Teaching Philosophy

My teaching philosophy is built on a recognition that my students are full and autonomous individuals, who bring with them a diverse set of experiences, backgrounds, abilities, and challenges. I recognize that my job as a teacher isn't to micromanage students' individual learning or time management, but to create an environment conducive to learning by engaging with interesting, relevant and important content students are able to place in the context of their own experiences. First and foremost in my mind are students' goals: the practical benefit of learning a field, the abstract benefit of developing critical thinking skills, and the material benefit of gaining a valuable degree. My aim isn't the perfect grade distribution, or the best teacher evaluations, or even just that my students learn enough to move on. My aim is to introduce students to economics and the social sciences in a manner that encourages critical thinking, so that they can use the materials and methods I teach them in their other classes and in their careers and lives, and so that they understand the importance and significance of economic reasoning and economic results in real world applications.

In my experience, the classes that stand out are those where the teacher designed the course and interacted with students in a way that broke down barriers to learning and fostered an open and supportive environment. This seems obvious, but I have also experienced classes where the teacher either intentionally or unintentionally designed a course or interacted with students in a way that created roadblocks and made learning an arduous chore---whether from rigid instructional approaches or arbitrary grading schemes, from draconian classroom policies or from being aloof to student needs and concerns. Far too often, in my experience, a view of students as lazy, or entitled, or scheming can take root. It's all too common to hear complaints about ‘this generation’ or ‘students these days.’ This unfortunate tendency works not only against learning, but also teaching.

As a result of these experiences, I have adopted a teaching philosophy based on a humanist view of students, a constructive view of pedagogy, and an adaptive view of praxis.

 
 

Humanist

I recognize students as full, autonomous individuals that are worthy of dignity and respect. I work to create a safe and collegial environment that is effective for learning, critical thinking, and engaging with challenging issues. Students are not numbers or stereotypes. Their needs and concerns, as people and not only students, should always be respected. I always strive to accommodate student needs so long as doing so does not interfere with other students' learning, the goals and policies of the university, or the requirements of the coursework.

 

Constructive

Whether working with young adults with special needs or students at a top undergraduate university, I have found the same pattern: people often learn best when given the tools to position new information or concepts into existing conceptual frameworks based on their past experiences. To be an effective communicator, I must be cognizant of how my own world view colors the way I present and interpret information. Since I have found that it is through teaching that I come to truly understand content, I encourage students to flip-the-classroom and use discussions or group assignments to explain to each other how they understand the material.

 

Adaptive

Given my humanist view of students and constructive view of pedagogy, I believe there are rarely `one size fits all' approaches to teaching or learning. I avoid an overly dogmatic approach to pedagogy, preferring instead a mix of lectures, readings, discussions, personal work, and group work. I attempt to match the style of teaching to the content and the students, whenever possible. To do so, I design classes that provide clear expectations and plans, but are flexible enough to adapt to the specific needs of each group of students. I am a firm believer that frequent grading is an important signal not only to students, but to me as the teacher. I try not to look at missed answers or mistakes on assignments as simply a failure of students, but as an opportunity to identify gaps in my teaching approach.

 

On teaching economics

Economics straddles the line of the sciences and humanities. I believe the scientific method and its technical application are crucial when developing credible economic research, but that a broad, concept-heavy liberal arts approach to teaching undergraduate economics builds a stronger foundation in fundamentals and reaches students traditionally underrepresented in economics. In my experience, introductory economics too often fails to build an intuitive sense of economic thinking without relying on the structure of its scientific tools, from mathematical modeling to statistics.

In my opinion this can create a too-rigid application of tools, leading to an over-confidence in introductory results or preventing students who are intimidated by mathematics from engaging with the field. My goal is to flip this approach, building an intuition before teaching tools. I believe this encourages a more nuanced view not only of economic theory and results, but of the tools and methods themselves. To this end, I like to use unconventional sources—such as short stories, novels, music, or art—when I discuss the patterns of human and social behavior that encompasses economics.