I grew up in an extended family where nearly half the members were teachers. As such, discussions about school life were always a dominant part of our family dinner conversations. I can vividly recall my mother and my aunt arguing about whether a certain painting should be used to convey the meaning of a poem to students. I remember my uncle telling a story about changing the mind of a student who initially decided the class subject, political science, was useless. I also remember waking up one night to find my mother still preparing for her class. "Being a teacher is too much work. Don’t ever become one," my mother warned me, jokingly, as she went back to writing in her notebook. And yet here I am, 17 years later, picking up the family mantle. Standing at the beginning of a career path in which teaching is a fundamental part, I am beyond excited.
My first formal teaching experience was during the second year of my Ph.D. at Georgia State University. I substituted a class as the teaching assistant to Dr. Carlianne Patrick for her urban economics course. Stepping into the classroom, I stammered a self-introduction and nervously began reviewing the bid-rent curve. I made a mistake on the board and a student quickly pointed it out: “Shouldn't price be on the vertical axis?” the student chuckled. In that moment I realized something essential about a classroom. I performed in theatre during my undergraduate years, where the audience typically sat in darkness, unable to be seen while on the stage. One of the few cases when the stage light illuminated the audience was when actors broke the “fourth wall” to communicate with the audience directly. Those were powerful moments as the audience became part of the show. Teaching is a show put on specifically for the delivery of knowledge. However, the show is on a stage where the fourth wall does not exist from the beginning. Instead of an actor-audience relationship, the teacher is a lead actor with the students playing essential supporting roles. The quality of the knowledge delivery and the interaction among the actors together determine the overall quality of the performance.
In the spring of 2019, I taught Principles of Microeconomics as the instructor of record at Georgia State University. My pedagogy focused on improving the quality of knowledge delivery and the interaction among the classroom actors, with an emphasis on understanding and engaging. Understanding goes both ways; it asks the students to understand the material and it asks me to understand my students' needs. I made sure the students not only remembered the information, but could also apply it, analyze it, evaluate it, and create new connections before walking out of the classroom. At the same time, I tried to have an accurate idea of who was in my class and what they wanted out of the course. Engaging requires me to provide sufficient motivation for my students to participate and learn actively throughout the course. I used a combination of real-life examples, current business news, and my own research to effectively deliver the knowledge in the classroom, as well as interactive online exercises to encourage critical thinking and independent learning outside of the classroom. To achieve my teaching goals, I have found the following to be essential parts of my pedagogy:
Design a course that fits the specific student body. I start the semester by using a brief questionnaire to assess students’ prerequisite knowledge, learn their fields of study, and identify expectations for the course. Following their feedback, I design the course to match their general interests and needs. For example, most of my students were from the business school, so I frequently used applications found in business settings to motivate ideas. While introducing the concept of incentives, I discussed a recent employer-sponsored wellness program by United Health that attempted to increase worker productivity and reduce healthcare costs for the firm by incentivizing employees to engage in daily exercise. This wellness program also serves as a motivating example for externalities later in the course.
Active participation. Student participation is a crucial component of any class. In my own learning experiences, active participation is much more useful than passive reading or listening. As a teacher, I do three things to encourage student participation. First, I use multimedia, such as videos and online polls, to illustrate content vividly and setup a discussion. Second, I demonstrate concepts by doing in-class games to draw the attention of students and make a complicated concept more intelligible. For example, incrementally adding students to a dance floor at the front of the class illustrates the notion of a common-pool resource and externalities. Once the students start feeling curious about a concept, they tend to pay closer attention to detailed explanations. Third, I randomly call on students to respond to lecture content. This method is like a strong shot of espresso to raise alertness, but can be intimidating so I refrain from using it too often.
Encourage students to think critically and ask questions.Accommodating students to frequently ask questions in class is a good way to encourage self-assessment. In the process of asking questions, students think more actively and pay more attention to the answer. For their peers, a change in voice away from the teacher also draws in their attention. I try to encourage my students to ask questions by making the environment comfortable and inviting; this includes praising thoughtful questions, being patient with those who are struggling, and addressing students by name whenever possible.
Practice makes perfect. “Review what you have learned, and you will learn anew.” Practicing is a great way to further understand and consolidate knowledge. My course included weekly, low-stakes quizzes for the students to use as a self-assessment tool. I also designed homework and in-class practice problems that would build upon on another, growing in difficulty. These assignments would start out with an easy task such as writing out an economic theory or definition in their own words, and end with students tackling an open-ended, real-world policy problem to encourage creativity and critical thinking. Ideally, a student gains a sense of achievement while progressing through the intertwined problems as if they were solving a puzzle piece by piece.
Learning is a life-long project. Not only do I encourage my students to keep learning and thinking beyond the course material, but I also reinforce my own knowledge and teaching methods to keep up with recent findings in economics and teaching pedagogies. Teaching is not just about delivering knowledge to the students but also a way of being inspired by the students. I truly enjoy the teaching experience and try my best to ensure this experience is equally enjoyable for my students.
A former student sent me a heartwarming email during the summer, in which she wrote, “You truly cared whether or not your students learned in your class. I pray that you'll continue to love what you do because it makes a difference.” I am truly thankful for the opportunity to teach and to establish meaningful connections with students. I will prepare myself for a future career in line with my student’s comment: one where I keep loving the act of teaching and try my best to make a difference.
Currently, I can teach most principle level economics courses, as well as intermediate-level courses in microeconomic theories, econometrics, environmental economics, urban/regional economics, and health economics. I would also love to teach the history of economic thought and economic history.