Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Conversation with Dennis Beresford


Joe: I am delighted today to be talking with Dennis Beresford, one of the most influential accountants in the history of the profession. Just as importantly from the perspective of this blog, he has also spent quite a number of years as a teacher.

Denny, I recently read one student review of your class that said: "Excellent in stimulating student's interest in accounting matters. Very intelligent and dynamic. Good class to take for improving research, critical thinking, and communication skills."

You have certainly had a wonderfully wide and varied career. Can you furnish us with a short biography of some of your many accomplishments over the years?

Denny:   The short biography is 26 years in public accounting with what is now Ernst & Young, 10 ½ years as Chairman of the FASB, and 16 years as E&Y Executive Professor of Accounting at the University of Georgia.

I began as a staff auditor in the Los Angeles office of E&Y and worked there for about 10 years. I then spent the next 16 years in the National Accounting & Auditing Department, coming to focus mainly on financial accounting matters. During that time I served on the AICPA’s Accounting Standards Executive Committee for 6 years, including 3 as Chairman, on the Financial Accounting Standards Advisory Council (advisers to FASB) for 4 years, on the International Accounting Standards Committee for 2 years, and was one of the original members of the FASB Emerging Issues Task Force.

During my time at the FASB we dealt with any number of challenging issues, but the most controversial was accounting for stock options. In that case, Congress proposed legislation that would have effectively put the FASB out of business. We decided to make a strategic retreat and issued a final standard that required new disclosures and not new accounting. But the Board did not back down on many other demanding issues such as post-employment benefits, income taxes, and marketable securities. Perhaps the greatest achievement during my time at the Board was the beginning of the FASB’s international activities, which have now resulted in many of the most important topics being developed as “convergence” projects with the IASB.

Beyond my academic career, I have enjoyed the opportunity to serve at the same time on a number of major corporate boards. Most notably, I became a director of WorldCom and its audit committee chairman in time to help lead the special investigation of what was the world’s largest financial reporting fraud and subsequent restatement. At the same time the company was going through the world’s largest corporate bankruptcy reorganization. Shortly after that was finished and WorldCom was sold, I joined the board and became audit committee chairman of Fannie Mae, which had its own major financial reporting fiasco. I oversaw the restatement of that company’s financials over the next year and a half and was asked by the federal government to stay as a director when the company was put into conservatorship as a result of the Great Recession. These corporate governance experiences were among the most interesting, challenging, and rewarding of my entire career.

Joe:   You have certainly worked with some well-known organizations as they have gone through critical times.   As we all know, college education is under attack at present for many reasons including a perceived failure to develop critical thinking skills and, of course, the escalating cost and mounting student debt load.   You have been at the University of Georgia for nearly two decades so you have seen much of college education from the inside—up close and personal.

This is certainly not the same type of situation as WorldCom or Fannie Mae.   But it is a legitimate crisis.  I am extremely curious.   If you were hired as a consultant to advise the hierarchy of college education, what would be the first one or two pieces of advice that you would give?

Denny:  Keep in mind that my role at WorldCom and Fannie Mae was primarily to help with the accounting. So that doesn’t necessarily make me a “big picture” expert. With that stipulation, what I’d primarily suggest is devoting more resources to actual education – student instruction – and less to research and administration. In at least the major research universities such as where I’ve been for sixteen years, tenured and tenure track faculty often teach four or fewer classes a year. Similar to business practice, there should be more of a cost/benefit test applied to the research for which those faculty members are freed up – is it really worthwhile? If not, those resources should be redirected to the classroom. Further, administration headcount seems to be growing at a faster rate than faculty at many schools and in the business world this relationship between “direct and indirect labor” would probably be challenged more quickly.

Probably the second piece of advice would be for colleges and universities to engage even more directly with the business community. After all, a college is a business, albeit a not-for-profit one. Thus, ideas and assistance can be gained from many in the business community and grads, local companies, and many others are almost always willing to help. Unfortunately, there is still a very cynical attitude toward business on many campuses and many professors and even students are wary about corporate motives. The reality, of course, is that businesses do much to help already, but engaging further could help break down some of these communication barriers and lead to an even more productive partnership.

