Watch what you say!

Dec. 1, 2005
Your words can leave lasting impressions.

Your words can leave lasting impressions.

Many people have asked, “Why would you want to be a dental hygienist?” My mother was one of those people. I can still hear her say, “You want to be what?” I wish I had hours to explain to people why I want to be a hygienist. I love helping people, and I love being with people. However, most of all, I have something to prove.

When I was in sixth grade, a teacher told me, “You will amount to nothing.” At age 10, my doctor discovered I had a hearing loss in one ear that made learning difficult. In the 1960s, there were no such things as Individual Education Programs (IEPs) for students such as myself, so I struggled and failed many subjects. My sixth-grade teacher’s comment stayed with me for many years. When it came time to graduate high school, my grades were not the best, which, in my mind, gave credence to my teacher’s statement.

I made it into a school for dental assisting, which was my second choice since I wanted to be a nurse. That was the best thing that ever happened to me. My grades soared. I could do something, and I was going to amount to something. Upon completion of my program, my dental-assisting teacher made sure I was placed with a dentist/friend. Within six months of employment, this dentist suggested I go to dental hygiene school. In his words, I had “more to give.”

Dental hygiene school was tough, and again I had no IEP in place. I struggled again and failed more than one test. Again, the words of my sixth-grade teacher haunted me, “You will amount to nothing.” Somehow, I made it through dental hygiene school and my boards. Nevertheless, the words of my teacher still rang in my ears.

Many years passed - 28 to be exact - and the yearning to go back to school started to gnaw at me again. By this time, though, I had learned about IEPs. In 1986 I gave birth to a son who is learning disabled. Seeing him struggle brought back many bad memories - all of my sixth-grade teacher. My son failed many tests, just as I had. I read every book I could to help my son learn. I worked with him on all of his homework. I made sure he understood what he was doing.

Thanks to a friend who badgered me to get my son tested, I discovered my son had learning differences. These learning differences afforded him an IEP that allowed him extra time on tests, the taking of tests in a quiet location, and, of course, all the extra help he needed. We met many “sixth-grade teachers” throughout his school career, even with an IEP.

Through all of this, my thought of returning to school persisted. With my eldest daughter out of college, the ­middle child in college, and my son doing somewhat better in school, it was my turn. At my eldest daughter’s urging, I went to her alma mater. This time I supplied the necessary information to see if I qualified for an IEP. I qualified and could receive the same accommodations as my son. At the end of 16 weeks, the grades came out. I received a 4.0. One semester followed another, and then came graduation. I graduated cum laude, with a 3.52. Where was that sixth-grade teacher?

Again, at my eldest daughter’s urging, I went back for my master’s degree. This time I went with the concentration in education. I wanted to learn more about learning differences and how to work with people who have them. I didn’t want another college student to go through what my son and I had.

My son and I each have one more year of college. He finished his first year at a community college with a major in computer information systems. His father, sisters, and I are so proud of him.

If I could say anything to that sixth-grade teacher now it would be, “Watch what you say to others.” Words can hurt and make lasting impressions for good or bad. My teacher’s comment held me back for years because I was convinced that she was right. The dentist’s comment that I had “more to give” encouraged me to enter a career I would enjoy for 34 years. My family’s encouragement gets me through each semester.

Next May is graduation, and I cannot wait. I hope I will find a job with a college student who will need a professor’s guidance to tell him that he is worth it and can do it! I want to show young people interested in dental hygiene that it is a worthwhile profession and pass my love of profession on to them. I want to encourage young hygienists to be part of their associations, not in name only, but to take active roles. Is this too much to ask? I hope not, because I have “more to give.”

Susan P. Burzynski, RDH, BS, is the president of the Buffalo Dental Hygienists Association. She practices in the dental office of Dr. James Hoddick in Tonawanda, N.Y. In May 2006, Susan will earn a master’s in general education degree. In her spare time, she studies American Sign Language. She may be reached at [email protected].