Back in the Classroom Again

A lot of things have happened since the spring of 2008—I’ve earned a master’s degree in economics and nearly completed a PhD in education policy, have spent thousands of hours staring at the black and then white backgrounds of Stata, and have been fortunate enough to work with many brilliant scholars and researchers on important policy issues. But I haven’t been in front of a classroom of students since May of 2008, when I completed a year of being a teaching assistant for principles of microeconomics classes. (In the meantime, I have continued to work with undergraduate and graduate students on a one-on-one or small group basis.)

This spring, I have the opportunity to be a teaching assistant for Sara Goldrick-Rab’s class on issues and debates in higher education policy. In this class, I will be giving at least one of the weekly lectures in addition to meeting with individual students while gaining just a small amount of familiarity with the departmental copy machine. This class also gives me the opportunity to think more about possible course preparations for my (hopefully) impending career as a faculty member and how I would advise undergraduate and graduate students with an interest in education.

My teaching philosophy is fairly straightforward, with a goal of helping students get the “so what” of the course material. For the majority of students who will not go on to careers in my fields of interest (higher education policy and challenges in conducting quantitative research in this area), the primary goal of my teaching should be to emphasize why it is important to understand the topics at hand rather than becoming experts in all of the literature and related terminology. Students can become experts in repeating the key points of the day’s readings (I’ve been guilty of that in the past as well), but this doesn’t help them in the long run.

Hopefully, I will be teaching a class or two of my own this fall as I set off on my own academic career. But as I start my twelfth and final semester of graduate school, the opportunity to get back in the teaching mindset among a group of stellar students is quite welcome.

Author: Robert

I am an a professor at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville who studies higher education finance, accountability policies and practices, and student financial aid. All opinions expressed here are my own.

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