My family name translates from Sanskrit to “teacher” – something my dad has always prided himself and has hoped to pass on. He is a professor of pharmacology and thrives on knowledge. There’s something about passion in delivery that can make or break a student’s learning experience – and for someone like my dad, whose first language is not English, that is a daunting task and incredible feat to overcome.
Since 2015, I have been at the clinical adjunct faculty at the University of Minnesota School of Dentistry while maintaining partnership at my practice – but I wanted to somehow give back to the school that has given me nearly my entire adult education. The decision was easy.
I’ve truly learned a lot by teaching so far. There are a few takeaways I remind myself while I’m at the ‘U’ – and I hope they are useful.
- Keep it about the student experience. The first thing I did on my first day was sheepishly apologize for any complaining I did as a student. While that was met with laughter and forgiveness, I was actually serious. You pour your hearts into your work, and it’s our responsibility as instructors to maximize the experience you receive in a protected environment. You may become flustered with how things are done – remember we are here to let you know things are done a certain way for a reason.
- Try to maintain the student-instructor definition. I am younger than most adjunct faculty, so many students are my contemporaries. When school ends, those boundaries can disintegrate, but keep it professional during your daily interaction. I love giving advice, but I’m not taking them out for happy hour – though I have seen this happen. Try not to give the impression of favoritism, so tread lightly here.
- Caution with social media. Don’t post personal stuff online that could embarrass someone or draw attention. I know this first hand and had to do some damage control. The degrees of separation are too few in a student-instructor environment, so you don’t want to be responsible for embarrassment that is easily avoidable.
- There’s a great big world out there for the taking, so provide useful advice and resources that will guide decisions. Your time will come to do what you’ve worked so hard to do.
- Maintain humility. Students too. Plain and simple, instructors know a lot, but I learn just as much from students as they can from me, and I always try to keep a level head about it. I haven’t been out of school that long and frankly, I feel like I go there to learn just as much as you do, and I love that about the job.
One of the best things about being clinical faculty is seeing my old classmates and friends do the same thing nationwide in different capacities. I hope there’s a new trend among new dentists to give back – and that goes beyond the classroom. If you’re in an area where you have the opportunity to educate your community, please take advantage of it. You make impacts on lives daily, educating along the way. I’ve made my dad proud.
~Aruna Rao, DDS
Dr. Aruna Rao is a pediatric dentist in Saint Cloud, Minnesota. She served as the vice-chair of the LGN (now ASDA’s ADPAC student director) from 2011-2012. https://minneapolitandds.wordpress.com/
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