Article Date: 4/1/2010

Going Back To School
reflections
THE HUMAN SIDE OF OPTOMETRY

Going Back To School

The rewards of teaching are rich, as long as your students don't fit their pets with colored contact lenses.

PATRICK WELLIK, O.D., APPLE VALLEY, MINN.

After years in practice, I decided to return to school. And I would have never realized the rewards would be so rich.

Show and tell

Every fall, I make a trip to Sioux Trail Elementary School in Burnsville, Minn., where I teach a class of 70 second graders. I had volunteered many years ago to participate as a speaker for the school district because I thought it'd be neat to discuss the workings of the eye with students. As a speaker, I developed a nice relationship with Mrs. Knoblauch, one of the second grade teachers, who invited me to speak to her class.

When I visit the second graders, I always try to bring a few eye models, retinal pictures, disposable contact lenses and some handheld instruments, such as a transilluminator. Typically, I begin my visit by discussing how important vision is to our lives. I talk about eye safety, the importance of routine eye examinations and some eye diseases, such as cataracts. The bulk of the discussion, though, centers around ocular anatomy and basic physiological optics. I find it truly amazing how well these children understand the workings of the eye, even at such a young age. And it's a neat feeling to watch their faces as they soak up knowledge.

I usually let the class handle high prescription trial lenses, a plastic eye model and some retinal photos. The hit of the “show and tell” part, however, is the colored contact lenses. Almost invariably, one or two students want to put the lenses on their own eyes. Also, I've spoken to a few second graders who want to take the colored lenses home to perform contact lens insertion on their pets.

The best comes last

My favorite part of this experience, however, comes well after my speaking engagement when the “thank you” letters arrive. The notes usually contain drawings of eyeballs of all shapes, sizes and colors. Some contain eyelashes, some contain eyelids, some contain conjunctivitis and some are full-face drawings. Two recent examples of these “thank you” letters follow (and I did not alter the spelling in any way — remember, these are second graders):

Dear Dr. Pat,
I think that your Eyes are one of the best things you can have in your boddy ever. Gooooooo Eyes! From your second grade friend, Noah R.

Dear Dr. Pat,
Thank you for coming to our class. We learned lots of things. I even taught my mom and dad about eyes. I hope I see you somewhere els. PS. You're a good Doctor. Gracie

Here's a sampling of the “thank-you” letters Dr. Wellik receives from the second graders to whom he speaks about the eye.

Lessons learned

My visits with the second graders have taught me how to hold a young audience's attention. Specifically, I've learned the importance of acting animated and being very concise in my explanations. The kids don't realize what a heartwarming experience this has been for me. You'll be surprised at what you can learn from a group of second graders. OM


DO YOU HAVE A MEMORABLE EXPERIENCE YOU'D LIKE TO SHARE? DISCUSS YOUR STORY WITH JENNIFER KIRBY, SENIOR ASSOCIATE EDITOR OF OPTOMETRIC MANAGEMENT, AT (215) 628-6595, OR JEN.KIRBY@WOLTERSKLUWER.COM. OM OFFERS AN HONORARIUM FOR PUBLISHED SUBMISSIONS.

Optometric Management, Issue: April 2010