In March 2020, the global pandemic arrived in Texas. Rumors had been circulating for a few weeks and we heard that schools might soon close for two to three weeks. Little did we know how our world was going to change. Spring Break meant kids headed to the mountains or beaches and we were so excited to get away. As the week progressed we soon realized that the pandemic was serious and the virus was deadly. There was a rush for cleaning supplies, toilet paper and even bottled water. Our school district opted to go to remote education and, quickly, I began to adapt my Dental Careers program to Zoom meetings.
In 2019 I began teaching Dental Careers as part of the Career and Technical Education (CTE) department of Cleburne High School. I had recently retired after being in private practice for the past 38 years in Cleburne, Texas. Our school district invested about $250,000 for a dental education classroom out of a $130 million dollar bond package. My first year as a teacher resulted in 14 senior students with the ultimate goal of earning the RDA (Registered Dental Assistant) certification. Texas requires CPR certification as well as the RDA course and although my students had passed their RDA course and exam, many had not completed the CPR training. After Spring Break we began teaching via Zoom classes and although motivated at first, the attendance slowly declined and I soon had only one student complete the entire nine month course. She was hired last summer and is currently working in a local dental office. Many students simply left school and only completed the basic requirements to graduate.
Masks and gloves along with social distancing became the new normal. Our summer vacation plans were soon canceled and my wife & I began walking 3-6 miles every day. It was a time to reconnect and draw closer. I found I had to work on myself and adjust to the new normal of masks and social distancing.
My practice which I sold before the pandemic was struggling and supplies were difficult to obtain. Patients were afraid to come in for basic care and many offices shut their doors.
Our community began to look like a ghost town as people stayed inside, rarely venturing outside. We went to church on Sundays in our pajamas watching the service on the computer. My wife and I volunteered handing out food and meals to those in need and recognized many patients and neighbors who lost their jobs and were waiting in lines for handouts for the first time in their lives. The local paper began to show numerous obituaries as folks began to succumb to the strange and deadly virus. My own mother died at the end of March and we were blessed to be with her as she expired only to have a remote funeral. We still have not had a proper send off and ceremony that celebrates her life.
The new school year began with mixed emotions. I felt I could not effectively teach dentistry remotely so I required students to show up for my two hour class each day. My students are highly motivated, and we completed their RDA before Christmas and we are currently completing Nitrous monitoring certification as well. Our school district has been very supportive of the Dental Careers program and I feel richly blessed. All my students have completed their CPR requirements and we’ve had a great deal of acceptance as the students are shadowing in different dental offices. These real world experiences are valuable and most of my students are heading toward the dental profession with the tools they need to be successful. We still wash our hands as we enter class and we mask up, and we continue to have support from our school district and my dental colleagues. I have found teaching to be less financially rewarding but much more satisfying than private practice. When the light comes on for a student there is a rush that is just inspirational. These kids have overcome the hassle of wearing masks and the disappointment of missing proms yet they still succeed in the dental program. Each student is going into some form of dentistry prepared for life and for me, it’s a win/win in every way.
Dr. Ronald Sherwood
BS Biology- Southwestern University, 1976
DDS- Baylor College of Dentistry, 1979 FAGD- Academy of General Dentistry, 2001 General Dentistry, Cleburne, TX 1979-2017 Instructor, CTE-Dental Careers, Cleburne High School, 2018-present