My guiding principle as I walk into a classroom to teach a course is that the material we explore over the duration of the semester simply cannot be digested passively. In other words, the students (and I) need to actively converse on the subject matter inside and outside of the classroom so that we may better understand it and how it affects our lives. Yet, this is unlikely to occur if none of us is interested in, and excited about the topic. As such, I need to create an environment that is conducive to participation, challenges the students, and gets them as excited about economics as I am.
At the same time, I realize that the vast majority of my students will not become economic scholars. So I take it as my responsibility to cultivate the analytical capabilities of my students so that in the future they can make well-informed and conscientious decisions as citizens and professionals. I take this responsibility seriously and consider it an honor to help shape the minds of our future leaders not just by conveying a subject matter, but also by developing a keen sense of critical thinking.
I welcome and encourage students from other disciplines to take my classes. Their participation is enlightening for those of us who are economists, and I hope is informative for them in their pursuits. I also welcome the opportunity to meet with students who come to visit me with questions. I would much rather spend time working one-on-one with a student to master the concepts than to see him/her do poorly on the exams. Nothing is more gratifying to me than to see a light go on in a head, and for a student to say “Ohhhh, I see!”
I try to evaluate my students’ command of the basic theory, methods and concepts with opportunities to apply these tools in real world situations where possible. In the lecture classes that I have taught (e.g. Intermediate Microeconomics), this has primarily been in the form of challenging weekly problem sets. This not only permits the students to explore the subject matter at their own pace, but also gives them the opportunity to interact with other students. I encourage my students to form small groups to work on the problem sets, for I strongly believe that they learn as much, if not more, from each other than they do from me.
In my experiences in smaller classes, I find that presentations and student- or instructor-led discussions are a very effective means of getting students to participate and to get excited about the material. The best course I ever took was a class on advanced topics in macroeconomics given by Max Cordon in which he randomly selected students to lead the discussions of the material. Needless to say, since we all came to class well prepared to lead a discussion, we also actively took part in the discussions even when we were not the discussion leaders. I am pleased that I have been able to create a similar lively environment in my Advanced Topics in Development Economics class using this model.
It is important to me that I approach each class in a professional manner by being well organized and prepared. I do try to create a relaxed classroom environment in which students are comfortable enough to talk. However, this is only effective when the students realize that a strong body of knowledge underlies my approach and that I take their learning seriously. As such, in addition to lecture preparation, my own research is essential to my ability to teach because it keeps me abreast of the developments in my field.
My experiences have taught me that most students enroll in classes eager to learn. They certainly pay a lot of money to do so! My charge, as an effective instructor, is to build upon their enthusiasm by clearly conveying the material in interesting and relevant ways, and by encouraging them to get involved in the discussions. Most importantly, however, I must give the students the opportunity to apply the concepts and methods so that in the years to come when they eventually forget particular definitions or models, they will have an analytical foundation upon which to make responsible decisions. In the end, the greatest contribution that I can make is my influence on the thinking of our younger generation.