PART 1: My Personal Experience at Koç University
I started teaching at Koç University in 1998 after getting my PhD in economics. Since then I have taught mostly core/required area courses in the undergraduate economics program. Most of my classes were large. I have limited experience teaching graduate level courses.
As far as my teaching performance was concerned, my first two years at Koç University were not very successful. I suspect that I have been called the worst / most hated instructor at that time. Of course people were very polite so I was never told to my face that I was the worst instructor. Surprisingly (for me) the first semester (Fall term) of my second year was even worse than my first year. I tried to be very strict in the classroom and it didn’t work out.
Then quite suddenly, in the Spring term of the second year, my teaching started to improve. I have no clear idea how this happened but in my fourth semester at that time I found myself suddenly not experiencing that uncomfortable feeling of having to go to yet another of my classes.
I remember that in the first lecture I said to my students: “This is microeconomics, it is no fun, it is boring and it is hard work, so lower your expectations.” I said this half- jokingly but it helped to break the ice. Most likely the poor students were expecting the worst, so anything slightly better was good enough for them.
Then for a number of years I have been a competent instructor. I will say that my lecturing was efficient: clear, easy to follow, with enough repetitions and examples to help the students to keep up with the pace, decent exams, fair treatment of students, etc.
About three years ago, in the Spring Term of 2012, I started teaching “Principles of Economics” (Econ 100) in the core program. At the end of that semester I was not very happy with how everything went by, but I have been told that the evaluation scores were quite high. I started to enjoy teaching Econ 100 the second time which would be the Spring Term of 2013.
In that semester I also started using power point slides more heavily in the lectures. I am now spending more time for preparing those slides than I probably should. I suspect that I may have even developed a mild addiction to MS Power Point.
Now, my son is finishing high school (he is in his last year), and I now see my students in a very different light. They are no different than my son. I believe this helped me tremendously to become a better teacher.
PART 2: Advice
In this section, I will try to formulate a few ideas that I believe are helpful in the classroom. When you are reading part 2, please keep in mind that in general teaching advice is not very useful. These are the things that I try to do in the classroom. (I cannot say that I am 100% successful.)
My philosophy of teaching is: “Do no harm.”
I will start with some clichés
- Create a positive learning environment
- Be well prepared for class
- Respect for your students
But how can one achieve these? This is what I do and I think it works to reasonably good effect.
- Arrive 5-10 minutes before class.
- Make an attempt to get to know your students. Learn their names. It is a friendly gesture. A sign of goodwill. It is good for one’s memory.
- Always (every lecture) do at least one in class exercise. Not quizzes. Ask them to cooperate, and work in twos or threes. Try to alternate between challenging exercises and easy ones. Throw in a few open ended questions with more than one possible approach. Remember that it is not possible to sit and listen to a person talking uninterruptedly for 75 minutes.
Here are a few more:
Don’t make your students feel like they are wasting your time. I want to be out of here as quickly as I can. If you think that, it will come across in your voice, mimics, gestures etc. so don’t think that. Think positive.
Never resort to sarcasm in the classroom. Say it directly and politely. “Please pay attention to the lecture. Please turn off your phone. Please stop talking.”
Don’t make your students look bad in front of their friends. This is the worst thing you can do. Don’t make anybody look stupid (intentionally). This is wrong. Don’t do it.
Believe that most students are decent, honest, hardworking individuals. We need to find a way to bring out the best in them. This is our job. We are paid to do this.
Always give your students the benefit of the doubt.
Give yourself the benefit of the doubt.
Be prepared to have good days and bad days in the classroom. If you are not getting good results in teaching in a particular way, try something else.
PART 3: Last Words
Teaching is hard work. You may not always feel that your efforts are appreciated. But don’t give up. The effort and good thoughts you put into your teaching will have a great positive impact on the lives of your students. Nothing gets lost, everything is transformed; or as the late Andy Rooney once remarked, “Most of us end up with no more than five or six people who remember us. Teachers have thousands of people who remember them for the rest of their lives.” Well if not thousands then a few hundred. That is not too bad.