August 15, 2009

Things that my students have taught me.

Not all vets make good teachers. Being a vet, or a vet nurse, even for many years, does not mean you will instinctively have the craft of teaching at your disposal. But some of them do make good teachers; in my humble opinion, an essential part of it is a willingness to admit that you need to practice this new skill!

In our line of work, an interest in people also helps you to develop a feeling for what might help people learning, to be always open to new ideas, or maybe it just helps us to offer an encouraging word, a shoulder when they need help coping with the upheaval that education seems to bring to their lives.

Making a decision to carry on with study when they leave school sets tertiary students apart from a large chunk of the population and working with them is generally a lot of fun, certainly never dull. Choosing to study when you are mature and busy with lives and relationships and children takes even more commitment, but these students bring life skills and wisdom to their classes. I remain in awe of what some of them take on, what they achieve and I have followed their progress throughout the world, into new ventures and careers, and have to remind myself that the capable vet nurses, company reps and practice managers they are today is often a far cry from the hesitant and fearful people that first walked thought the doors.

The aspect that has always pleased me is that they are people I grow to like. Not just "students" but men and women with histories and futures. I can say that the past eleven years of my new career as a teaching vet have shown me a lot of things that the first 20 years in practice and vet school didn't manage.

It is an area I have been thinking about this week, and one of the veterinary blogs I follow wrote about it tonight as they have recently started teaching.

So, a few of the things I have learned from working with my students:

1. All students will have strengths and weaknesses. Do them the courtesy of figuring out both before you dismiss them as disinterested or unenthusiastic. Walk a mile in their shoes...

2. Some students are just plain wonderful - always. However, don't forget that students who are quieter, but get the job done, arrive on time, are polite and pleasant and cause you no trouble are probably the ones that will stay as vet nurses and you will work with them for years, even if occasionally you have trouble remembering their time in class later! The wild party animals, or the ones that turn up to class dressed in their night club clothes from the night before, spit on their class mates, get in fights, expose butts and breasts and muffin tops to the world, are hungover in class, are late, rude, abusive, arrogant  - they either learn to cope or disappear into other lines of work!

3. That when a woman returns to study and improve her lot, there is often a partner who resents it. Remind the ones whose partners support them, care for the children, clean the house and allow them time to study, that they are to say thank you. For those whose partners or families sabotage them by abuse, waving shotguns, wrecking computers, having mental breakdowns... give them a lot of air time and help them work through it. Same for those who are affected by the death, sadly often through accident or suicide, of their friends and families. Be patient with the "cutters", the anorexics, those on antidepressants... not everyone can cope with life and pressure and low self esteem, It appears that animals don't hurt people the the way other humans do and that safety attracts them to this line of study.

4. That night clubs can be fun when you get to visit them as an old lady with a crowd of youngsters who include you... a heart felt thank you to you all - it made me a far more relaxed mother when my kids started going. Actually, it put them off because they didn't want to run into me there!

5. I learned early that you should NEVER ask a student a question in a polite, quiet coffee shop that you would not want answered in front of anyone you know. "So why exactly did you get your tongue pierced"?

6. When car pooling in my falcon station wagon, watch out for the" flashing" from the van of students in front... which I missed, but I did wonder why the man trying to overtake me nearly drove off the road! Poor bloke,,, she was a generously endowed young woman! Would have taken some explaining if he had crashed....

7. That when the tequila comes out, it is time to leave the party.

8. That it is probably not a good idea to play "I have never...:" with your class. Certainly not when alcohol is around. I did learn about vibrating cell phones though...  Might stick to bus trips... refer point 7.

and pole dancing?

9. That a student covered in a lot of pancake make up is probably hiding their blotched skin from heroin abuse... how did we miss that !!! Also that they support their habit with shop lifting, and working the local red light district. Once you are aware of the problem, you still can't get them "expelled" as it is all hearsay. The local paper and court reporter still runs an article about their extensive past as a con artist, complete with jail time for fraud, and heroin, in the north island...when they are sent to trial for the shoplifting. Still not enough.... but you are a little perturbed to read they are successfully completing a course with you and so don't get returned to jail, just to class, and the vet clinics!!!!Meanwhile, you and the 7 students in the station wagon keep an eye out for her at night in the red light district... crossing your fingers that none of the local vets drive that way too often and recognise her!
We did eventually get her removed... and for many years I kept one of her excellent assignments displayed on my office windowsill - read point 1 again.

10. That on reflection my work has been about as fulfilling as it can be and despite the admin stress and worry that has gone along with it all, I don't regret it for a moment. Hi to all the wonderful friends I have made along the journey.

Finally, working with students has changed my outlook on life and aging:

Remember, we don't get stop playing because we get old: we get old because we stop playing!

Good times...Class trip 2005.. younger, thinner and very happy - check out the nails... courtesy of one of the students!!!


  1. You are so caring and thoughtful, those students should thank their lucky stars to have someone like you!xxx

  2. Brilliant, fantastic post!!! Hun you were the best tutor one has ever had, your patience, huge heart and understanding makes you who you are, which should be revered.:)


  3. You are right on about the challenges of finding what is special about each student and trying to bring out their hidden talents. I keep reminding myself of a couple of things learned from mentors: 1) Remember that the students who are the most frustrating probably need your help the most and 2) Don't let the students who don't seem to care cause you to lower the bar; make them reach higher than they think they can. I'll have a hard time living up to those standards but have some really wonderful mentors who set wonderful examples to follow. Thanks for the encouragement!

  4. Wow Dr, May B - those are good mentors! Both comments are spot on -

    and thanks Kirst and Tracey - had some wonderful feedback on facebook too :)

  5. walk a mile in their shoes...I really believe if everyone thought this phrase before they did or said anything ....the world would be a happier and more compassionate and calmer place...

    thanks for your comments on my post....I loved your story and perspective....its great being proved wrong sometimes huh??

  6. It would seem vet students are just like any other! Young people who aren't quite adult and no longer "kids". A place, unfortunately, I left behind long ago!

  7. Oh, heavens. Point nine reminds me of someone I know. We already have suspicions, but sheesh... I hope I'm wrong.

    Sounds as if you've learned a lot about human nature. And it's ability to party! LOL!

  8. Perhaps I should point out that many of my "students" are in their late 30's and 40's...
    Rediscovering some fun is priceless!

  9. I would love to have had you as my teacher when I was a youngster, no matter what the course. However, as to #7, that's when the party STARTS.


Comments welcome....always love to hear what you think!


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