Joe: What courses did you teach during your time at the University of Georgia? Most teachers that I have met have days in class that seem to go just perfectly. There are never enough of those days but there are some. However, those days help us understand what the class environment is supposed to look and feel like. Can you describe what a perfect classroom day felt like when you were teaching? I am interested in getting a vision of your style of teaching.

Denny:   I was fortunate to be able to limit my teaching to two classes: the financial accounting class for MBA students and “Accounting Policy & Research” for MAcc students. I taught the former for full-time, on-line, and executive MBA classes and for the latter two categories I developed the materials the first time the classes were taught at Georgia. I tried to fill those basic accounting classes with lots of practical experiences from the business world so that students could see how accounting is used to make decisions that will determine the success or failure of an enterprise.

While I enjoyed those MBA classes, I felt the MAcc classes were where I could really contribute more. The objective of the Policy class was to have the students develop an understanding of how the specific rules on leases, etc. that they learned in undergrad classes were applied in real world situations. For example, the students had to research and prepare case reports on such matters as the accounting for LeBron James’ first shoe endorsement contract with Nike. But the most important part of the class was the nearly daily assigned readings and directed discussions on many of the accounting theory issues that had challenged the FASB, SEC and others over the years and were continuing to do so.

I would begin by introducing one of the discussion questions I had developed based on the assigned readings and ask for a volunteer to give his/her opinion. To be clear, students understood this part of the class was designed to help develop their critical thinking skills and to make them less nervous about offering an opinion on a technical matter. And they knew that participation was an important part of their grade! On a perfect day, a high percentage of the class would eagerly volunteer and I would only have to call on a few students to ensure near 100% participation. Some of them would get frustrated because they’d say, “But we just want to know what you think!” I’d add a bit of my wisdom along the way but I always felt that my main responsibility was to have the students do their own thinking.

Joe:   It sounds like you and I teach in much the same manner.   Students always like for us to give them answers but I’d prefer for them to figure the answers out for themselves.  

Okay, I have one final question.   Earlier in this conversation, you mentioned that you felt that the greatest achievement during your time at the Board “was the beginning of the FASB’s international activities, which have now resulted in many of the most important topics being developed as ‘convergence’ projects with the IASB.”

Over the last few years, opinions as to the long-term viability of both international accounting standards and US GAAP have moved up and down on almost a daily basis.   What do you think will eventually happen in regard to the differences that continue to exist between IFRS and US GAAP?

Denny:   The FASB and IASB are wrapping up work on four major convergence projects and on only one of them – revenue recognition – have they been able to reach similar conclusions. For financial instruments, insurance and probably even leases it appears U.S. GAAP and IFRS will continue to diverge. But these joint efforts over the past twenty years or so have substantially increased the quality of accounting standards around the world due in large part to the FASB’s willingness to take a bit of a “servant leadership” role during this period. In other words, while there has continually been insistence on the highest possible financial reporting standards, there’s also been recognition that all good ideas aren’t necessarily invented in America.

The end game has always been whether the SEC would eventually accept the IASB as the standard setter for GAAP as it applies to all U.S. public companies. While the Commission did make an important concession several years ago to permit foreign companies to follow IFRS in their SEC registrations, I’ve always felt that for legal reasons the SEC would be unwilling to cede accounting standard setting authority to a foreign entity over which it had no direct control. The SEC has continued to hold out some hope that it could still recognize the IASB if a number of specific conditions were met, but I think the chances of that happening are between slim and none.

So, to respond more directly to your question, I see the current situation as pretty much the environment in which accounting standards will remain for the foreseeable future. The FASB will continue to participate in the IASB’s Accounting Standards Advisory Forum, which will allow the two Boards to communicate on projects for which they have joint interest. And I am sure they will share research findings and look to each other’s conclusions when working on similar projects. But from this point on I don’t think that either body will put eliminating differences with the other at the top of its priorities.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Is This Really Part of an Accounting Education -- Well, I Certainly Think So

I am a big believer that one of the problems with an accounting education is that it is made up of way too much accounting. If our sole job as college educators is to get our students ready for the first five years after graduation, then the amount of accounting we cover is probably about right. However, an awful lot of accounting graduates leave the accounting profession within the first few years after finishing college. At what point do all those accounting courses become a waste of time if a person is not still doing accounting within a few years? But, I could argue exactly the same thing about the study of History, English, Philosophy, or the like.

