concepts that you have to have at your fingertips when you stand at the bedside of a person with a health challenge. Our instant-gratification current generation of students imagine they can Google, Instagram and Tiktok their way out of studying, that there is a Youtube video somewhere on how to become a nurse in three short lessons.
In my role as mentor of other nursing instructors, I often remind them that unless you have your students engage in the material, unless you provide opportunities for them to apply concepts, to attempt to solve problems, you are not truly helping them to learn. Learning is an active verb, not a passive one. Information does not enter the brain through the ears and stick! The old style of teaching – lecturing – can only reach so far. The students have too many competitors for their attention, and listening to learn is very ineffective. But we love to do what is comfortable, and makes us feel good. We ‘cover’ the material, instead of challenging our students to look up, share, and teach each other. They say that adult learners learn the best from their peers, so these activities can be most effective.
This week I learned a huge lesson. I had not practiced my own message in sharing information with the faculty. I had shared, not engaged, had assumed, instead of verifying. But life is full of lessons, if you are open to them, and each of them is an opportunity to grow. What is the point of life if we are not learning and growing each day? Fortunately, we are given fresh starts every morning, a chance to rethink, create, and innovate.
This Friday morning I am grateful that we successfully navigated a big challenge in my workplace, and the pressure of the last few months has now been relieved. From this latest challenge we can regroup and formulate new plans to be more effective. And I can have a free weekend to celebrate our accomplishment.
Have a wonderful weekend, Family!