Another year floats by, and it’s time for another alumni reunion. You’ve been an avid contributor to your orthodontic residency program—both via sustained financial generosity and devoted attendance at every alumni meeting since you graduated. In addition to the typical accolades for the faculty’s academic achievements, this year’s dean’s address to the orthodontic alumni focuses on a new trend in education: distance (on-line) learning seminars that the school has incorporated into its curriculum. This format seems to be a potential solution to the dearth of dental and orthodontic educators, as well as a benefit from the knowledge of world-renowned experts on various topics. As the dean digresses, you think of the camaraderie you have developed with the faculty who taught you in elbow-to-elbow relationships, and whose friendships you continue to enjoy as you remain an active alumnus.
Most of us have a strong allegiance to the residency programs that accepted us, educated us, and continue to function as our extended family. This loyalty as alumni is vastly attributed to the lasting friendships we have established with our cherished faculty. We owe a great part of our success to our educators. And the invaluable personal interaction we have shared might have been equally as enriching to them.
Aristotle’s interest in the ethics of friendship offers insight into the dynamics of the student-teacher interaction. Aristotle defined several levels of friendship. The highest level exists between persons of equal levels of virtue such as wisdom, dignity, or gentleness, which often instill lifetime friendships, either among professionals or in personal life. Yet this ultimate level of friendship eludes the student-teacher relationship, at least at the outset. Many of us will recall our initial encounter with some of our mentoring faculty with almost intimidating inequality—certainly in wisdom and composure. Aristotle defined this student-teacher relationship as a pedogogical friendship. It is a relationship of utility, in which both parties benefit from an interaction of 2 unequals. The faculty gains remuneration by giving, and the student (or resident) by taking. Aristotle cautioned that the pedagogical relationship becomes obsolete after utility is exhausted, or once the student masters the presented material. Yet quite often the relationship blossoms—as has occurred with so many of the beloved faculty we still hear in our ears and see in our minds as we treat patients each day—into the highest form of friendship where shared virtues bind 2 persons in a lifetime of camaraderie.
In medical resident programs, few faculty have received formal training in teaching methodology. Scant information exists regarding the effect of faculty development programs on the quality of teaching. Moreover, there is little evidence about how clinical instructors learn to teach, as well as the efficacy of their teaching. It appears that clinical teaching is an evolving process and is influenced by the personal experiences and clinical expertise of the instructor. For example, clinical errors the instructor had made may be the basis for teaching a resident how to avoid similar mistakes. Motivation and enthusiasm for sharing knowledge piques as the resident displays the grasp of cognitive and technical skill levels. The instructor’s teaching techniques are also a function of his or her ability to convey information. Even life experience unrelated to clinical care can influence teaching techniques, and instruction is often tailored to the strengths and weaknesses of each trainee. Resident and faculty feedback have also been shown to influence clinical teaching methodologies.
Our success as orthodontists can undoubtedly be attributed to our own devoted work ethic with a dash of luck, but the true friendships that our faculty have cultivated with us are lasting treasures that are the essence of human interaction. There is no question of the value and the justification for the on-line opportunity in education, but the invaluable personal interactions with the icons and mentors who have shaped our profession are indisputable.