Usually, tough professors aren’t appreciated by their students. But self-described tough professor Kim Reed, associate professor at the College of Optometry, has been the college’s teacher of the year 15 times and won a Student Life Achievement Award in 2008 for professor of the year.
Reed said that she believes she won these awards because her students see her dedication to help them master the material before they apply it to patient care.
“My class is really hard,” she said. “It’s a very challenging class, but I think the students sense that I am completely committed to them learning the material so they tolerate the difficulty because they know that it’s in their best interest to learn the material.”
Reed said that she has very high expectations of her students and that her class is harder than the medical board exams that her students have to pass to be certified.
“I expect them, in their second year, to be diagnosing and managing eye disease as if they were in practice,” she said. “And the classes that my second-year students get are the equivalent or more challenging than the lectures I deliver nationally to practicing optometrists.”
Reed described her relationship with her students as one of respect.
“I think that that’s the first step in getting respect from your students is for them to know that you have respect for them as learners,” she said.
Reed’s interest in optometry started when she was in ninth grade, but she didn’t consider teaching until she did her residency at the Illinois College of Optometry. She said her original plan was to finish her residency and go into a private practice.
“But it was a residency that involved a lot of student contact and I loved teaching,” she said. “I didn’t know. I had never had any experience with it. But I enjoyed it so much that I stayed on as a faculty member.”
Reed’s favorite quote is “The future belongs to those who believe in the power of their dreams” by Eleanor Roosevelt. Reed never let go of her dream of working with eyes and she doesn’t let her students do so either.
“I don’t allow my students to sell themselves short,” she said. “If they want to be an optometrist, then they deserve to be the best optometrist they can. If this is their dream, then I give them the tools to achieve it to the fullest they can.”
This determination to see her students succeed shows in Reed’s commitment to her students and the way her expectations push them to success. A student of Reed’s once failed the class but was allowed to take a test to pass the course.
“She did so well on the re-test,” Reed said. “When she came in to get her grade, she cried and hugged me for the chance to fail my class because it forced her to study it again and it clicked,” Reed said. “And she was so glad that I didn’t just bump her and pass her just for the sake of it. She was grateful for the opportunity to learn the material.”
Reed reminds her students that a genuine desire to help others must be at the roots of their desires to be optometrists.
“There are frustrating days in every line of work, but when someone comes to you and says, ‘Doctor, I need help,’ you have to feel that and you have to be able to put yourself in the position of someone who needs to be cared for,” she said. “And if you have the skills and knowledge to do so, it’s your moral obligation, I think, to help someone.”