My belief has long been (well, for 43 years now) that a college education has to help each person have a well-lived and fulfilled life. If a college education is not still having a positive impact on a person decades and decades after graduation, I wonder whether it wasn’t a failure. I believe that we too often abdicate any education outside of the major (accounting, history, whatever) to general education requirements which are often rushed through during the freshman year.

I prefer to insert some life-long learning into every course. I try to do that in many ways. One method I have used for decades to try to take my students beyond just the knowledge of FASB rules is to give them extra points on my Intermediate Accounting II final exam for visiting specific locations in the Richmond area. Students often live in our city for four years without fully appreciating the many wonderful attributes that it has to offer. Yes, I can teach them all the accounting in the world (capital leases, for example) but shouldn’t an accounting course open their eyes to more than that if I want to impact their lives for a longer period of time.

Is that possibly one of the reasons that college education is under such heavy attack these days?

Maybe, we do such a good job of teaching our major courses that we miss teaching them about the world beyond the major. In truth, teaching accounting is probably easier than helping young students learn how to live a fulfilled and thoughtful life.

I was reminded of this yesterday when I received the following email from one of my current students who had to spend his Spring Break on campus as a member of a sports team. He will get a few points on a final exam but I would argue that he got a whole lot more than that from his experience—a benefit that will stay with him far beyond a few years. I would love to be able to share with you some of the many photos that he sent to me about his day learning about Richmond.

Here is his email:

“I am here on campus during break because of sports, and we had today off so I decided to go out and venture to some of the places you had mentioned to us. I decided to make this a full day event, and since no one is here, and my teammates were all sleeping in I went by myself. I had fun with it though! I took some pictures, and in a sort of Ellen Degeneres Oscar moment I took 'selfies' at each of my stops. I hope you get a kick out of it! I honestly didn't think I was going to have this much fun! I tried to attach my photos in order, and I hope they all go through.

“First stop: Pony Pasture Rapids (overlooking the James River) - Climbed out on the rocks as far as I could, current was extremely fast, but made for a peaceful scene.

“Second Stop: Virginia Historical Society - Unfortunately their main exhibit halls were closed for renovations, but I still wandered around the lobby, and even got up to the Library area.

“Third Stop: Virginia Museum of Fine Arts - As you will probably see from the photos I had some fun at this place. Lots of cool things. Best thing I saw was a replica of the Worsham-Rockefeller Bedroom.

“Fourth Stop: Maymont Park - By far the best stop on my tour. The fountains weren't on, bummer, but still cool. The bear was great to see, and I even saw some bison!

“Fifth Stop: Dinner at Chick-Fil-A - Okay not on your recommended list, but I absolutely love this place, and Monday nights are college nights where students get a free sandwich.

“Sixth Stop: Westhampton Theatre – to watch the movie: Dallas Buyers Club -Keeping along with the Oscar theme, I went to see this Oscar-nominated film, and it didn't disappoint. But here is the best part, I was the only one in the theatre, and my admission was free! The ticket machine was broken, so it was my lucky day. Maybe they need to look into leasing a new machine? (operating or capital hmmmm??)

“Final Stop: Bev's Homemade Ice Cream Shop - Another one that was not on the list, but this is a suggestion for you to try. Whenever my parents are in town we go to this ice cream place in Carytown, and it never lets us down! I went with M&M's and sprinkles.

“Well that’s all I have, sorry for the long email, but it was quite the day! Hopefully this is something unique that a student had not previously done, if not, oh well, it was a blast, thanks for all the great places!”

Sunday, February 23, 2014

THE DECISIVE MOMENT

 

Professional photographers sometimes talk about the “decisive moment.”   It is that one essential point in time when the photo needs to be taken to capture the true essence of the events that are taking place and the people that are involved.   

I strongly believe that there are decisive moments in teaching and learning.   If you make the most of those decisive moments, the students can learn much and learn deeply.   If you miss those moments, learning becomes more of a superficial affair.

