Your Success is My Success: A Short Story of Diverse Learning
The continuous satisfaction of mutual learning and passing knowledge on to another generation. That is my answer when people ask why I applied to become a teaching assistant. That feeling of joy when you fulfill your duty of passing on knowledge acquired through hard work is what makes it worth all the effort.
It was back in 2014 in Iran, and I was a bit nervous and not at all confident for my first presentation at dental school. In that moment, my supervisor came and gave me a piece of advice to help me relax, and it really worked. She told me, “When you go on stage, imagine your audience as a flock of sheep!” It made me laugh to imagine them like that, but it tremendously helped me to relax, and I presented quite well that day. That was the beginning of my interest in teaching and presentation skills. Shortly after, I applied for soft skills training programs at a European dental student organization. We were taught in the program all about soft skills, presentation skills, eye contact, feedback structures, etc. The program took place in the beautiful city of Prague and our final exam was to do a presentation for an audience of Czech dental students. It was a big step, as they spoke a different language, and I had to present in English (not my first language). I presented very well that day and it built up my confidence in teaching. Every time thereafter, I remind myself that I have managed worse scenarios, so I can manage current challenges as well. I began teaching by passing on the same information I learned in the program, even working for the same student organization helping other dental students gain soft skills to be able to enjoy the pleasure of teaching and presenting with confidence.
All these experiences from working and teaching in a European association, while being an Iranian, really helped shape my personality and opened me up to diversity and different cultures, since the dental students came from all parts of the world to participate in these programs. I graduated later in June 2017, and wanted to continue teaching but was not sure how to pursue this goal. That is, until I started my new life in Canada in July 2021 as a student at the University of British Columbia. I was excited to be a student again because it was a new opportunity to once more learn in a diverse community. Then, when I saw the possibility of becoming a teaching assistant while being a graduate student, it was an absolute win-win for me. This was what I always wanted, to both learn and teach in a new country, a new culture, and with new people. I applied for this position and am grateful every day for the support I received from both UBC and my supervisor who provided me with this golden opportunity.
The first few weeks I taught in the clinic were very fascinating for me as I got to know the students, helping them with clinical hands-on skills. The pleasure I received from it was even better than I was expecting, because, not only was I learning myself, but it also helped me ease into an academically diverse environment. I felt like I was an active part of this new community. I will admit, it has not always been easy. When the time comes to evaluate or grade the students, you must be fair but at the same time you do not want to discourage them from continuing to learn. In fact, that is one thing I wish I had known before starting—that it will not be easy to fairly evaluate students. However, my past training really helped me in giving feedback. I always try something called the “sandwich technique”, where you give feedback in a positive, negative, positive format so the person receiving feedback gets the message in a more positive way.
All in all, I have to say I am very happy to see my students progressing well. As this is my first TA experience, when they are learning and progressing it feels like I am also learning and progressing. Their success is my success, and that is why I want to do my best for them, so they can also do their best. Canada, the country I have now made my home, has helped me a lot in pursuing my mutual learning goals and I am very grateful to be part of the UBC and Faculty of Dentistry family.
Shayan, 28 years old, is currently a dentist pursuing his Masters in Craniofacial Sciences at University of British Columbia (UBC) with a focus on dental biomaterials. He is a newcomer to Canada and originally from Tehran, Iran, establishing his new life in the beautiful British Columbia. He has 4 years of clinical practice background along with 8 years of dental research and publication, teaching, international scientific activities in Europe and more.