by Frances Peacock
This is an Author’s Original Manuscript of an article published in the Kappa Delta Pi Record. The article can be viewed at http://www.tandfonline.com/ukdr.
The best things I know about teaching, I learned from my dentist.
Dr. Brennan took care of my teeth from the time I was five years old, and that man had a way about him. He must have known that some children, while they waited in the chair, found all kinds of ways to scare themselves silly. I was one of those children. I’d sit there and imagine the long, moveable lamp above my head was really a pterodactyl in disguise. I’d tell myself that the crazy, swirling spit sink would suck me up whole if I leaned in too close.
And then Dr. Brennan walked in – no, it was more of a bounce – and the whole place changed. One flash of his big smile removed all my fears.
“Hi, Doll!” he’d say. It’s the way he addressed me at every visit, and it’s the first thing he taught me about teaching. He said I was a beautiful doll. He told me my choppers were the prettiest set of pearls he ever inspected. His words were so convincing, his manner so genuine, that all of a sudden, I was delighted to be at the dentist. He made me feel great, and so I stretched my magnificent mouth wide open for him, and I never once considered biting that man’s hand.
Looking back, I know it didn’t have to go this way. I’ve seen my old school pictures, and frankly, I wasn’t really a doll. I was far from it. I was an uncombed, freckled girl with six colors of Crayola wax under my fingernails. I had choppy, uneven bangs that I trimmed myself once a month. I smelled like peanut butter. I rarely brushed, and I never flossed.
I should have been just another youngster in Dr. Brennan’s chair, for whom his task was to check the molars, fill the cavities, and send home with shiny, newly-polished teeth. He didn’t have to make me feel special, but he did.
Now I am a teacher, and my students are the dolls. When I use Dr. Brennan’s words in my classroom, I see the same thing he saw: a child who looks up at you and smiles and soaks in what you’ve said. A child who feels so charmed, so happy inside, that he’d let you take a pointy metal drill and run it right down through the middle of his tooth. Or let you teach him to read.
After the drilling, Dr. Brennan took out the treasure box, and I learned something else about teaching. He plopped that box of wonderful toys onto my lap, told me to pick something out, and gave me all the time in the world. The Mayor himself could have been in the next room, waiting for a painkiller and a double extraction, but Dr. Brennan didn’t care. There was a child here, and a present to be chosen, and the decision could not be rushed.
The treasure box that I have is just like Dr. Brennan’s. It’s a crate of whistles, yo-yo’s and plastic rings for my students to churn their hands through. On Fridays I call the children to my desk, one by one, to pick out a prize. I give them all the time they need, in just the way Dr. Brennan showed me it’s done.
To look at it, that treasure box of mine is nothing fancy. It’s just a bunch of toys in an old wooden container, an assortment of simple objects that cost a few pennies each. It’s no big deal at all, really. There’s nothing important about any of this, I suppose.
Unless you happen to like whistles and yo-yo’s. Unless you’ve ever waited in a cold room, by yourself, feeling nervous and scared. Unless you’ve ever been showered with words of flattery while you swished cherry-flavored flouride around in your mouth.
Unless you were ever a doll, like me.