One such moment is immediately after the first test of the semester.   It is still early.   There is still plenty of time to make great things happen.   However, the students are all unsure as to whether they are doing enough to satisfy the teacher’s expectations. 

If the first test is complex without being unfair, the teacher will have caught the students’ attention.   “This is the kind of learning that I want from you.”   Making that clear is so very important.   Make sure the students know what you are looking for from them.

Students, though, are often confused.   They have had dozens of teachers over the years who taught in a variety of ways and with a wide range of expectations.   They will not necessarily respond to the first test as you want.   Some, for example, might be overwhelmed and have the tendency to simply give up.   Others may cast around aimlessly trying to figure out what they should be doing differently.   They need GUIDANCE.   That is where a teacher can create miracles.   Provide that guidance.

In my Financial Accounting class, I gave my first test last week.   Roughly half the students made an A or B with the rest making lower grades.   Obviously, it was the lower half that I wanted to address.   I didn’t want to lose them or discourage them.   I just wanted to guide them so they could do better.

I wrote them the following email.

 

To: Accounting 201 Students

From: JH

You will get your first test back today. As is always the case, some people will be happy/thrilled/excited. Some people will be less than happy.

If you are unhappy, the question you should ask of yourself is “what should I do differently?”

I’m not sure what happens to smart students in high school but they often arrive in my class believing there are short cuts to learning, tricks that enable good grades to be made with less effort. Nah, I think that is a fairy story.

Here are some things that you might consider. I know these will not all apply to everyone but a few of these might apply to you.

1 – Procrastination is the biggest enemy you have. Students (humans) put off work until the last possible moment and then hurry through the work in a rushed manner. Then, the work is not high quality. Don’t procrastinate on your class preparation. Do it as early as possible and take the time to do it right. This would be my number one recommendation (and probably my number two and three recommendation also). I occasionally walk around the room before class and notice your notes. It is surprising how often a student will have a list of our questions sitting there followed by one or two words. To myself I think, this is a student who is preparing like he really wants to make a D. Jotting down a couple of words is not preparation. Make a conscious decision to become the best prepared student in class.

2 – Read the book. Few students actually read the book. They might skim the book looking for answers to a question but they never sit down and read the book so they miss the entire thought process. Each chapter will take 60-90 minutes. The chapters are written to open the world of business to you. You should find a comfortable chair each week and actually have the self-discipline to read the chapter. You are not looking for random answers. You are looking to understand the material. That comes from actual reading and not just random skimming.

3 – Watch the opening video for the chapter and the closing video. I made those to point you toward what is really important. That will save you time and help you focus on the big stuff.

4 – I send out problems on a regular basis and put answers on my door (and occasionally make a video). You should work those immediately and, if you don’t understand the answer, come see me as soon as possible. Missing a question and then not seeking a better understanding is the kiss of death at test time.

5 – One of my top junior students comes to my office three times each week with a list of questions. Those questions come from class, from the reading, from the homework. She never leaves the office until she is comfortable that she understands. She is a tenacious student which is my favorite kind. Is it a coincidence that she is also one of the top students? Of course not. She should be your role model.

6 – I have suggested that you study together, especially in the 30 minutes or so before class. I occasionally watch those dynamics. Often, it is one student talking and the other 8 students writing down what that student says. That is not studying together. That is a waste of time (except for the one student talking). Studying is when everyone exchanges ideas and thoughts. Be very careful. It is easy to think “I sat with those other students for 30 minutes studying.” Were you really studying or just taking notes of what someone else said?

7 – I am a big believer that life is simply a game of trial and error. You’ve had a test. A pretty good percentage of the class did quite well. If you did not do so well, what did they do that you did not? You are not a robot. You can change. Make adjustments. You have plenty of time to make an A in this course but you have to learn from this first test.

