Why I teach

A look at the varying paths of some esteemed dental educators
February 28th, 2022

Texas A&M College of Dentistry’s faculty members are universally dedicated. With multiple career options, what motivates someone to become a dental school professor? Is it a purposeful process or an unexpected discovery? A visit with a few A&M dental school instructors yields a variety of journeys with one common realization: the incomparable rewards of working with students and guiding them to their academic goals. The following is Part 1 of a multi-part series.

Part 1: Dr. George Cramer

Dr George CramerTwenty years of full-time private practice help Dr. George Cramer ’75 impart practical things he’s picked up along the way to his students. He thinks talking with them about their philosophy of practice may be even more valuable.

“I think having to do that yourself makes it a little easier to talk about,” he says. Above all, character is king, Cramer says. “I don’t think that can be emphasized enough. Ethics and values are probably more important than their skills.”

Not that Cramer takes skills development lightly. This clinical associate professor in comprehensive dentistry spends the bulk of his time teaching preclinical skills to first- and second-year dental students.

“They are doing things for the first time, so it’s a real opportunity to show them how; then they get to figure out how it works best for them,” he says. “You get to do a lot of one on one. It’s really enjoyable for me.”

He also lectures to third-year dental students and enjoys answering their questions and watching them progress from neophytes to confident clinicians. Spending extra hours with individual students who need a boost magnifies his impact.

“It’s amazing how many kids might be struggling in the lab a little bit, but when they get into clinic they just blossom,” Cramer says. “Maybe it’s because they’re with real patients then. We get them out of the dark basement where everyone’s choking down vitamin D because there are no windows,” he jokes.

Teaching wasn’t something Cramer originally envisioned, but this current role is actually his second gig in academia. The first, from 1975 to 1981, stemmed from an invitation by faculty mentor Dr. Jobe Martin. Before long, Cramer was in charge of the third-year operative dentistry lecture series, preparing 36 presentations before leaving the faculty to open a private practice in Wills Point, Texas. He and his wife wanted to raise their young children in a small town, one that also happened to need a dentist. Besides, he says, “I thought I didn’t know enough to be teaching.”

Twenty years later, Cramer returned to campus, starting with two days a week of laboratory instruction and slowly working into full time while phasing out of private practice.

“When I came back to teach in 2001, just about everybody I had taught was on the faculty,” he says, naming former students who taught for many years. There’s an obvious thread there, one of mentoring, mutual respect and integrity. Cramer appreciates the rewards teaching brings.

Just to watch people develop and grow, not only in their hand skills but also in their lives,” he says, hoping he can be a resource to the students as they evolve.

But it’s a two-way street. Cramer is quick to add, “The students teach us, too; a whole lot.”

Dr George Cramer military pilotCramer’s own life experience introduced him to contrasting teaching styles, including the tough military instructors who prepared him to serve as a Marine pilot in Vietnam undertaking low-altitude reconnaissance missions. He later encountered a similar culture as a dental student.

“When I was here almost all the professors were ex-military,” he says. “Everyone seemed scared of them. I’d already had my butt chewed out by some really tough Marine sergeants. It was a whole different atmosphere.”

These days, Cramer’s interaction with aspiring dentists, his Christian faith and inspiring wife, Susan, lead him to optimism and gratitude as an educator.

“I think the reward is being with the students,” he says. “They help keep you feeling young. I love what I am privileged to be doing.”

— Carolyn Cox