Mary K Sheats - Teaching Portfolio
The greatest sign of success for a teacher... is to be able to say, 'The [students] are now working as if I did not exist.'
Throughout my primary, undergraduate and veterinary school education, I had a very traditional idea of what it meant to be a teacher. I thought of a teacher as someone who communicated their knowledge and expertise to a group of learners. As I attended teaching workshops during my graduate (PhD) program, my ideas on teaching expanded as I came to understand the importance of active learning and communication, but I still thought of the teacher as being responsible for student learning. Then, two things happened at the same time, one personal and one professional -- my oldest son started kindergarten, and I became an instructor with the Equine Primary Care fourth year rotation at NC State College of Veterinary Medicine. So how did these two things change my opinion of what it means to be a teacher? I will explain....
My son Alex has attended a Montessori preschool since he was 3 years old. Without getting into too much detail, the main principle of a Montessori education for children is that learning happens through self-directed, experience-based discovery and interaction with the environment. Even though Alex had been in this program for several years, it wasn't until I attended a Kindergarten orientation that I began to understand the full extent of the philosophy behind the Montessori education and how this type of learning is facilitated by teachers. It made me aware of my own tendencies when interacting with my children, which was to tell them the right way to do things or to be a little too ready to help rather than let them try things on their own. I'm not sure whether my tendencies for teaching my children are innate or cultural, but after becoming aware of them I have made a concerted effort stand back and, when safe, let their experiences educate them.
Around the same time that I had this parenting epiphany, I was asked to participate in the development, implementation and teaching of a fourth year clinical rotation in Equine Primary Care. Without even realizing that one experience was influencing the other, I decided we needed to bring facilitated experiential learning to this new equine health initiative. In order to do this, I worked with other NC State equine faculty to develop ten case-based learning experiences. Each learning experience was designed to present the student with an equine primary care case scenario that they worked through as the veterinarian. As case facilitators, equine faculty were asked to act as mock clients in order to encourage students to practice their client communication and to discourage faculty from providing too much guidance.
While I know there are specific ways we can improve on this model of equine primary care education, I am very encouraged by and proud of the overwhelmingly positive student response. Now that is not to say that all of them were thrilled with being forced into mock case scenarios, but even the students that described feeling awkward or embarrassed during the exercises concluded that it was a great learning tool and made them feel more like "real veterinarians."
And ultimately, that is how I view success as both a teacher and a parent -- for them (my students and my children) to eventually stop looking to me for the answers and feel enough confidence, responsibility and empowerment to find answers on their own.
It is my belief that the sooner a learner experiences the need for and application of their own knowledge and skills, the sooner they will feel accountable for their own performance and success; and that transfer of accountability from teacher to learner is the whole point of education.