Rethinking Medical Education

The ThinkerQuestions, observations, and recommendations toward reform of the process and content

Do we learn worthy lessons from being teachers?
Below is a Letter to the Editor of the US newspaper, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, published on their website on 11-12-08 (shortly after the election of Barack Obama), and accessed the following day, from:
The writer (who is not someone I know), proposes several lessons that can be learned from being a teacher, suggesting that they are relevant preparation for a potential senior politician, and presumably others who take on major responsibilities. What do you think?
Learned by teaching
Two comments about President-elect Barack Obama predominate at the moment: He organized a stunningly successful presidential campaign, one without precedent; and concern about whether he can handle the diverse problems pressing on him now. People who raise these issues neglect one aspect of Mr. Obama's resume: He was a teacher for 12 years, teaching constitutional law at the University of Chicago.
Mr. Obama honed his organizational, prioritizing and communication skills in the classroom. Like good teachers everywhere, he can organize a diverse amount of material into cohesive units; he can prioritize, deciding what is and is not necessary to learn at the moment; he can explain complex systems in an easily understood manner; he can anticipate and answer questions; he can remain calm in chaos; he can handle the competing needs of individuals and groups; he can think on his feet and react quickly to diverse situations; and he understands the need to keep learning. 
The most important successful teacher characteristic he embodies is that he knows how to be in the midst of the activity without having to be the center of attention. Mr. Obama knows that he is not as important as the message he delivers and the ways he implements that message.
Clearly the politicians, the pundits and the press who question Mr. Obama's abilities never have taught. That is a shame. Being an experienced teacher provides the best credentials possible to those seeking jobs in the public sector.
Patricia Noland | Ballwin, MO
Some questions for your reflection and possible comments:
  • Do you agree that teachers have or routinely learn the characteristics and skills suggested by the writer?
  • If you are a teacher, do you have these characteristics and skills?
  • Do you consider these characteristics and skills worth trying to develop if they haven't evolved on their own from the experience of being a teacher?
  • Would you modify or reject any of these characteristics and skills? Why?
  • Are there other characteristics and skills you propose are also part of being a successful teacher? If so, what are they?
  Hill Jason 
Hilliard Jason, MD, EdD
* I'm indebted to Roger Oliver for bringing this letter to my attention.
First posted: 12/13/08


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