Just a final note. Reading this list and doing these things are two different things. Pick a few and do them.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

A LITTLE BIT OF TECHNOLOGY

As I sit here working on this blog entry, the view out my window looks like a scene from the movie Doctor Zhivago. Hope it is warm and sunny wherever you are today.
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I gave my first introductory accounting exam yesterday (before the snow storm). Send me an email at jhoyle@richmond.edu if you would like a copy. I am not a fan of test banks but I do think professors should exchange their tests just to get ideas for what might work. One of my favorite blog entries is from January 31, 2010: “How You Test Is How They Will Learn.”
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Anyone who has read this blog for long already knows that I am not a fanatical user of modern technology. I have never once used Power Point in a class. Never. I do not allow computers to be open during class (too much temptation to play games or text message). I am more interested in what students can do with their minds than I am in what they can do with a computer.

However, I do make extensive use of email. I am sure that some of my students would say that I am an obsessive user of email. I believe in a lot of honest and open communication between teachers and students. I must average over one email per day for the entire semester. There are just a lot of things that I think students need to be thinking about outside of class.

As I have discussed before in this blog, I also produce audio files for my financial accounting course to help those students who are more audio learners. They are able to listen to a series of questions and answers that guide them through the material in each chapter.

Plus, my Financial Accounting textbook (written with C. J. Skender of UNC) has 68 videos that I made that approach the material from various directions.

So, I do use some technology despite my claims to avoid technology. I like to think that I pick and choose what I use based on what I am trying to accomplish. I have long admired the work of the Kahn Academy and their scratchy homemade looking presentations that students can study outside (and sometimes inside) of class.

Last week, one of our technology gurus here at the University of Richmond told me about a new app for my iPad called “Explain Everything” that cost $2.99. I downloaded it and he gave me a 15 to 20 minute lesson. Even with my limited knowledge of technology, I picked up the basics relatively quickly. One thing for sure: the more you practice with this app, the better you get at the process.

I am not yet exactly sure how I am going to use “Explain Everything” but I am certainly going to try to use it. I can see real benefits. For my first efforts, I used it after a couple of classes to help my students better understand what we had covered in class. Students often leave class with a loose, vague understanding of the material. They need some efficient way to help them solidify that knowledge in their heads. To me, how that time after class is used is often the difference in real understanding and disorganized knowledge. I think this type of presentation can help.

In the future, I am also going to use it occasionally before class to help students be better prepared. I wonder, for example, if a class will go better if I provide a 5 minute “preview of our upcoming class” the day before. Maybe yes, maybe no. But I’d like to see.

I honestly do not know how this app will work but I want to practice and see. So far I have invested $2.99 and 15 minutes of time on one lesson.

Here are two presentations that I made for my students right before our first test. I picked out end of chapter material from the textbook that we had not discussed in class and simply walked them through the answers. I am trying to take out some of the mystery.

I apologize for the primitive look of some of this but I am learning through practice and still have a long way to go. “Explain Everything” seems to have an infinite number of tools that you can play with.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=poZlpgGjzRE

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QgE6_hxIWWY

And, here is an entirely different type of presentation that I did just to learn more about the available tools.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Su_A1HpZooo

Try it. I think you might well find it quite helpful.

  

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

TAKE A RISK--BE INNOVATIVE


Education is highly criticized these days for (a) costing too much and (b) achieving too little.   And, if we are perfectly honest, those criticisms are not just idle chatter.   I have long argued that much of college education is not radically different than what I experienced when I started as a college freshman 47 1/2 years ago.   (Okay, we do have PowerPoint now and teachers did not have that back in 1966, but I am not sure if that is progress or regression.)   The world has changed radically over those decades but a lot of education has barely flinched.

I believe that there is not enough innovation in education.   Think of the sheer number of teachers working in the United States.   Why are there not more innovative ideas flowing from those minds?    If each teacher came up with one innovative idea, the world of education would be radically transformed almost immediately.   We would be flooded with serious improvements.

We live in a risk-averse time.   People are so fearful of failure that they are afraid to take any chances.   They try to live in a cocoon.   Yeah, failure is tough but you can never accomplish anything if you let fear push you around.   (Perhaps, we should all start bragging about our failures just to show we are not so timid.)

Last week, a friend of mine sent me a quote that he thought I would like.   It comes from Peter Drucker, one of the most famous business writers and consultants to ever live.  

The quote said:    “People who don't take risks generally make about two big mistakes a year. People who do take risks generally make about two big mistakes a year.”

