Great Teachers Provide a Model for Caregivers

Dorian Martin Health Guide
  • As I was completing my visit to my mom the other day, the nurse stopped me. She asked me, “Are you a teacher?” I replied that I wasn’t, although I worked at one point in my career in school districts and could count numerous excellent teachers as friends. I asked her why she thought I was a teacher. She replied that I always had a positive outlook, and that she could see me teaching in an elementary school.

    That comment got me thinking about the connections between what care-giving lessons can be learned from a great teacher. Here’s what I’ve come up with:

    Maintain a level of poise – Great teachers don’t let things bother them (or if they do have something bothering them, they won’t allow their frustration to show to their students). As a caregiver, you are going to be faced with multiple frustrations: your loved one’s memory and actions alone will get under your skin at times. Add the responses of other family members, caregivers and the general public to the mix, and you’ll want to pull your hair out at times. But showing your negative emotions won’t get you anywhere. In fact, your loved one will pick up and may mirror your frustration, which will cause you additional angst. By maintaining your composure, you can deal successfully with each issue related to your loved one’s situation, and help your loved one remain calm.
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    Figure out how to simplify complex ideas – Great teachers know how to break down complex ideas into simple chunks that help the student learn. They also know how to explain things in multiple ways to increase student understanding. You are going to need to have this skill, too. Your loved one’s cognitive abilities will decline; by breaking concepts down into ideas that can be easily digestible in your loved one’s mind, you’ll help your loved one feel more in control of their minds – and their lives.

    Create a structured environment – Great teachers develop an organizational structure in their classroom that provides a safe environment for students. You need to think about this issue as well. Whether at home or in a retirement community, you need to think about how you can help create an environment that provides boundaries to keep your loved one safe and mentally secure. That may mean putting a white board up so you can write the day and date, as well as list the day’s activities and reminders. It may mean encouraging your loved one who has minor memory loss to keep and use an organizer. Whatever you decide, become consistent in these actions. It’s this organizational structure that helps your loved one feel safe and secure during a difficult period in their lives.

    Become a counselor – Your loved one is going to become frustrated. So you might as well learn a key lesson that great teachers know instinctively – how to deeply listen to a student’s problems. By giving your loved one your complete attention when they become angry, confused, or frustrated and then listening to their issues (even when these issues don’t make sense), you can help ease some of the turmoil they are going through.
  • Great teachers and great caregivers do have a lot in common. They focus on the needs of the person with whom they are working. Furthermore, great teachers and caregivers think strategically about how to help the person feel that his or her life has meaning. It’s these types of lessons that we can all use – and all need to learn.
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    What lessons have you learned while caring for a loved one? Share them in our message boards.
Published On: June 12, 2006