Jennifer's Personal Notes

And now…I teach

Part of any PhD program is the requirement to teach. This seems normal when you consider in many disciplines a PhD is what qualifies you to teach at the college level.  It also seems normal when you consider that many PhD trained individuals will do research at academic centers and so have the dual role of adding to the common knowledge (research) and passing on that knowledge (teaching).  At my university they refer to this as scholarship, and include training in education as part of the PhD curriculum.

I’ve completed all my coursework and moved into candidacy, which means I’ve completed my education training and can teach classes.  This semester I’m lecturing in a pathology course and facilitating a seminar on policy and practice.  This has given me opportunities to compare what I see and do in University classes with what I saw and did when I taught childbirth education classes (and trained educators and doulas).

The most striking thing to me is, despite the students completing the prerequisite coursework, how little you can count on them actually knowing. Students will ask very basic questions and will be delighted to see simple diagrams that allow them to “finally understand” concepts they have seen in multiple earlier classes.

I rarely had questions on basic concepts when I taught childbirth classes. I never thought much about it when I was teaching because I made two assumptions.  First, adult students are motivated and will ask questions if they don’t understand.  Second,  the material I’m presenting is basic, so for the most part they already know what I’m telling them.

These assumptions have been challenged by my experiences this semester.  The assumptions are further challenged when I read blogs and articles by doulas and educators who obviously don’t understand the “simple concepts” from physiology behind what they are trying to explain. I wonder:

  • What if my simple explanations about basic concepts were not as “simple” as I thought?
  • What if my students didn’t ask questions, not because they understood, but because they were willing to agree with me?
  • What if my university students do ask questions not because they understand less, but because they expect to be tested on their level of understanding and so are more willing to seek clarification when something is confusing?

These are just beginning thoughts right now, and I’m not sure where they will lead.  I do realize the volume of material covered in each class of a childbirth course is minuscule compared to a one semester study of pathology. I also realize a childbirth course does not need to present as complex an explanation of topics as a study of pathology. And students in a university course are most likely enrolled in multiple courses and so juggling  the acquisition of multiple knowledge domains at one time.  All of these factors play a role.

But still, it makes me wonder…maybe I wasn’t as great a childbirth educator as I thought I was.


Jennifer Vanderlaan (Author)


  1. Danae

    Thanks for sharing your experience. Birth is complex and delicate!

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