An Autopsy of a Lesson That Went Wrong:

 AP Microeconomics

  Introduction

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 ahead. 

Preparation

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.

Dégringolade 

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.)

Conclusion

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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