Professor Gonzalo Chavez from Finance Area will tell us how he has improved since her first class until today. Enjoy!
I believe I have improved my teaching in five ways:
1. Intuition and erudition: My first teaching attempts concentrated on explaining our finance models and decision criteria in the greatest possible level of detail and rigor. Good pedagogy meant given my students the “full story” even if that meant it was not a very interesting one. After all, who takes finance to have fun? Today, I assign much more effort to helping my students understand the material at an intuitive level. If there is an intuitive understanding, it is much harder to forget concepts. To help attain intuition I also make a much greater effort to incorporate applied examples (for example, using experience from consulting work). There is nothing like a clear, short, and hopefully humorous story to help people remember what you teach. Though I am always careful not to let “war stories” substitute a well-thought and academically responsible conceptual explanation, intuition and applicability are now a very important part of my pedagogic tools.
2. Not taking myself so seriously: The natural insecurity all of us feel at the beginning of our teaching experience made me very sensitive to any disagreement or questioning from my students. In a way, I took it as a personal affront that showed lack of respect. This generally prompted a defensive response from my part, many times contaminating the environment of relaxed discussion that is so hard to achieve. Now, I actually tell my students that I really like it when they disagree with me since it gives me an opportunity to explain my side of the story. This achieves the important objective of removing, for both the students and for me, the negative connotation of a “disagreement” and thus allowing for a more relaxed debate of ideas and, in general, a better learning environment. Not taking myself so seriously has also changed the way I deal with actual misbehavior. Instead of chastising or removing a student from class if she or he is caught chatting, sleeping or the equivalent of “texting”, I will ask her a question. Generally, the only response will be a bewildered look after which I tell her that it is a shame she has lost the conversation because I am sure she would have really liked it and learned from it. Similarly, a friendly pat on the shoulders or a very close “eye to eye” will do more to address a sleepy student than a stern reaction. In the end, you wish to “save” the student and not isolate him. Of course, the above does not mean there are no rules. However, punitive measures come to into play only after I have exhausted more positive approaches.
3. I don’t need to know everything: Early in my career, I had the notion that, as the instructor, I needed to know all the answers. In fact, it was better to make a good guess than to accept not knowing how to respond, otherwise, one loses the students’ respect. Now, I will gladly recognize not being sure of an adequate response. I will also inquire whether anyone in the room has had experience in this area and can thus “help us shed some light”, and I will always end any ensuing conversation with a promise to look the issue as my homework. Over the years, I have realized that the students appreciate this transparency, especially when you actually do follow up and come back with a well-researched answer. The positive reaction to “I believe I owed you an answer, so here it is…” is surprising.
4. Globalization means flexibility: With today’s mix of cultures in all successful MBA programs and schools, teaching has become quite different. In my first days of teaching, I did not have to worry so much about the very different cultural traits that affect a teaching environment. I now pay close attention to the country of origin of my students and mentally prepare to motivate and deal with them differently. For example, some cultures will agree with me, out of respect, no matter what I tell them. Thus, I need to work harder and with a less confrontational approach in order to ease them into a more fluid exchange of ideas. Globalization now demands much more flexibility of teaching style that I had early in my career.
5. The role of a relaxed environment: When I started teaching, my classroom was simply the location where my knowledge was transmitted and the quality of my teaching was a function of the material being taught. Today I feel that my classroom environment and my teaching effectiveness are dramatically interrelated. Investing in a relaxed classroom environment is incredibly important in helping students learn. If they feel they are in an environment that fosters debate and the exchange of ideas but does not punish making mistakes, they will be more willing to raise questions and challenge assertions. In turn, these conversations will almost always help clarify ideas. In the end, my success as a professor is how much my students remember and understand instead of how much material I teach.