DAY ONE: AUGUST 15, 2004
A bell rings. Students wander into my classroom one by one. “Do you have a seating chart?” asks one young man.
“Just sit anywhere,” I respond. Another bell rings. Is this the bell to start class? More students file in as a third bell rings. It sounds just like the first two. It is now 8:02 AM. The 16 teens facing me are obviously intrigued by my not having a seating chart. If they could read my mind, they'd be really intrigued; I have no idea what time school really starts.
I trip over some names during attendance, and each bearer corrects me. Here I am, a nurse who's cared for patients in cardiac arrest, septic shock, and with malignant hypertension—unprepared! But this is no hospital; I am now a high school health careers instructor.
I've practiced my first lecture in front of my bathroom mirror. I bore my students with every historical fact about the Latin word hospitalis. I tear into the word, which means “an institution for guests,” droning on and on.
LEARNING AND LOVING IT
Teaching is more than lecturing and grading. Matching lessons to the students' learning styles is a creative challenge. I work hard to provide the latest information on topics ranging from sexually transmitted infections to nuclear medicine while still protecting students' sense of discovery. I want to help them find fulfilling careers in medical fields they're passionate about.
Our class takes frequent field trips. When we visited a pharmaceutical plant, Caleb (all names have been changed) was fascinated by the research and development lab. I had to extract him from amid the intricate chemistry equipment. Before we left, he asked how to apply for a job. Caleb is now studying biomedical engineering at a nearby university.
The students love learning how to use our lab equipment. We have hospital beds with health care mannequins, wheelchairs, dressings, scales, splints, personal hygiene supplies, blood pressure cuffs, and stethoscopes. Students learn cardiopulmonary resuscitation and first aid. Every year, I try to cover all the professions while also focusing on specific careers that interest members of the class.
SEEKING PATHS, CHANGING PLANS
Job shadowing is at the heart of the health careers course. Every spring, the students choose from dozens of clinical rotations to see what health care professionals do on the job. They observe births, surgeries, patient transports, and ultrasounds.
Accommodating students' requests is a priority, but sometimes students end up somewhere unexpected. Josie asked for dentistry rotations, in an ED and on a medical–surgical unit. Josie's two weeks in dentistry, her first choice, passed without much comment. She seemed to endure her next two assignments. Respiratory therapy, added as an afterthought, was her fourth rotation. After her first morning with two respiratory therapists at a local hospital, Josie bounced into my classroom with a huge smile and glowing eyes. “I loved it,” she said simply. She had found what she didn't even know she was looking for—perhaps her life's work.
Of course, sometimes a realistic jolt changes a student's plans. One student who planned to be a massage therapist refused close contact with her peers during vital signs skills training. “I'm not touching anyone,” she said. “I hate touching people.”
DAY 788: December 31, 2008
I have found the excitement of teaching. There is so much more to teach and to learn. I know what every bell means. I realize that a seating chart can deepen a positive learning atmosphere. I have found that teaching is more than lecturing. I want the students to work at finding knowledge and creating their future professional lives. Next year, I will incorporate peer education into the health careers curriculum. I am a teacher, a leader, and still a student learning with my class.