Imagine for a moment that you are a dentist. You have several years of experience under your belt, and you know that you are very skilled at what you do. You could make a lot of money in a private practice, but you decide to open a clinic to serve those who are considered at risk of serious dental problems and those who are disadvantaged and have not been receiving the services they need. Although your clinic will be open to everyone, you know that people who are satisfied with the dentist that they have will stay where they are. You want to have a diverse client base, but you have a desire in your heart to attract and serve clients who are somehow in need.
You enjoy working at your new clinic, but there are challenges that you did not face in your previous practice. You are now struggling financially, which was never an issue before. You spend a lot of time teaching people, kids and adults, why dental care is even important. In your suburban practice in an affluent neighborhood, families could not get enough dental care. They would ASK you for tooth whitening procedures and referrals to the orthodontist. Now you are passing out free toothbrushes and toothpaste because many of your patients need them. You replenish the supply with your own money each time you get paid.
You find yourself trying to think of new and creative ways to reinforce basic dental health to your patients. You look for ways to entice your patients to adopt good habits because you know that if you can get them started, then they will eventually see the value of what you are asking them to do. With better dental care, they will have better overall health, increased confidence, and more job opportunities in the future. Many of them just don’t see this yet. But they will. You refuse to give up on them.
You know that many of your patients have very difficult and unusual life circumstances, so you have flexible hours to try to accommodate them. Sometimes they have to bring their children to the clinic with them because they do not have anyone to help them with childcare. Sometimes they cancel on you at the last minute because they work two jobs and cannot pass up an unexpected opportunity to earn some extra pay. Sometimes, you come in early or stay for late appointments, and the clients just don’t show up. Sometimes, you work really hard to help a family, and you can see at the next appointment that they did not follow any of your instructions at all. It can be disheartening.
But some patients cry when you help them. They cry because they never thought that they would get the help that they needed. They cry because your clinic offers the understanding, patience, and flexibility that allows them to do what is best for their families. They cry because you recognize their individual needs and respect their humanity. Sometimes, you cry, too.
You feel really good about the work you are doing in this clinic.
Then one day an inspector from the state visits the clinic. He looks very serious. He seems unhappy.
He says, “You are a terrible dentist.”
You are horrified. You ask him how he came to this conclusion. He pulls out two charts covered with graphs and tables. One chart shows data from a wealthier suburban dental practice. The other chart shows data from your clinic.
You are a smart person. You are a dentist, after all. You know this isn’t good.
“Our data indicates that the patients at your clinic have many more cavities than the patients at other clinics.”
“Yes, they do. I serve many patients who have not had good dental care in the past, and some of them are not convinced that dental care is even important. That is why I came to this clinic in the first place. To serve these people.”
“You say that you are serving these clients, but the data shows that many of your patients are not brushing their teeth twice a day, even after they visit. If this clinic were good, your patients would be brushing twice a day. You are just taking their money.”
“Please remember that many of my clients were not brushing their teeth at all when they came here, and now they are brushing more than they ever did before, even if it is not twice a day. I work very hard to find new ways to educate and inspire them to improve their dental health. Plus, we do have patients who now have excellent teeth thanks to our clinic.”
“At this other practice, almost all of the patients brush twice daily. Their patients also do not skip appointments.”
“I think our client base is not the same. My patients are wonderful people, but a large number of them have serious medical or mental health conditions, multiple jobs, or other unusual circumstances. Some of them are caring for sick family members or raising children with little help. Some of them have been in and out of the criminal justice system. Some of them have had very bad experiences with the medical profession in the past, and we are working hard to rebuild their trust. We do experience more cancellations than other dental practices, but we believe that what we do is very important, and we do not stop trying to help people.”
“The other practice has a record of fewer cavities. Therefore, it is an excellent dental office with excellent dentists. That office and those dentists are much better than you.”
“But I used to work at that office.”
“You are not a good dentist.”
“When I worked there, you said that I was an excellent dentist.”
“You have really let yourself go since you came here.”
“Actually, I have learned a lot by working at this clinic.”
“I am going to recommend that your clinic is closed.”
“But what about my patients? They will have nowhere to go.”
“They can go to the more successful practice.”
“No, no, no. They do not feel understood at that practice. They are tired of being treated like nuisances or outcasts when they ask for help or try to do the right things for their families. They will fall far behind in their dental care because there is no flexibility. Many of my patients really need this clinic. I feel like there is a misunderstanding here.”
“I am sorry. You are no good.”
This is what it feels like to be an ECOT teacher right now.
I will be the first to say that we need major education reform in this country.
BUT . . .
Please do not believe everything that you read.
Please think about what data actually represents before you jump to conclusions.
Please understand that newspapers are clearly showing bias and journalists are not doing their homework.
Please do not drag students, teachers, and families through the mud when your actual concerns are about politics and school funding.
You can disagree about politics and school funding without distorting information and minimizing the good that is being done for many kids, both in traditional classrooms and in the online environment, by excellent teachers!