An Autopsy of a Lesson That Went Wrong:
When I was
hired by Lincoln School in 1993 to teach IB Standard Level Economics, I was not
worried about that subject at all. I had just finished college courses in macro-
and international economics, and the IB level at which I would teach was solely
concerned with these. I had dreaded microeconomics in college, partly because
the professor despised me---I returned the favor---and partly because I simply
could not understand all those bizarre graphs that appeared everywhere in micro.
After a few years teaching the IB class I became utterly blasé about the whole
thing---a precarious situation for a teacher---and did not think much when two
years ago Lincoln decided to switch from IB to AP Economics.
One day the
principal took me aside and explained the rationale for the switch. I listened
politely until she explained that the AP Economics class would include the
entire microeconomic syllabus! I tried to lay out my feelings (and fears) to
her---I wanted another teacher to take the course---but to no avail. She said
that teaching micro would give me a stronger grounding in teaching every aspect
of economics. She was right, but at the time I had grave misgivings of what lay
I tried not to think too much about micro during the
vacation time in June and July. I was visiting my parents and wished that
nothing interfere with the time I was spending with them. As the time to return
to school approached my anxiety increased. I purchased some AP guidebooks and
hoped for the best. I got something else.
That Which Goes Before a Fall
Much of microeconomics covers part of macro. When I began
to review the syllabus a few days before classes started (yes, I procrastinated.
Are you really surprised?) I happily discovered this; which meant that for at
least one month I could lecture on things I knew: elasticity, price floors, and
their like. I grew confident. “Now, why did I fear micro so much?” I asked
myself. Typically, I prepared for a lesson an hour or so before I was to teach
it. I came to believe that I could continue to master---if that is the right
word---the subject with just a bit of study. And this proved true, until: Cost
Curves. Damn them.
Total Costs (TC), Average Total Costs (ATC), Marginal
Costs (MC), Average Variable Costs (AVC), and so on proved my undoing. One hour
before I was to lecture on them I reviewed the material. (I swear to this day
that the explanation was written in Swahili.) I was struck dumb. I understood
not a word. The bell rang. Class began. I was doomed.
I did the best I could, which was not at all acceptable.
The students discerned immediately that I simply did not know what I was talking
about. After some penetrating questions---which showed that they understood the
subject at hand far better than I did---an admittedly simple task---I confessed.
It was good for my soul.
I explained and kept nothing back; why make things worse
by covering up ignorance with a lie steeped in cowardice? They understood (bless
them!), but told me to get help from someone who knew about cost curves. I got
help. Another teacher came the next period and lectured. The students got
it---and I got it. (I still have it, amazingly so.)
Now, some months later, what I felt while standing in dumb ignorance before my students still stings. I hope it always stings so that I am always reminded to know what I am talking about before---long before---I go in front of the class!
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