Teaching Honors Program
Dental Hygiene Students Thriving in New Program
By Catherine Duncan
Students pursuing their Bachelor of Science in Dental Hygiene have the opportunity to participate in a new Teaching Honors Program (THP) at the School of Dentistry. The honors program is part of a national effort within the dental education community to increase students’ awareness of the academic arm of the profession and enhance their awareness of career options in teaching, scholarship and academic administration.
By choosing to join the two-year honors program, students attend selective courses and graduate with a Distinction in Dental Education. The distinction is on their transcript and noted during commencement. They receive hands-on teaching and educational planning experiences and get to learn about academic careers from faculty members.
Dana English, Ed.D., M.S., RDH, THP director and assistant dean for education and faculty development, developed the program for dental hygiene students who are interested in academia.
“We always have a need for faculty members. This program is great for students who think they might be interested in teaching sometime in the future,” said Dr. English, who graduated from UT Health in 1980 as a dental hygienist. “The work for this program is above and beyond their regular coursework.”
Jo Ann Diaz Jordan, M.A., B.S.D.H. Class of 2001, RDH, director of the Dental Hygiene Division, said students who are in good academic standing are eligible to participate in the THP. “They sign up for the program during their junior year. In May 2018, the inaugural class of 13 dental hygiene students graduated with the distinction.”
The program begins each May the week after spring semester final exams. At that time, they take the first course, Teaching Fundamentals Selective, with students pursuing their Doctor of Dental Surgery. The D.D.S. program has had the THP for 10 years and has graduated more than 200 dental students with the special distinction.
Teaching Fundamentals introduces dental and dental hygiene students to fundamental principles of teaching and learning with the focus on planning courses, analyzing the learning environment, planning and presenting mini-lectures (which are known as Rapid Teach Topics), and completing a Triple T (Tough Teaching Topic) exercise in small groups. Students analyze their personalities in relation to academics as a career.
Dr. English, who teaches the THP courses, said, “During the first selective, the dental hygiene and dental students interact together. The dental students say they really learn a lot from the dental hygiene students. I force them out of their comfort zones. I do not let them sit solely with their classmates. They must learn to interact with each other. They will be working together in practices when they graduate.”
In the fall of their junior year, students take an Academic Dental Career Mentorship Selective. During this course, students meet with dental hygiene faculty to learn about their academic careers. Students gain an understanding of the responsibilities of faculty in teaching, research, administration and service.
In the fall of their senior year, dental hygiene students take a Classroom Teaching Seminar with the goal of providing opportunities to function as a teacher by planning and delivering instruction. After teaching, students must do a self-assessment as well as receive feedback from the students who received the instruction.
During their final spring semester, students complete one special educational project after selecting one of these courses: Second-Year Teaching Rotations, Research in Dental Education, Dental Spanish, or Leadership in Interprofessional Service Learning.
Jordan said, “These courses open up their eyes to teaching. They see how hard teaching is and the long hours. The students tell me they gain respect for faculty members. They learn how difficult it can be to explain coursework to students. This is especially true with teaching a new clinical skill.”
Although there is more money working in private practice, “we hope later some of these honors students will decide to return and teach on a part-time or full-time basis. They will know they have that as an option.”
Clarissa Hernandez, senior dental hygiene student and honors participant, said she found the interdisciplinary aspect of the experience very appealing. “We got to know people in addition to dental hygiene students in my class. I wouldn’t have met the dental students and gotten to know them otherwise.”
She enjoyed working with the dental students while they all learned how to teach and to analyze teaching methods. “The dental students were really surprised by our knowledge base. We knew the terminology they used because of our courses.”
With a career in public health in mind, Hernandez is bilingual but liked the idea of taking a Spanish course to be able to learn the dental terminology.
“This course will allow me to inform and teach my patients properly in Spanish,” she said. “While I am interested in going into public health, I am open to later beginning a career in teaching.”