We need to stop being so risk averse.  It does not improve things.   It is not good for us.   It is not good for the world of education.   We hide our ideas under a barrel and the world is not improved.   Innovation is the cure for risk aversion.

I believe that the real problem today is that our organizations (schools, departments, businesses, and the like) do not encourage innovation.   Organizations fear innovation that does not come from “the chosen few.”    Therefore, organizations neither reward nor encourage innovation.   They do not create a path by which innovative ideas can be put forth.   You likely work at a school or in a school system.   If you suddenly had a great idea to radically improve education, is your organization open to the idea?  Would the administration encourage you and help you make it happen?   Well, if so, you are probably luckier than most.  

Most administrators claim to want innovation until someone suggests making a change.  

Organizations have a wealth of talent in their people.   The real question is how to jump start that talent pool to produce new and creative ideas and reach its potential.   Schools will never get better without a system to encourage and reward innovation.

As I have mentioned, I have a new book on Amazon (Don’t Just Dream About Success:   Stack the Odds in Your Favor).   I have one entire chapter on the idea of becoming more innovative.    I end that chapter with the following suggestion.   Okay, it is directed toward an individual and not to an organization but you get the idea.   Innovation does not happen by accident.   Each organization must truly go out of its way to make sure that every person within its ranks is encouraged to think about improvements.
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“I have long argued that the world’s economy would improve dramatically if a single action were taken.  All organizations should be required to create an annual employee award (with a significant cash prize) to be titled ‘The Weirdest Idea of the Past Year that Worked the Best.’  Every worker immediately has a good reason to look for innovative ways to create practical benefits.  Currently, too many employees lack the motivation to think differently.  Incentives do matter.  Scores of fantastic ideas undoubtedly remain locked inside heads at every organization and never emerge to make operations more effective.  Innovation is needed from everyone, not just a few.  A monetary prize should stimulate different thinking on a wide scale.  Ideas will pour in from every corner of each company.  The best are implemented and become eligible for the next award ceremony.

“Of course, organizations cannot be forced to provide prizes for creative thinking.   But, you can use this same logic to help develop a mind that is more inclined toward innovation.

“The first part of this closing assignment is to study the past year—at work, at school, at home, wherever you have been.  Consider all the ideas you produced during those 12 months.  Take the time to write them down.  Pick the one that best meets both of the above criteria.  It has to be weird or unusual.  It must have actually worked well.  This award is not for theoretical accomplishments.  Reflecting on the results of the past helps you evaluate your current level of innovative thinking.  Are you in a rut or has your brain been pumping out one great suggestion after another?  Thinking (like success) is habit-forming.  I used to tell my children:  the more ideas you have, the more ideas you will have.  

“Next, create a computer file titled ‘Weird Ideas to Increase Productivity.’  Over the next 12 months, whenever you have a unique thought, type it into this file.  Also describe what eventually happens to the idea.  Was it implemented and, if so, what was the outcome?  Monitor your thinking.  Push for results.

“During this period, encourage the incubation of new ideas by studying the ordinary aspects of everyday life.  Reconsider accepted assumptions.  Where can changes be made?  Where can you envision improvements?  Can you stack the cannonballs in a different pattern; and, if so, what possible avenues does that open?  Remember that insightful questions provide the energy to power innovation.  

“At the end of the year, look back at the ‘Weird Ideas’ file and judge whether the depth of your thinking is improving.  Becoming more aware of the innovation process helps stimulate you to think differently as a normal part of life.  That is the goal!  Creative thinking should not be a special event that happens on occasion, but one that occurs every day on a continuous basis.”

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Opening Speech -- Tell Them What You Want Them to Know

 

After a sabbatical semester, I am back in the classroom.   It is interesting to be away for 8 months and then walk in to face young faces again.   In the first week, I try to do as I always do:   Set the tone that I want for the entire semester.   I see no reason to wait to say “this is how I want the semester to go.”  

During the first class, in different words on several different occasions, I explained exactly how I wanted the class to operate.   I always believe that it goes better if you are very open with the students and clear on your goals and expectations.  I think, for the most part, students rise to a challenge if they are convinced that the benefit is real.

