27 March, 2014

On Teaching: Ten Lessons

Though I often forgot to think of myself as a teacher, I teach residents and medical students, usually in a clinical setting but also in small groups. I found these "lessons" to be very helpful and so I imagine anyone who teaches, in any setting, might also.
Teaching is not my greatest strength. It’s not that I am ineffective or that I don’t enjoy it, but that I am not a “natural” classroom teacher. There are semesters in which my student evaluations have been very good, but more typically they are average – which, at my institution, I take to be good. I know that I am highly successful when working with very small groups and, oddly, with very large groups. It’s with the medium size class – the size most frequently encountered at my institution – that I find the greatest challenge.

Nevertheless I enter every class believing (in no particular order):
  • That if not fully prepared, I have no right to expect my students to be prepared, and I should cancel the class before insulting my students by wasting their time. Too often have I overheard students say some professor wasted their time, and while it may have been due to something other than inadequate preparation, that remains offensive to me and inexcusable. I suspect in my very first years of teaching I didn’t fully appreciate this. 
  • That standards should be high (A is for excellent, C is for average) and that it’s OK to use all of the grades – as long as your expectations are communicated clearly and you grade fairly. I do tell my students that I want to help them succeed and that I would have no difficulty awarding them all A’s, but they have to earn them. It’s up to them to learn the material. To live up to that, I want to be on a first name basis with my students (I was better at this in my younger, non-administrative days), and my students know that they can call (or fax, send email, etc.) at any time and that I’ll be willing to help them with problems. Finally, my behavior communicates to my students that I view them as responsible adults, not children. 
  • That students should be required to think and to write clearly. I tell my students that – fair or not – they will be judged for the remainder of their lives on their ability to communicate, and I teach all of my classes in the writing-intensive format. Although that format is supposed to help students think, I have been unhappy with the outcome, and those components of my courses that are designed to deal with or assess critical analysis need strengthening. 
  • That intellectual honesty is the lifeblood of the academic endeavor. I believe cheating is failure, and students are told in my syllabi that “I hold rather strident opinions about cheating and plagiarism. Please be advised that there is a single sanction in my classroom for such actions - an automatic “F” for the course - whether it occurs on a major or minor assignment or on the first or last assignment of the semester” and that “It is your responsibility not to cheat. Some students seem to think of cheating as equivalent to jaywalking or speeding- ‘it's against the rules, but everybody does it, so it's no big deal.’ That view reveals a complete misunderstanding of academe. The currency of an academic setting is ideas, thoughts, and words. Any form of academic dishonesty is, therefore, grand larceny - the equivalent of stealing not just a few dollars, but all of a person’s money and property. Cheating, data fabrication, and plagiarism are the triumvirate of crimes in the academic and scientific worlds.” My thinking about this has been unchanged since I was a student. 
  • That no question can be ignored. I do everything I can to create an environment where students are comfortable asking and responding to questions. I never treat a student question as unimportant or too obvious to answer (even if it seems that way to me). I take their questions as evidence that they are engaged in the lecture. In addition, their questions can help me learn, and I’m there to learn too. If I don’t know the answer to a question, I admit it and promise to learn and return next time with one. 
  • That attendance should be taken – if only for the message it conveys about how you rate the importance of what you’re doing in the classroom. As the years have passed, I have felt increasingly passionate about this – at least for my students. 
  • That if I’m not happy, my students won’t be. If I act like I don’t want to be there, why would my students want to be there? Attitudes should be left in the office or at home. Also, I use humor in my classes; if a class ends without a good chuckle at some point, it really bothers me; again, I see it as evidence of their engagement and a measure of their comfort in the learning environment I’m trying to create. 
  • That the lecture should supplement the text and vice versa. They shouldn’t mirror each other. I have never lectured from the textbook and never will; if I do, the students don’t need me. 
  • That rules are made to be broken. It’s OK to treat people as individuals – as long as all are treated as individuals. (It’s also the way I treated faculty – which, at another level, was a form of teaching.) 
  • That knowledge without passion is like kissing your grandmother. If professors can’t model passion for the subjects they’ve spent their lives studying, they’re in the wrong “profess”ion. Where does the job title come from? - you can’t claim to profess if you don’t share your passion. 

15 March, 2014

A Short History Of Medicine

"Doctor, I have an ear ache."

2000 BC - "Here, eat this root."
1000 BC - "That root is heathen, say this prayer."
1850 AD - "That prayer is superstition, drink this potion."
1940 AD - "That potion is snake oil, swallow this pill."
1985 AD - "That pill is ineffective, take this antibiotic."
2000 AD - "That antibiotic is artificial. Here, eat this root!"

09 March, 2014

Light For The Navigator

Wednesday Without Words

Assateague Light, Built 1867
Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge

Originally posted three years ago, my father planned to revisit this series of lighthouses this year. Although he never did, I have chosen to repost these monthly on the day of his passing, in his memory and in celebration of his love for lighthouses.

See: Birth of Salvation
Digital photograph
Copyright © 2011 Thomas G. Brown

08 March, 2014

A tree grows in Ayutthaya

Banyan tree in the old capital
Ayutthaya, Thailand
June 2010

03 March, 2014


by Joan Turner and Zbigniew Kowalewski

The city of Utica not only represents our connection to the Child Life Archives but more importantly our connection with Thom. Although we really only met a few times, our memories are fond. He holds a lasting legacy for both of us: for myself, the beginning and the completion of the Pips of Child Life and for Zbyszek the discovery of craft beer.

We only stayed a few days for each visit.

When visiting for the first time we had the honour of meeting Thom in his office. It was during our casual conversation that we learned about Thom’s passion for the history of psychology: I remember the antique calipers. It was at this moment that the real seeds of the idea for a history of a child life collection were gathered. Through our conversation, an image of how a child life history could be created began to take shape. He generously shared some examples of texts while he talked about his memories of the foundations of the child life academic program at Utica. He told his story of Gene Stanford and pondered writing that story to be shared in the future. Of course, he wanted to contribute.

I am so proud to have placed Thom’s composition as Chapter One: that is where it belongs.

Our first trip to Utica College, February 2011 is less about our visit to the Archives at Utica and more about our visit at the Brown’s home. The whole family was there: Thom and Civita as well as Amy, Megan and Matthew - and Maddox the big yellow lab. We were welcomed on a cold night into a very warm home - Christmas decorations still on display well past the holidays. The conversation was lively and the food was excellent.

On the second visit, we had a more social visit. Dinner at the Brown’s and dinner at a local restaurant. Again, the lively conversation and the fine examples of excellent cuisine caught our attention. For Zbyszek, Thom’s consideration for his interest in fine European beer translated into the presentation of a very fine Craft Beer from a local brewery- So impressive, we took a photo of the bottle. Zbyszek attributes his new found affinity for local craft beer to Thom’s influence.

To Civita, we want to share our most heartfelt appreciation for welcoming us into your family and allowing our connection with your dear Thom.

We want you to know that our brief association with Thom has provided us with a sense of warmth to last our lifetimes.