During my graduate studies at the State University of New York at Albany, I have acquired extensive teaching experience. I have served as both a teaching assistant and an independent instructor for several courses, including Principles of Microeconomics and Tools of Economics. In addition, I have served Principles of Macroeconomics for four semesters as an independent instructor for Intermediate Microeconomic Theory. Through my interaction with students, I find that many students come into economics courses with a fear of learning economics. As one student wrote in the end-of-semester feedback, “I have been dreading taking this class [Intermediate Microeconomic Theory] for my econ minor for a long time.” Based on students’ experience, many regard economics as a rather technical subject with bland theories.
The misperception about economics is a reality with little basis. Economics can be extremely fascinating because it provides people with powerful tools to understand everyday experience with logic and precision. I believe that the key to successful learning in economics is the combination of a solid grasp of fundamental theories that are motivated by economic intuitions, and the spark of interest from real-world application. They have become the two goals I have for my students when I teach economics courses.
To start with, economics instruction should enable students to gain a clear comprehension of the central concepts in economics and then build upon that base. This helps students overcome the anxiety associated with learning and obtain a sense of accomplishment. To achieve this goal, I create an environment both inside and outside the classroom that is conducive to learning. In my classroom teaching, I want students to think intuitively about economic problems. Intermediate Microeconomics Theory course is a critical transition point from which students learn to integrate math with economic theory. For many students, it is one of the first classes that they use math in an applied setting. Many have not yet acquired the ability to interpret economic theories intuitively, which imposes a significant challenge to the instructor.
I cope with this challenge with thoughtful teaching strategies. From the beginning of the course, I start at the very basics, asking questions as simple as “what is the meaning of the constant term in the cost function?” and gradually move upward to interpreting more complex problems. I reinforce through repetition, switching between explaining to students and asking the class to answer my questions. I find that allowing students to verbalize their thoughts helps them see the connections between the mathematics and the economic concepts involved. This approach helps to engage students in classroom learning, turning them from passive listeners to active participants, without creating stress. Indeed, as one of the students wrote in the teaching evaluation, “she provided a very comfortable feel to the class.” Also, as Professor Trevon Logan wrote in his classroom observation of one of my classes, “I really liked the fact that she began the topic [economies of scale] with a verbal introduction. No graphs, no slides, just a very simple example. This elicited greater interaction from the students. They visibly perked up.”
Students’ learning is not limited to class time, but extends beyond in the form of homework and office hours. I emphasize the importance of practicing after class. A problem always seems easier when students watch me solving it on the board. I assign an adequate amount of problems for each topic, with a balanced combination of basic questions and more challenging ones. I broke down complex problems into smaller questions to guide students through the thinking process. This allows students to see how the analysis build and form a cohesive case. This also accommodates students of different levels, so that even students that are less advanced can attempt at least part of the problem without feeling frustrated.
To further assist students with learning, I provide generous and flexible office hours. I recognize the importance of making myself accessible to students outside of class time. Office hours provide a distinct and valuable setting that is different from the classroom, especially considering the large class size I have (usually more than 60 students). I can help students at an individualized pace, accommodating the questions of their own. This is particularly helpful for students that are less advanced or are too shy to participate in classes. During office hours, I also take time to ask students about their concerns and feedback regarding the class, so that I can improve and reflect on my teaching. Overall, office hours play a crucial role in students’ learning. I usually see an increasing trend in the number of students coming to my office hours throughout the semester, as students hear about the usefulness of my office hours from their classmates. In addition, I observe that students who come to my office hours become notably more motivated and focused in following classes.
On the foundation of a strong master of economic concepts, my next goal is to stimulate students’ interests in economics, by applying theories to real-world issues. I make a special effort to include a large number of examples, especially those that students can relate to. When I teach the topic of demand and supply, for instance, I begin with the example of textbook pricing. I go to the Amazon websites from several different countries and show students the prices of the textbook we use in the course. Students get to observe how great the price differences are across countries. This example greatly intrigues students, since almost everyone has the experience of buying this textbook. I am able to elicit a heated classroom discussion regarding factors from the demand and supply side, as well as other institutional reasons that might explain the price variation. Students are able to quickly grasp the concept of price elasticity of demand and explain why textbooks are often much more expensive than other kinds of books.
Apart from introducing examples that are closely related to students’ everyday life, I also emphasize the economic analysis of public policy issues. A successful economics education should enable students to think critically about current events and to voice their opinions in an objective and evidence-based way. I have led classroom discussions on a wide range of issues such as the limiting use of food stamp for soda, the supporters and opponents of the California Proposition 19, and changes in social security’s full retirement age. Students learn to recognize the economic incentives at play in contemporary issues.
Through my teaching experience, I realize how the instructor can make a difference in economics courses. I help students to think, learn, and become interested in economics through an intuitive delivery of economic concepts that yield real-world applications. I have truly enjoyed the experience and would like to further advance myself on this journey.