“During this semester, I will devise weird situations each day and then I will guide you as you figure out proper responses.   We’ll make lots of mistakes along the way but if we work hard we’ll eventually get to good, firm, logical conclusions.   I am never going to ask you to memorize anything.   If I do, someone should raise a hand and demand a refund.   In the real world, after you graduate, no one is ever going to ask you to memorize something and then give you a test on it.   That’s never going to happen.   I am not sure what a school is preparing you for when it asks you to do that.   But, if you are going to be successful, people will start showing you weird situations that they cannot solve and get your help in arriving at a reasonable resolution.   That is a skill worth having.   That is a skill you can develop.   My role here is not to teach you anything.   My role is to help guide you to figure this stuff out.   My three favorite words are:   ‘figure it out.’   There is logic to this subject.  It is not random.   Nothing is accidental.   But you have to learn how to see that logic.   Once you see and understand that logic, you can start making use of it.   Often, it is like an elephant hidden in a picture, you won’t see it until it is pointed out.   After that, you will never understand how you ever missed it.   By the end of the semester, I want you to see every hidden elephant without any prompting.   The process takes some patience.   That process requires you to look beyond the superficial.   But everything worth having requires patience.   More importantly, it takes time and effort.   If you put in the time and effort, what you get from this class will be well worth having.   I guarantee that.   You have to walk in to class each day prepared.   No one wins a football game without preparation.    No one wins an election without preparation.   No one learns anything serious in class without preparation.   In my classes, I like to ask questions.   I think that is the essence of developing critical thinking skills.   Every question is slightly different.   Every question pokes at a different part of your thinking.   Every question asks ‘how is this different than that?’   Your preparation is to think through those questions.   Your preparation is to look for logical conclusions.   Not in some superficial way just so I will not fuss at you.   No, you have to think through the questions like you are tearing them apart so that you can put them back together with the answer sticking out.  At the end of the semester, I have one goal.   I want you to walk out of this room on the final day and say ‘I never thought I could work so hard; I never thought I could learn so much; I never thought I could think so deeply; and it was fun.’   When I hear that, I’ll know we’ve accomplished something worthwhile.”  

Okay, I don’t know if we will accomplish all of that this semester but I am 100 percent sure that we would never accomplish much of it if the proper tone did not get set on the very first day.
 
 

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

TEACHING IN JUST TWO WORDS


 
I am delighted to report that last week this blog went over 100,000 page views since its inception.   That is certainly a dream come true for me.   Many thanks to everyone who has been kind enough over the years to mention this blog to all of the teachers around you.   As a new year begins, please continue to let people in the education profession know that I try to post my thoughts on teaching 2 or 3 times each month.   Thanks!!!

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About 10 days ago, I released my new book on Amazon:   Don’t Just Dream about Success:   Stack the Odds in Your Favor.   As the title clearly implies, I believe that everyone can become more successful more of the time by following certain tactics.   Proceeds from the sale of this book go to finance CPA review for FREE, the website (www.CPAreviewforFREE.com) where candidates can prepare to pass the CPA exam without having to spend a fortune.   I simply do not believe entrance into the accounting profession should be limited to people who can afford to spend $2,000-$3,000 for preparatory materials.   I am not trying to be a rebel or a missionary but I do not think barriers should be set up that basically keep out people who are poor.   For five years, we have been getting 500,000 hits per year on that site.   We need help in financing this project so I wrote this book for that purpose.

You can locate both the Kindle and paperback version of Don’t Just Dream about Success:   Stack the Odds in Your Favor by going to www.Amazon.com and doing a search for “Hoyle Success.”   The book is available for under $9.00.

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One quote that I discuss in my new Success book comes from the legendary football coach Vince Lombardi.   In that particular chapter of the Success book, I write about failures that arise because of our tendency to make things in life too complicated.   That is an attitude that can prevent us from achieving our most important goals.   Keeping things as simple as possible is usually the best strategy.  

Coach Lombardi said:  “Some people try to find things in this game that don't exist but football is only two things—blocking and tackling.”

