As as student, I never thought about life from the perspective of the teacher. I thought about how many assignments I had and how to manage deadlines. The only time I thought about things from the professor’s viewpoint was when I was trying to ascertain what content might be important from the professor’s perspective so I could study the right topics for the test.
Now I see the world through the eyes of a teacher. Each week I stand in front of 30-ish pairs of bright eyes and young faces, bringing topics forward for discussion. And at the end of the semester, as I create the final exam, I reflect on “what concepts were really important?” and “what did I emphasize during class”?
Of course, I remember what it was like to be a student: worried about a grade, concerned about being able to make all the deadlines, spending sleepless nights cramming for a test.
But as I reflect further, I also remember the feeling of being excited as one of my professors pulled back the curtain to expose how something worked – like the day I learned about slotting fees in grocery stores. I was shocked that there were deals made to influence which products would be seen at eye level.
I remember having my curiosity sparked by the introduction of a theory, or the telling of a real-life story. One of my professors escaped China with a $200 bill bought on the black market, not realizing until he arrived in the United States that it was a fake bill that doesn’t even exist in the U.S. But someone let him rent an apartment with it anyway. He used the story to frame a teaching around economic trade theory, I believe. It made me more aware of politics and cultural influences. And it made me more aware of the good and the bad in this world.
When I was a junior, I was given the opportunity by the University of Minnesota to take a semester off and work on Capitol Hill for the Chairman of the House Budget Committee, a Congressman from my home state of Minnesota. I saw economics and politics in action, and loved every minute. I became fanatically passionate about issues such as use of bovine growth hormones, and wrote papers about the architecture in Washington DC and how it was built for defense against the British.
When I returned to school, I finished my Econ coursework by writing an opinion about the European Union and whether they should adopt the Euro (I argued “no”), and developing a theory about how the United States welfare system should be overhauled (I suggested building a plan that enabled people who were working to continue to receive a subsidy if they were still under the poverty level, and to increase emphasis on skills training).
Why are these papers so clearly imprinted in my mind? Because the professors made me think. They engaged me. They inspired me. And because my experience with learning it made it stick.
Now I teach a marketing course at a great university. Sometimes I still feel like I should be that kid in the classroom with my eyes wide open (or sometimes half shut). But I show up in my ‘professor garb’ with a set of slides and real life examples and I hope that I am leaving the same legacy. I hope I make them think.
And to all of my students taking their final tonight – bonne chance. Never stop learning. And do good in the world.