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Teaching Philosophy

One of my favorite definitions of economics is that of Alfred Marshall, who in his book, Principles of Economics, defined it as “a study of mankind in the ordinary business of life.” This definition encompasses my view of economics, for not only it is the subject of my profession, but also it influences the way in which I interpret the world and the way I conduct my everyday life. We all are players in an economic society; whether or not we acknowledge it or consciously try to influence it, every decision and every action we take is of economic consequence.

My goal as an economics instructor is twofold: build a strong foundation for economic analysis and critical thinking that will allow my students to identify economics principles in everyday situations; and provide the tools that will help them make better economic choices. To achieve this, my teaching approach is based on four principles, each with specific goals in mind. The first is to keep my teachings relevant to the real world, as this motivates students and fosters their interest in the subject. The second is to engage students in active learning, which helps develop their critical thinking skills and problem solving abilities. All while, I create and maintain a positive atmosphere in order to promote participation and the exchange of ideas. Finally, I maintain a degree of flexibility in my teachings in order to accommodate students with diverse backgrounds and learning styles.

I like to engage students in activities that expose the relevance of economics in everyday life. For example, I encourage students to follow current events on the news such as Fed announcements and jobs, consumer, or GDP reports. Then, I invite my students to use the theory learned in class to discuss the implications of these events, and to consider how this information can be used to make decisions in their lives or in their workplace. I emphasize the connections between the class material and the current political discussion, such as the debate on minimum wages, international trade, public debt, immigration, taxes, and environmental policy. Other class activities make references to popular trends, culture, and topics covered in the mass media, for instance new products, mergers, fashion, changes in nutrition, or environmental awareness. By relating the material learned in class with real world phenomena, students become more invested in what they are learning, and more importantly, they leave the classroom feeling empowered because they now have a better understanding of the world around them.

Another goal of my practice is to encourage students to take ownership of their education using active learning techniques. A strategy I use to introduce or reinforce new concepts is to describe a familiar situation that includes some mystery or puzzle. For example, to introduce the topic of price discrimination, I describe the price schedule of a movie theater with discounts to matinee shows and for senior citizens. I instruct students to discuss these differences with their peers, by brainstorming or think-pair-share exercises, to formulate an explanation of the phenomenon. My purpose is to encourage students to think individually about the topics they are learning, share ideas with their classmates, and help them develop the critical skills to identify economic principles in everyday situations. Furthermore, it allows me to monitor their progress in real time and identify any material that requires further discussion.

Students’ behavior can provide great insight into the workings of various economics concepts, and some of this behavior can be simulated in the classroom. In my principles of microeconomics classes, I ran in-class experiments in which students were assigned specific roles in an economy. In one exercise, some students were suppliers facing different costs, while others were consumers facing different buyer values. This then would yield an equilibrium quantity and price consistent with what is predicted by economic theory. More complex experiments would incorporate taxes, price ceilings, minimum wages, entry costs, and so on. According to feedback from former students, witnessing first-hand economic forces at work fixed the concepts vividly in their minds, and they recall these memories to understand other aspects of economic life. My ideal course would incorporate this type of activity to give students insight on how things are determined in the real world, to demonstrate the effects of various policies, and to reinforce key principles in economic theory.

A positive atmosphere, in which respect, self-reflection, and academic excellence are valued and encouraged, facilitates a standard of critical thinking that enriches the learning experience of everyone involved. In the classroom and online forums, I strive to maintain an environment in which every student feels safe, appreciated, and encouraged to express her or his views and concerns. Moreover, a mistake is not considered a reflection of a student's abilities; rather, my approach is to encourage students with positive feedback and take advantage of the opportunity to guide them or to clarify misconceptions. This type of atmosphere increases the learning opportunities for everyone in at least two ways: it promotes critical engagement and participation, and exposes everyone to diverse ideas and interpretations.

In the spirit of inclusion, flexibility is incorporated in all aspects of my teaching. To accommodate diverse educational backgrounds and learning styles, key ideas are addressed using different strategies, examples, and degrees of challenge. Moreover, I provide various learning opportunities beyond those incorporated in the classroom, such as supplements in the forms of video, additional readings, and practice problem exercises. While these resources suffice for some, I also recognize that some students may need additional support. In this regard, I consider it my obligation to identify their challenges and to provide the assistance they require for achieving their goals.

Marshall’s broad definition of economics bestows a great responsibility on me as an economics instructor. It also gives me an opportunity to leave a lasting footprint in the lives of my students. I embrace both tasks joyfully and seriously. My teaching philosophy encompasses the idea that economics is part of the “ordinary business of life,” and my approach is designed to build the skills that will be useful in the everyday lives of my students. I look forward to continuing to improve my teaching through feedback from colleagues, students, and learning outcomes, as well as further instructional development training. Experience has shown me that students learn best when they feel included and are actively engaged. I am dedicated to exploring new approaches and technologies that foster student engagement and critical thinking, while accommodating the diverse needs of my students.

Reynaldo Vazquez

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