Article Date: 3/1/2001

All Eyes on Me

This O.D. goes in front of the toughest audience of all.
By Michael C. Berner, O.D.

It's funny how your life comes full circle. I used to be one of those "tiny people" listening to a fellow classmate's father speak in front of the class. Do you remember that world? The world where peanut butter sandwiches were traded for Oreo cookies and eating lunch with your closest friend defined a well-lived day. We all were that age at one point, but now I had the opportunity to re-enter this world as the father.

I prepared for this event for days after I volunteered to give a presentation to the second graders at my daughter's school. Describing what I do as an eye doctor seemed simple enough -- at the time. After all, I'd been in practice for 15 years and, like most O.D.s, had accumulated a list of humorous stories and interesting facts about vision. But, this was a whole different audience.

No sugar-coating

Children are brutally honest. If you work with them or have any of your own, you know this first-hand. How many of you have sensed a tender moment in your little ones' lives and expressed your deepest inner feelings to them about how important they are to you, only to be quizzically asked why you have nose hair?

With adults, there's an understanding that you'll make a good faith effort to listen to a speaker, even if you find him boring. Yawns are cleverly disguised with stretched lips and a contorted, elongated face, the likes of which one never makes at any other time in life. It's a dead give away that you're yawning on the inside but trying to act interested on the outside.

Well, children don't bother with the fine art of adult deception. If they're bored, they yawn like it's their last chance to gasp air. They stare at the clock or pick at various body parts. And if they really want to send you a message, they'll put their heads down on their desks. In the final act of complete non-deception, they'll even go ahead and drift off to sleep.

Little manhandlers


As I entered the classroom it pulsated with wiggles and giggles. The teacher asked me to take a seat for a moment while she made some final preparations. Easier said than done. The desks and chairs were half the size I remembered them. Sitting down would be no problem, but getting up would require a forklift. I politely declined and elected to remain standing. As the teacher introduced me, 80 little eyes met mine.

Knowing that behind those eyes were attention spans measured in nano-seconds, I tried to keep my talk brief, demonstrating various tests I perform during an examination. I also introduced the concepts of Braille and optical illusions. The kids seemed fascinated by the idea of Braille. I brought along some equipment for activity time -- a model eye, a Braille Reader's Digest, stereo glasses and some low vision telescopes. Of course, the students found these more interesting than anything I had to say. Unfortunately, I'd forgotten that second graders have the gentle grasp of King Kong. Despite my anxious moments, however, all the equipment was returned to me in semi-working order.

A tougher audience to come

Whew! Finally, my time came to an end. I left the world of the "tiny people" that day exhausted but victorious. Only three children had dozed off, but I concluded they must have had medical problems.

Not only did I find my visit rewarding, but it was also pretty enjoyable. However, I have more work to do when it comes to appealing to this age group. After all, I'll be facing an even tougher audience next year -- my youngest will be in first grade.


Optometric Management, Issue: March 2001