See One, Do One, Teach One

Lisa DeTora

Back when I was in graduate school and working as a medical writer, a physician told me that the key to learning medical knowledge was simple: see one, do one, teach one. It was a clever (and effective) way of convincing me that I was qualified to teach something–like how to write a report–that I’d only attempted once myself.

Now, on days when nothing goes right, I find myself thinking back to that expression–and to the years when I used to see and do more, before I tried to teach anyone anything.

Soon after college, I worked at a private outpatient facility supervising the care and treatment planning for eighteen developmentally disabled adults. I was, in my own fashion, hoping to make a difference.

My program taught skills that would, we thought, enable our students to enter the workplace. But after years of observing and tracking their progress, I came to understand that most would never hold a job–and that some disabilities outweigh even decades of hard work and incremental improvements.

Some of my class, after taking doses of Haldol or Thorazine on a hot afternoon, would glaze over during group activities. I’d keep an eye on them …

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