The Fall Semester is Coming

We’re just a few weeks away from the Fall semester, and it’ll be my first time in front of a classroom of students in over 16 months! The past year has been fully remote, and I spent a lot of time perfecting my teaching style over Zoom. During the Fall and Spring semester, there were a total of 1,113 students who earned a grade in the classes I taught. I don’t really know how many students started my courses, but there weren’t that many students who dropped courses because of Penn State’s grading policy for the past year. This Fall, I’ll teach more students in person than I had over the past two semesters on Zoom. In total, I should have about 1,200 students enrolled in my courses.

This is one of my go-to facts about me that I know always shocks people. I’m not sure if I’m numb to it now or if I’m just oblivious to how many students that actually is. I took one class as an undergraduate in a room that had 286 seats, but the class was only half full and we had to sit in every other seat. I really don’t remember anything about it as a student. I was a freshman already overwhelmed by how many people were at Sam Houston. I don’t remember any of my upper-level courses having more than 60 students in them, and most of them were much smaller than that because Economics wasn’t a popular major.

Fast forward to graduate school and I taught my first class in the summer of 2012. Only 17 students were enrolled in that class, but it was the first time I taught so I was terrified. Little did I know that I would be teaching 200 students the very next Fall in a principles course. For what it’s worth, and in hindsight it makes sense, I absolutely loved it. I’m a fairly introverted person and prefer to not be in large crowds, but teaching in front of large audiences doesn’t usually freak me out. I’m generally always anxious, but I eventually settle down. Coming to Penn State, I taught my upper-level course with 150-200 students each semester, and eventually, I was assigned to teach principles that have between 300 and 350 students. Two years ago I was assigned to teach in the largest classroom Penn State offers: 100 Thomas.

I won’t act like I wasn’t terrified of teaching in this classroom because I absolutely was. Most of the students who take the course are freshmen, and this room holds more students than some people’s entire high school. Everything has to be BIGGER in this room to make up for the cavernous feeling. Eventually, I got used to it and fell in love with teaching in that room. I think a portion of why I loved it was because my first semester in this room included a bonding moment with my students.

On the very first day teaching in this room, the fire alarm went off in the middle of class. It turned out to just be a test of the fire alarms, but there was no sign on the building’s door alerting us to that. We ignored the first alarm since it was short, but the second one was much longer. I had the entire class exit and wait outside, but thankfully they almost all came back in after it was over. It was something we joked about all semester long and it definitely made me forget about how many eyeballs were staring at me throughout the semester. We ended up having a lot of fun in that class:

Over the past 7 years, I have done a lot to improve my teaching and I honestly don’t know if I’ll ever stop trying to get better. Whether it’s reading books on teaching (these are a few of my favorites) or attending teaching conferences, I always feel like there is something I can do to get better. It’s part of the reason why I wrote a book on economics and why I joined the editorial board of the International Review of Economics Education. I saw both of these as opportunities to share what I was doing in the classroom, but also to learn about what I could do better. Getting involved with the Journal of Economics Teaching exposed me to all the great things educators are doing around the world. There are so many resources out there for teachers, but I think we need to do a better job amplifying them.

As usual, I’m excited for what the Fall semester has in store for me, but also for what the future holds. If you’re an educator, please share your favorite resources (books/websites/journals/articles) that you go to for inspiration. If you’re a student (aren’t we all students in some way?), I’d love to hear about your favorite teacher, regardless of whether its from grade school or college! Leave a comment and share your happy memories!

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  • I have issued grades to 6,988 students since I started teaching in 2012.

  • The average grade of all students who have taken my class is 79.32%.

  • I have taught 48 sections of courses since 2012.

Week 30 is over, but if you’re reading this then that means I haven’t gotten online during my vacation. I wrote this article before I left and I didn’t know whether I would be getting online or not. Honestly, there’s a very good chance that I have internet access, but I’m choosing to not get online. Rest assured I am reading because I brought along a handful of ebooks. I’ll have a big update for you next week.

If you’re looking for a book related to this week’s topic, one of the first books that I read about teaching was Why Don't Students Like School?. It was recommended by Bill Goffe during my interview at Penn State and it really got me thinking about how to deliver a lecture that (a) increased learning and (b) students didn’t hate. So far, I think it’s paid off!