My number one biggest irrational fear in life is going to the dentist. Don't know why. I'm just scared. I can have a filling fall out, have the tooth start rotting away, have pain shooting up to my brain, and all I'll do is swallow an Aleve or two and hope it'll all get better.
I understand it's irrational. I can't even pinpoint a specific experience that made me fear dentists. It's just the way it is.
So, yeah, it's been a few years. But do you want to know what finally got me to make an appointment? My students.
In the run-up to the ACT (which is, gasp, tomorrow!), my classes were practicing writing persuasive essays. I threw every prompt I could find at them--from ACT prep materials, from the official ACT website, from old tests--and when I couldn't find any more, I made some up. One prompt I wrote turned into something of a hit, and lots of students wrote some pretty good essays. It was based on the recent findings that one in four teenage girls has an STD. The question I asked was, Should all teenagers be required to be tested for STDs at least once a year?
Surprisingly, about 95% of my students argued for the yes side.
With each essay, I like to photocopy a good example, pass it around, and have everyone discuss what worked and what didn't work. (This, by the way, is the single greatest strategy I have for the teaching of writing. Have them see a peer's essay, comment on it, and then fix their own errors.) The sample essay I showed off started something like this: Do you know the old saying "what you don't know can't hurt you"? In the case of STDs, this isn't true. What you don't know can hurt you, A LOT!
As we discussed the prompt and essay, of course someone had to ask me, "When's the last time you were tested for STDs?"
The class laughed, but I didn't mind answering. "I get tested every time I go to the doctor for a physical," I said. I don't mind answering personal questions like this because I want them to realize that it's OK to get tested. And that I'm human. They don't know that I don't really have many reasons to get tested these days, but I let them think I'm a "player" or whatever.
As we continued the discussion, somehow we got on the topic of fears. I admitted I was afraid of dentists. "In fact, I haven't been to one in a few years," I said. "I've got insurance. I'm an adult. But, I don't know, I'm just scared I guess."
Of course that led to a challenge: Go to a dentist.
And so I did. And I just got back. And, really, it wasn't that bad. I found a very gentle, very understanding dentist. He found a couple of cavities and a wisdom tooth that needs to go. And now I'm hoping that I find a way to turn this whole thing into a learning experience for my students.