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Monday, September 29, 2008

Riding the roller coaster

No, I'm not talking about the bailout debacle (though this might be the only remotely-econ-related blog that isn't talking about that today; if you're looking for info on the financial crisis, I highly recommend Mark Thoma's Economist's View). No, I'm just talking about teaching. I've been feeling sort of burned out and seriously in need of a vacation but today, in particular, was one of those days where I really didn't feel like getting out of bed, let alone getting in front of a classroom. I was crabby from the moment I got to campus and had to wait for my plain ol' coffee at the Starbucks in the student union (why do they even bother having an extra carafe set up if they wait until BOTH are empty before brewing more?). I was even crabbier after my principles class where, while going over the exam they took on Friday, I realized that I had once again given them a bad question (at least this time, the question itself made sense; I just had inadvertently written a 'wrong' answer that justifiably could be considered right). Fortunately, a colleague explained that this is not that difficult to rectify with the software we use to score our scantrons but until I found that out, I was tearing my hair out trying to figure out how to make this right in a class of 500.

So you get the point - I was not having a great day. But then I went to my Economics for Teachers class. My plan for the day was to talk about the competing goals of economic policy as an example of positive and normative analysis and as a vehicle for thinking about how our personal values affect our perceptions of costs and benefits, which ultimately affect whether we support or oppose various policies (side note: by 'goals of economic policy', I'm talking about broad goals like efficiency, growth, stability, etc.). We got a little side-tracked talking about the bailout and the financial crisis but then we got into our discussion of policy goals and I have to say, it was one of those classes that reminds me why I love economics and why I love teaching. I'm always a little worried when I have students work on exercises where there isn't necessarily a 'right' answer because it can be hard to get them to say what they really think, versus what they think they are 'supposed' to say/think. But we had a fairly lively discussion and maybe I'm just punchy, but the students seemed geniunely interested and some of them had really thoughtful things to say. At one point, I asked them to give some examples from history where there was a trade-off among the various goals we were discussing. Not surprisingly, since these are social science majors who have taken more history classes than I ever did in college, they came up with some great examples, not all of which were purely economic in nature. Hopefully, thinking about these historical events in the context of our discussion today will also give them some additional insights about how those events were shaped by the trade-offs faced by the leaders at that time.

I'm still really looking forward to getting away to the Bay Area this coming weekend (hooray for Aplia and being able to run their experiments from anywhere with an internet connection!) but tonight's class gave me a much-needed boost of teaching energy. Here's hoping it lasts longer than the bailout bill did...

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