Being the 'just ideas lady'

Nov. 1, 2004
My 50th birthday is just around the corner, so it seems perfectly natural for me to admit that I don't remember much about my schoolteachers.

by Mark Hartley

My 50th birthday is just around the corner, so it seems perfectly natural for me to admit that I don't remember much about my schoolteachers. Oh, a few, still vivid memories persist of teachers who caught me in the middle of some, uh, bad-boy behavior. Otherwise, the chalkboards, desks, books, and names of teachers and principals are memories that are fading fast.

What keeps the classroom environment very fresh in my mind is my wife. No, she is not a teacher. In fact, she has always insisted vehemently that she has no interest in teaching. Regardless, she has devoted her adult life in supportive roles to teachers. And it has dawned on me more than once that they love her for it. My wife is a very creative woman, and she takes great delight in pitching in to help teachers develop an innovative program that inspires students to learn with a sense of fun.

As far as I know, though, she has never collaborated with a teacher about classroom activities pertaining to oral hygiene. What's odd about that, of course, is that she happens to know someone who could hook her up with some good hygienists. On the other side of the bed is a guy who has no recollection of any oral hygiene instruction while in school. Maybe they did. I just remember a lot of math, the "classic" novels, maps, homework, and recess periods that didn't last long enough. Doc Gratz's office took care of all responsibilities of educating me on oral hygiene, and I do remember them more than 40 years later. The doctor employed two hygienists. The blonde played the role of the good cop, while the brunette played the role of bad cop. Guess which one I opted for?

So I was very pleasantly surprised by Mary Martha Stevens' article in this issue. Although there are plenty of memorable "tooth fairies" cruising the halls each February during National Children's Dental Health month, the article explained some Kansas students' awareness of oral hygiene on a much deeper level. First of all, the descriptions of the classroom activities struck me as being very creative. Secondly, it was a teacher who made it work all throughout the school year. Thirdly, it was not a hygienist who was dominating the lecture.

Personally, I think the dental hygiene profession ought to give this particular teacher an award for what she accomplishes in the name of health education.

Of course, the natural reaction is to think that dental hygienists have found a rare "tooth fairy's friend," as Mary Martha refers to the teacher. The problem with that presumption - or at least with me making it - is that I spend too many evenings listening to my wife talk about the teachers with whom she interacts on a daily basis. In the early years of our marriage, it was more in a volunteer role as a parent that she befriended numerous teachers with her enthusiastic partipication in projects. In recent years, it has been while employed in the administrative offices at a local high school, but the teachers still seek out the woman who I lovingly call the "just ideas lady."

The result of these dinnertime conversations is that I wish to be included with the group who admires teachers, not the group who focuses on unionized teachers, teachers who have sex with students, or teachers who are too cynical about the current generation of pupils. From one class to the next, from one schoolyear to the next, I believe teachers generally are very passionate about what they do, reaching out to young minds. There is no good reason why hygienists who possess a creative flexibility could not develop wonderful relationships with teachers - relationships that go far beyond the annual tribute to dentistry each February.

I emphasize "flexibility" in the preceding paragraph, because it's still the teacher's words and emotions behind the message of sound oral hygiene. It's their show, not yours. Nevertheless, if you're comfortable with a supportive, inspirational role, I encourage you to introduce yourself as a dental hygienist to a teacher today. See if any magic happens.

A collaboration of a teacher and a hygienist is filled with potential. The list of ways to educate students is endless and inexpensive. It can be time-consuming, though, to develop an innovative classroom program - a fact of life that teachers are altogether too familiar with, but do so willingly all the time. The rewards, however, will stick with you for a long time.

Who knows? Maybe when these students turn 50 years old, they'll remember laughing in class and why it was important to wrap their attention around the reasons behind "taking care of my teeth."

Yeah, hygienists can be a "teacher's friend."

Mark Hartleyis the editor of RDH. He can be contacted at [email protected]