THE TEACHING ECONOMIST - William A. McEachern                 

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Issue 1, Fall 1990

William A. McEachern, Editor

Introduction

At this moment you may be thinking, "So what's this? Should I toss it now or read on?" I estimate that I have about ten seconds to get your attention. Here's the story: This newsletter is aimed at making your teaching, particularly your teaching of economic principles, more effective and more enjoyable.

Some of us get a bit defensive when the subject of our teaching comes up -- the same way we might react if someone were to talk about our driving. Your first reaction might be, "I'm a pretty good teacher." But could you benefit from more teaching ideas? Or perhaps you are thinking, "Why should I worry about my teaching since quality teaching is not appreciated around here?" Even if the quality of your teaching is not appreciated (though certainly it's valued by your students), you should want to improve because teaching interested students if more fun and more rewarding. If you do not enjoy teaching as much as you once did, if your classes remind you at times of the movie "Dawn of the Dead," or if you simply believe you are not doing as good a job as you could, you might benefit from this newsletter.

As new faculty members, we learned early that professional standing is usually based more on research and publishing than on teaching. Yet teaching is what most academic economists do most of the time, even though most were poorly prepared to teach. Sure, many of us served apprenticeships as graduate assistants, but most of us received little actual advice, formal or informal; we had to fee our way. Since then many of us have gone on to accumulate years of teaching experience. This experience is valuable and should not be underestimated. As Emerson wrote, &The years teach much which the days never know." At the same time, the years take a toll. Bad habits often become hidebound. Moreover, after years of teaching, many instructors have difficulty approaching a topic with fresh eyes. Familiarity dulls one's perception. In the same manner, you may no longer "see" nor could even describe pictures that have been hanging on your walls for years.

Thus, regardless of experience, most of us as teachers are still underachievers. We could benefit from ideas that could make our teaching more enjoyable and more effective. To have good ideas about teaching, we need lots of ideas. This newsletter will provide a forum for teaching ideas. In this first issue I would like to share with you some teaching ideas that are the product of nearly 20 years in the classroom. For some of you, this newsletter will provide new insights; for others it may simply remind you of things you already know or once knew. As Will Rogers said, ""None of us is smart enough to remember all we know." If you would like to take issue with what I have to say, or if you have developed ideas that you believe make teaching more interesting and more fun, consider sharing your thoughts through this forum.

You might well ask, who am I to tell you about teaching? Since 1980 I have offered teaching workshops, first to graduate students in economics at the University of Connecticut and later to economics faculty at colleges and conferences around the country. I have also given more than the usual amount of thought to exposition as a result of authoring a principles textbook (Economics: A Contemporary Introduction, Second Edition, South-Western College Publishing, 1991). Some of the teaching philosophy discussed in this newsletter is also reflected in my text, though you need not be familiar with my text to benefit from this newsletter.

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