There is no universal rule on how to be a great teacher, academic mentor, and ambassador for an academic field. However, I have had the honor of learning from many individuals who embody a common set of core characteristics that I admire, and have attempted to emulate in my own teaching career. I believe that teachers should be honest with themselves about the purpose of their class, adaptable when changes must be made, and passionate about the spread of knowledge long after leaving the classroom.
Honesty of purpose comes in many forms. Throughout my teaching experiences, I have tried to be honest with myself about the goals of my courses, the purpose of my exams, and the overall strengths and limitations of my academic field. This past summer, I was the instructor for Intermediate Microeconomics. Prior to designing and teaching the class, I clearly laid out a set of goals. I wanted to teach a fair, but incredibly challenging class that conveyed both the necessary material and a deeper understanding of problem solving. In this class, I assigned several nearly unsolvable problems to teach the lesson that sometimes in academia each of us fails. I designed an intentionally vague assignment so students had to think critically about both the answers and the questions. In addition, I received feedback about the strengths and weaknesses of my class which I plan to incorporate in the future.
Upholding honesty of purpose is particularly important when adapting to feedback. Two summers ago, I taught math logic to gifted and talented high school students at Curry’s Summer Enrichment Program (SEP). SEP provided feedback on different aspects of my class, as well as in-class observation by a fellow graduate student who specialized in math education. I decided to incorporate aspects of their advice while declining recommendations that did not mesh with my intended purpose for the course. Due to SEP’s three consecutive sessions, I had the opportunity to experiment with different methods and vastly improved my results with each successive revision of the class.
Part of what drives me to adapt and grow as a teacher is my passion for learning and critical thinking. I believe that teaching lessons and concepts in an academic field should be more than just an occupation. I have done my best to embody this idea when interacting with peers, friends, family, and even strangers. I have discussed moral hazard with a random engineer who sat next to me on a flight. My closest friends often chuckle when I use “my professor voice” to explain economic concepts related to the topic currently being discussed. Moreover, I have actively participated in the discussion and development of my colleague’s research both informally and at the various research meetings I attend.
Since a good instructor never stops learning, I have actively looked to expand my teaching skills. This search has materialized in my work at SEP and in my active pursuit of teaching responsibilities. My objective is to leave the University of Virginia equipped with an invaluable set of skills to best realize my potential as an instructor and academic advocate.