I love learning — which is fortunate, considering all the years of education I needed to become a doctor. In no small part, I attribute that love to all the great teachers I had growing up. Oct. 5 is National Teacher’s Day, which I think is the perfect time to recognize the teachers who impacted our lives.
Teachers have helped to keep me focused and motivated throughout my life, but I think the most important thing any teacher can do is make their lessons fun. While I didn’t realize it until years later, I finally recognized the effects of “having fun” on the learning process. As a child, I remember going to Sunday School class. We’d get pulled out of the church service a little early — already a bonus to a kid — and they’d teach us briefly about a miracle or another important religious lesson.
The teachers made it interesting, but what I remember most of all were the donuts. Because we were let out of Sunday School before the service ended, we had first access to the donuts that were put out for the congregation in the church hall. I don’t think it was planned that way, but getting to choose my favorite donut before they were gone was all I wanted as a kid. Years later, I still remember Sunday School with fondness. The teachers were good and the subject was clearly interesting, but I am convinced it was the donuts that kept this positive association with my early religious teachings.
Throughout my schooling, I had many wonderful teachers, but the one I remember best is Dom Mingione. Mr. Mingione was my high school history teacher, track coach, and football coach. He was a tremendous role model who taught me that you can make up for any deficiencies you might have as long as you stay focused and are willing to work hard.
Mr. Mingione was very knowledgeable about history and always made the class fun by having us do non-standard projects. He’d allow us to pick our own history subjects, which made his class relatable to each student. It also forced us to read widely and become persuasive because we had to justify why the topic we’d chosen was important. He had a system — the harder we worked, the better the grade we got. It wasn’t just about the test but how much effort we put into our own learning.
In the years since, I’ve been blessed to teach students myself as a fellow in eyelid plastic surgery and a teacher at Georgetown University Center for Sight. As I embarked on my own teaching journey, I carried the lessons of my childhood with me. I always tried to have something fun as a part of my lectures, like a question of the day or an oddball fact. The goal was to keep it interesting and unique, which I hoped would make the information easier to retain. I advise anyone who finds themselves teaching to ask themselves if there is any way to make this subject fun to learn. If you are having trouble — break out the donuts!
As I reflect on the teachers I’ve had throughout my life, I can’t help but think about the book “Give and Take” by Adam Grant. Grant argues that “givers” will almost always come out on top in life. While “takers” focus on what others can do for them, and “matchers” try to negotiate equal exchanges, givers focus on making things better for other people. In addition to finding success, givers also tend to not get burnt out as frequently, because they can see the positive
impact of their actions.
Every great teacher I’ve met throughout my life was, without a doubt, a giver. Let’s all take our hats off to them for everything they do, especially for what they have done during these last two difficult and uncertain years. Teachers do have an incredible impact on their students; I certainly wouldn’t have the career I love today without them.