A peer-reviewed journal that offers evidence-based clinical information and continuing education for dentists.

To Teachers Who Show Up at Just the Right Time

When the student is ready the teacher will appear.


When the student is ready the teacher will appear. Many have tried to teach me, but the student was not always ready. But I occasionally woke up and listened.

The following is for those who were teaching when I was paying attention. To my father, who was always reading and spoke through actions not words. To Ms. Radley, my kindergarten teacher (yes my kindergarten teacher). To Ms. Clark, who in second grade let us crawl out the window to discover the secrets of the garden. To Mr. Smith (first name Mr.) who pulled me through algebra. To Art Johnson, who made college biology meaningful. To Jim Clark who introduced me to periodontics, and to Saul Schluyer who stoked that fire. And last but not least to Steve Ratcliff.

I gave my first formal presentation in 1979. Since then I have spoken frequently but have discovered that I often educated minimally. I talked to hygiene students, dental hygienists, dental students, general dentists and almost every specialty.

But I never had anyone teach me how to teach. I was convinced that if I gathered enough information and presented that material to my audience I was teaching. I now know that often I was talking but they were not learning. Why? Because I did not target my message to each audience. In addition I did not understand that most dental professionals need and want both didactic and hands-on learning. Most of us signed up for this profession to work with our hands. We learn when we hear what needs to be done and then go into the lab or operatory and do it.


Becoming a better teacher was painful. I recently spent almost every weekend for two years putting together a course to teach general dentists how to place implants.

The four-day course was for general dentists, but I presented my material like I was lecturing surgical specialists. I went over intricacies of the literature and presented every possible approach to every possible scenario. But I gave no specific suggestions on what would best suit my audience and the patients we were suggesting they treat.

I bombed. I got the worst reviews of my career. I spoiled an opportunity in a wonderful setting with people I admire and with whom I shared a philosophy of dentistry. I was devastated.

A second course was scheduled months later in the same venue. After the debacle of the first course, an incredible teacher came and took me under his wing. In a very brief time he explained why I was not educating and what to do about it. This man was Steve Ratcliff.

I spent the next few months completely revising my material and drove my wife crazy listening to me repeat material over and over. When I finally presented the course, I received some of the best reviews I have ever gotten.

Since that time I had the honor of seeing Steve give his last dental-conference lecture. Nice job, Steve. I know you will still be in dentistry and teaching at Spear, but we will miss your courses on the conference circuit.

Thomas G. Wilson Jr., DDS
Editor in Chief

From Decisions in Dentistry. October 2016;2(10):8.

Leave A Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

This website uses cookies to improve your experience. We'll assume you're ok with this, but you can opt-out if you wish. Accept Read More

Privacy & Cookies Policy