So, in today's blog entry, as we are all looking forward to a brand new year, I want you to think about success in teaching (or whatever else you seek to accomplish during 2014) and try to narrow that success down to just two words.   Just two.  For once, let’s keep things truly simple.   Becoming a great teacher should be a simpler task for you.   As a new year starts, I think focusing the whole process of teaching on just two words might help us all get more comfortable with what it really takes to succeed. 

What would your answer be if I asked you to describe “Becoming a Better Teacher” in just two words?

I have spent a lot of time thinking about this question and quickly came up with dozens of possibilities.   Here are just three of the words that I considered at first.  They are all extremely important but I didn’t think they were the MOST important.

--Caring.   It is easy for teachers to get annoyed with students.   Students tend to be lazy and forgetful and seem to set terrible priorities.   Hang around the faculty lounge and you will hear so much fussing about students that you wonder why anyone teaches.   But, if you are going to teach well, you have to be able to look out at those faces and care about those people.   They cannot just be random and anonymous.   These are human beings who will be better off in life if you can help them learn and think.   You can make a difference in their futures.   Superficially, everyone seems lazy and dull.   But, get to know them and they are, for the most part, wonderful people.   If you are not happy with your teaching, one place to start is to ask yourself a tough question:   Do I really care enough for these students so that it makes a difference to me whether they learn or not.

--Time.   Every job, everywhere goes better with the investment of an adequate amount of time.   We live in an incredibly busy society.   Thousands of things seem to call for our attention and time.  Procrastination is not just a student problem – it affects us all.   I know you might not want to hear this but if you want to be a better teacher then spend more time at it.   Class preparation can take 5 minutes or 5 hours.   When I am busy, it is easy to seek shortcuts and magic pills and try to get by with 5 minutes.   I hate to disappoint you but there are no shortcuts or magic pills.   If you invest only a little time, don’t be surprised if class seems disorganized and the results appear trivial.   Add time to every teaching task and you will become a better teacher.

--Thinking.   Teaching often comes down to thinking versus memorization.   Students prefer memorization.   Teaching based on memorization is just easier.   I have long been convinced that the enormous amount of criticism that college education faces today goes back to one issue:   We tend to teach little other than memorization.   Of course, if you have read my blog for long, you know that I think this goes back to testing.   If you test memorization, students will memorize.  If you test critical thinking, students will work to become better thinkers.   Give open book tests or open notes tests and you will force yourself to get away from testing memorization.   That will make all the difference in the world. 

Okay, those are all great terms for teaching.   I would have been happy with any of those three.   But, in the end, I thought two other terms were really the most essential for me.   I realize you might disagree.   If so, please leave a comment below and provide your own two word answer to this question.

--Motivation.   I don’t know whether this is good or bad but I do believe that the best teachers are motivators.   In some way, they convince their students to do exactly what they want them to do.   As the old saying goes, some use carrots and some use sticks but most use both carrots and sticks depending upon the student and the situation.   Whether you have 5 students or 500 students, the issue is whether you can convince those students to do what you believe they need to do.   So, as a new year starts, ask yourself the following questions:   (1) do I honestly know what I want my students to do, (2) if they do what I want them to do, will they learn what I want them to learn, (3) how have I motivated my students in the past and how well has that strategy worked, and (4) as a new semester begins what adjustments should I make that might improve the motivational aspects of my teaching.   If you don’t attempt to motivate your students, then don’t be upset if they don’t do what you want them to do.

--Explain.   It is such a simple word.   But, in teaching, it is so important.   Students don’t know the subject.   It is not that they are stupid.   It is that they are uneducated.   You do know the subject.   You have to explain it to them.   Many times you have to explain it to them many times.   It is always going to seem clear to you because you have been thinking about the material for years if not decades.   To them, it is brand new.   I looked up the word “explain” at www.dictionary.com and the first definition was:   “to make plain or clear; render understandable or intelligible.”   Yes, that sounds to me a lot like excellent teaching.

If I boil teaching down to two words, for me they are "motivation" and "explain."   As I start teaching again in 2014, I am going to keep those two words more firmly in my mind.   When faced with the goal of “Becoming a Better Teacher,” what two words come to your mind?   Keep in simple.