Saturday, November 17, 2007

Midlife Already? A Look Back At My Education...

It's finally happened. After years of despising it when patients or colleagues look at me and say, "You look so young to be doing this," I finally crossed over to the dark side.

This week my husband and I met with our children's teachers for parent-teacher conferences, and we sat across from two very bright, talented, attractive, wonderful individuals thinking, "Wow, they are so young."

It's official. We're middle-aged suburban parents, mom-of and dad-of. We have arrived.

Well, ok, maybe we're not quite middle-aged yet, but as my husband sat enthralled at "perky" Ms. W's assessment of our son's abilities, I thought to myself, "This is it. We're getting old together. How nice!"

I'll say this for the lovely Ms. W: she "gets" our son. She laughs at his quirky jokes. She appreciates his precocity and channels it to the aid of others. She encourages him to teach, and guides him to do so with respect and patience. In other words, she brings out the best in our son: a sign of a good teacher.

Then there's Mr. W, our daughter's teacher. I've often joked that we should get Ms. W and Mr. W together - she wouldn't even have to change her name. Mr. W "gets" our daughter too ("She seems to be the class expert on Wicked!"). In the end that's really what makes a teacher really effective: the ability to understand, appreciate, and adapt to each individual student's gifts and needs, and to guide those in the right direction. We've got two winners this year.

We've been reflecting on our own educational highlights, and I was shocked to learn my husband and father-in-law hardly remember their earlier school days. Parts of mine are still so vivid in my mind! I got inspired to make a "Signficant Educational Experience Timeline," a follow-up to my significant reading timeline from several weeks ago. It's been an interesting way to reflect on "how I got here from there."

Toddlerhood: my parents spoke only Spanish to me at home; my grandmother, English; and I was surrounded by Tagalog-speakers. I think growing up trilingual did something to my brain.

Age 4: my mother and grandmother taught me to read.

Age 5: I started piano and ballet.

Age 7: I learned my times tables by heart, a practice which seems to have disappeared from the landscape of American math education, which my husband and I find appalling and which we think will be a huge disadvantage to kids later in life when they just have to know things quickly without having to "think about the concepts." But hey, we're just parents, what do we know.

Age 9: moved to the U.S. Books everywhere, easily available. Mrs. R, the Lower School librarian, introduced us to Tuck Everlasting. Lower School Headmistress helped us create our own poetry anthologies, with art and binding. Sister H. did a unit on the life of St. Peter and encouraged us to do creative final projects - mine was authorship of St. Peter's "diary."

Throughout subsequent years: my mom's "reward" for good report cards would be a trip to The Cheshire Cat, a children's book store. My mom and dad took me traveling every summer - an education in itself.

Age 10: had to dissect a chicken leg in bio and almost barfed. Still picky about chicken dishes. The giant earthworm dissection was a bummer too...

Grades 6 & 7: Had a strict and superb social studies teacher, Mr. O, who insisted we keep up with current events. He spoke to us like adults and expected us to have some opinions and be able to articulate them intelligently, whether the topic was Savonarola's burning of the vanities or Reagan's latest Cold War projects. Had a great English teacher in 7th grade who likewise didn't "talk down" to us. In science I did an oral presentation on mitochondria. We learned about physiologic systems in organisms - respiratory, digestive, locomotive, etc. and had to design our own organism with its own physiology. Mine was boring - basically a cactus parasite.

8th grade: Algebra was terrible for me that year, but English was fantastic. My nostalgia has a Proustian side to it: I still remember the way the pages of my copy of Warriner's English Grammar and Composition smelled when I opened the book - a pleasant, "booky" aroma. Our English teacher had us write in a journal, introduced us to To Kill a Mockingbird and A Midsummernight's Dream, and actually went over the rules of English grammar - again, now lost to the American school age population. There IS a point to diagramming sentences, but no, now anything goes...and it's obvious from the egregious grammar errors and terrible use of language in American spoken and written media. (Perhaps I sound a bit curmudgeonly...)

High school: I really learned to write. Higher math and science not my strong points, though I loved bio and actually won a prize in a school science fair because the judges thought I wrote so well - talk about an unexpected turn of events. Took 3 years of French - which I use now, having married into a French family. Hit my peak as well as my decline in ballet. Scripture class in 9th grade was eye-opening, a course which influenced my formation both academically and personally for years to come. It really trained us to think critically about faith in the context of history, and to consider the various literary genres in the Bible (which really upset the students who took everything in the Bible as fact). I loved it. It made me sign up to take Ancient Greek the following summer at Stanford so I could read the New Testament in the original koine - talk about a super-geek! I am so grateful to my parents for letting me be me, and supporting all these interests, and now to my husband, children, and in-laws, who do the same.

College: I HAD SO MUCH FUN! Took a memorable course in Irish poetry from the great Seamus Heaney. It was inspiring to learn from an academic who could actually produce stellar work in the very subject he was picking apart!

Grad school: got a master's degree in child development while pregnant with our first. Really influenced my thinking - i.e., made me feel more relaxed about letting my own children grow and discover their own lessons and loves.

Med school: too many significant experiences to mention. Anatomy and pathophysiology courses and teachers highly formative. Clinical years make you grow up and face reality a little better, though still in a very sheltered way.

Residency: The picture of me with the fiberoptic scope up on the sidebar at right is only a partial one; the complete picture, above, shows that I had an attentive teacher at my side, in this case a very good one, ready to offer help if I needed it. So it wasn't all bad...but there was plenty of bad to go around. For the first time in my life I had a plethora of negative educational experiences, some quite signficant. There was not only plenty of bad teaching but also an abundance of bad attitudes to teaching/learning/education. I learned that being insulted really sets me back emotionally and worsens my learning ability/process. I learned that my friends and I can prepare for and pass any medical boards, written and oral, ENTIRELY on our own. Some positives included learning how to manage difficult airways, how to prepare for individual patients' challenges, how to manage crises, and how to define my own worth (an ongoing process).

I'd like to quote something Paul Levy wrote so eloquently on his blog: “Soccer is a thinking person's game, and it is hard for a player to think if an authority figure is yelling at you as the ball comes your way. Kids who are trained to think learn how to make the right decisions in the split-second action of a game. Kids who are trained to listen to their coaches learn to wait to be told what to do.” That about sums up how I feel about my residency education.

Now: CHAMBER MUSIC! OBOE LESSONS! Talk about a signficant learning experience! And one that's a real pleasure...thanks, Orlando and Kyoko! :) (That's the two of them below, flutist and oboist, in a photo off the Anemoi Quintet website.)

No comments: