Tuesday, January 19, 2016


Last week, the School of Professional and Continuing Studies here at the University of Richmond held its opening meeting for the new semester.   I was asked to give what I would describe as a keynote speech to kick off the semester.  Often, when I am asked to speak in this way, I will present some type of Power Point slide show where I discuss a topic like “My Top Ten Favorite Teaching Tips.”   In truth, I can do those programs fairly quickly and often with good results.

However, I decided that I wanted to do something different this time.   Our world has become so cynical and sour.   Every politician with a microphone will stand in front of a crowd and spew anger and hatred.   The news channels do not help as they debate the pros and cons of every single political decision often deriving people who are trying to do their best.   I fully realize that people in every community can be frustrated but I am tired of the sole political statement being:  “I am mad and I am going to tell you about it.” 

Plus, I often believe that teachers are just under appreciated, especially by themselves.  Without teachers, we would have no doctors or lawyers or engineers or accountants.

I decided to use my microphone time to talk about the excitement and thrill of being a teacher.   Sure, I could have stressed the bad days that happen in the classroom (and we all have those) but I wanted to talk about the wonderful influence we can have over so many people, especially young people.   I am glad they pay me for this job but I might well do it even if I wasn’t paid.  I love the thrill of making a difference.  Don’t you?   I can’t see how anybody would not love being a teacher.

In case you would like to watch that speech and judge whether I was really positive and optimistic enough, you can check out the URL blow.   The first nine minutes are announcements.  I start speaking after that.   Eventually, I ask the group to answer a question.   I’d love to know how you would have answered that question.

If nothing else, fast forward to the very end where I read a couple of sentences from a famous book.   Those words are worth hearing.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016


If you have read this blog for long, you know I began using the Socratic Method in my accounting classes way back in 1991.   I often get questions about why I started and how I use the Socratic Method.   I always tell people that it is hard to explain unless you are there to watch the process.    People simply don’t believe that you can teach complex accounting theory by firing hard ball questions at the students.  

I was asked last fall to discuss the Socratic Method at a faculty forum here on campus and give a demonstration.   I wasn’t sure how well that would work.   But I talked for a while and then I, along with nine of my students, did a bit of a typical class using this approach.   It normally runs more smoothly in a real class environment but it worked fairly well in this artificial setting.

In the presentation, I do put a focus on the book and the movie that forever changed how I taught my classes.

If you are interested in the possibility of using the Socratic Method (for accounting or any other topic), the URL for a video of this presentation can be found below.   You might decide that it is something you want to try.   On this blog, I am always stressing the three E’s:   experiment, evaluate, evolve.   Perhaps this could be the basis for an experiment.

I am told that this video will not run on Internet Explorer but will work on Google Chrome or Mozilla Firefox.


Sunday, January 10, 2016


My classes begin tomorrow morning for the spring semester.   I just sent my students one final email to make sure they understood what I wanted from them.   I figure I might as well let them know upfront.   Here is what I told them:

Tomorrow morning at either 9 or 10:30 a.m., we will meet and Intermediate Accounting II will begin.  Over the past few weeks, you have received quite a number of emails from me talking about this class – why it is important and what it takes to do well.   By now, one question should be rattling around in your brain:   What does this guy really want from me as a student?   Clearly, this class is not exactly like other classes and the teacher is not exactly like too many other teachers.   What am I looking for from you over the course of the next 3 1/2 months?

Last year, in downtown Richmond, my wife and I went to a play (Equivocation) about William Shakespeare.   At one point during the first act, a young actor comes up to Shakespeare and asks (or almost pleads):   “You said I was brilliant.  Did you really mean that?”   Shakespeare looks at him for a long time and finally responds:  “You are brilliant, at your best.”   I leaned over to my wife at that moment and whispered “that’s what I want to tell each of my students.   That is the essence of my teaching.” 

I am convinced that you can be brilliant over the course of this semester.   But I am equally convinced that you are only going to be brilliant on those days when you are at your absolute best.   That is my one and only goal – to bring out the best in you.   You don’t know what your best really is.   I don’t know what your best really is.   So, we both have to push and challenge and work and debate and argue in order to get you to a point where you are at your best.   No matter what I do in class, whether it seems funny or mean or insightful, I have only one goal:   To bring out the very best from you (not the person beside of you or the person behind you or the person on the other side of the room from you but just YOU).   And that’s because I am convinced that you can be truly brilliant, not average or mediocre or even good but truly brilliant, but only when we are able to work together to get the best from you.   My guess is that you’ve had enough average in your life.   Surely, you are sick of mediocre.   The world has a lot of troubles.   It needs more people willing to step up to the challenge and be brilliant.   Isn’t it time for you to see what you can actually accomplish when you are at your very best?

I look forward to starting to work with you tomorrow morning.

PS – Here’s a movie clip that you might enjoy.   It has one of my all-time favorite quotes:  “It’s the hard that makes it great.”


Tuesday, January 5, 2016


I am giving a speech on teaching tomorrow evening here at the University of Richmond.   I look forward to it with great anticipation.   There is a genuine thrill in talking with teachers about teaching.   It is a wonderful way to get the new semester off to a great start.  

As always, I am a big believer in preparation – both my own preparation and that of the audience.   For this program to go well, everyone needs to spend some time and be ready.   To get that process started, I sent the 105 participants a message about an email that I had recently received.   I asked them to read the question that I had been sent as well as my response.   Then, I asked them to add one additional tip to my response.   What did I leave out?   What more should I have suggested?   What other idea should have I have given this young person?

Okay, I have the same question for you.   Read the question.   Read my answer.   Tell me what else I should have added.   That's your assignment.

I received the following email from a person whom I did not know and will likely never meet.   But, I appreciated her question and the sheer interest she had in reaching out to a stranger for advice.  

“I am a TA for Organic Chemistry at Ohio State University. Over the past several semesters, I have become very interested in teaching, and I started reading your blog a few weeks ago. I have found it incredibly helpful and insightful, and your passion for teaching is admirable. I was reading through your blog post about teaching tips for the new semester, and I would love to hear yours (at your earliest convenience, of course).”

Thanks so much for writing about my teaching blog (have you seen my Teaching Tips book -- it is also free on the Internet).   I'm always delighted to hear from teachers, especially new teachers.   From my perspective, it is one of the most thrilling and rewarding careers that you can have.   Enjoy every day.

As far as advice for you as you begin the spring semester, I could probably write three thick books of advice and honestly believe that each new idea was even more important than the previous one.   But, having said that, here are a few that I view as absolutely essential.

--Figure out how to get your students to prepare before they walk into your class.  99.9 percent of students are under-prepared when they enter the classroom each day and that sets a severe limit on what any teacher can accomplish.  There are a lot of ways to get students to prepare (threatening bodily harm might be one) but student preparation in my mind is the number one key to great teaching.  Without that, everything is a challenge.

--Communicate with your students early and often.   For example, I've already sent a couple of emails to my students ​ and my first class is not for nearly three weeks.   During the semester, I send emails to the students roughly once a day.   But, I work to make those emails worth their time.   I give practice problems.   I give study hints.   I talk about interesting developments that I read in today's paper.   I occasionally talk about books I'm reading or movies I've seen because I want my teaching to go beyond just accounting.   If you limit your interaction with students to 150 minutes in class each week, it is difficult to be a great teacher.

--Teach by using puzzles.   That, I think, is one of the most missed paths to great teaching.  I don't know anything about your field (organic chemistry) so I cannot give examples but think about questions that begin:  "Why would it work like this?"   "How might this be different in a science fiction story?"  "What happens if we do something backwards?"   "If X happens, what is most like to happen next and why?"  Everyone loves puzzles.  They make you think and reason.   Any boring class can become immediately engaging through the use of puzzles.

--Students come to learn based on how they expect to be tested (or graded).   No matter what you tell them, if they believe you are going to test their memory skills, all they will do is memorize.   The hope of developing their critical thinking skills will then fly out the window.   One way to avoid this problem is to give open book tests (I actually allow my students to bring in three pages of notes to every test which forces them to make decisions as to what they should include).   Open books tests are good for you because they will force you to learn to write good test questions and that will make you a better teacher.   They are also good for the students because they will quickly understand that you are not going to test them on memory since you are allowing them to have access to notes or books.

--I don't know how big your classes are but, if possible, never say more than 50 percent of the words in class.   Teachers are hypnotized by the sound of their own voices.   Teachers love that they can easily fill up the passing minutes with their own words.   Students let the teachers rattle on because they like to sit and daydream.   Force your students to do half of the talking.   I do that by using an intense Socratic Method where no student can hide.   But there are other approaches that work.   Teachers feel an obsession to convey information.   Get over it--there are books and videos that do that.   Use the class for talking—especially student talking.  

--Follow the three E's:   Experiment, Evaluate, Evolve.   You are never going to stand out by doing things the way everyone else does them.   Try new things each week or each month just to see what works and what does not work.   This is especially important as you get older and the age gap between you and your students gets wider.   Most teachers experiment less as they get older.   They settle into a comfortable rut.   You should experiment more as you get older to keep things fresh for you and your students.

--Care for your students.   These are real people and not robots.   Yes, they can be lazy.   And, yes, they can be annoying.   But this is their one chance at learning this material.   Whether you are good or bad as a teacher, you have a big impact on their lives.   Care enough for them to push them to be great.

Hope this helps.   One warning:   Sometimes you have to read a lot of ideas to find one that really helps you.

ADDITIONAL TIPS THAT MY AUDIENCE FOR TOMORROW NIGHT SENT TO ME (I challenged these folks to add one tip and I got loads – here are a few that I received, selected somewhat randomly)

--Establish a class culture of respect and provide a safe environment for sharing diverse opinions.

--Make each class real, relevant and riveting.   Find examples of the subject matter you're teaching, and weave them into every class to help students connect with the content. Tell stories and share examples.

--I give students "mini cases.”  The case is related to the topic for the class and presents a hypothetical situation in a company. The students work in small groups to develop a response and then report that to the class.

--Be willing to fail and open to learning from failures. Risk-taking is not well-rewarded in academic circles because failure is seen as an ending rather than a transition. Be willing to try, fail, and admit failure to students. And be willing to let students fail at certain aspects of the class without earning a failing grade in the class.

--Captivate the students with good openers, words of wisdom, useful tips.   Collaborate often because we learn from each other.  Celebrate all accomplishments and "understandings"... no matter how small

--Differentiate your instruction based on students’ readiness for the content, their interests, and the different ways they approach learning.   This is the most challenging aspect of teaching and requires you to get to truly know your students as individuals.  Remember that your students are very much alike in some ways and very different from each other in many ways. 

--Remember the power of active engagement, which allows students to interact and reflect on the content.  This type of learning increases meaning and understanding.  It provides an opportunity to communicate with others in order to share perspectives and experiences.

--Part of each student's grade is participation in class. I give them class labs that they have to solve and each student must participate. Also, I assign each student (prior to class or during the first night of class) to write a one page paper on their expectations of the class and me. This allows me to evaluate their writing ability and it helps me design sections of my class.