Showing posts from August, 2010

What Do You Really Want to Accomplish?

When is the last time you took a pencil and paper and wrote down (in a sentence or two) what you wanted to accomplish in your classes? Here, at the start of a new academic year, it might be a profitable way to spend 5 minutes. I always tell my students “if you don’t know where you want to go, any road will get you there.”

Probably, any time in the first 30-35 years that I taught, I would have written down something like “I want to help my students come to understand and appreciate financial accounting so they can use it in the real world to help make good decisions.” That is a worthwhile goal and every word is still true for me today. However, in recent years, I have become more and more convinced that I want to do more than teach students a bunch of stuff. Somehow I feel that there is another plateau to this teaching gig that I am not yet achieving. Could I be doing more?

So, as the 2010-2011 academic year begins, I have added a few additional words to my goal: “I want to …

The Opening

In my previous post, I indicated that I believed teachers should do a lot less than 100 percent of the talking in class—especially on the opening day. Several people wrote to ask me how I do that.

I view every class as a conversation. So, how do you start a conversation? Most conversations begin with a question. “Do you come here often?” “Have you ever had better barbecue?” “What did you think about that baseball game last night?” “Do you remember the weather ever being this hot?” Questions are a natural conversation starter. You then reply based on the answer you get. A good question can lead to hours of non-scripted conversation. The same is true in class.

Therefore, I really think about my opening question. Where do I hope it will lead our conversation? I think it often sets the tone for the entire day. In fact, on the first day, you may well be setting the tone for the entire semester.

Okay, I teach accounting classes so my opening question probably …

Getting My Troubles Beind Me

Disclaimer: the following post may contain topics that are unappealing to those of a squeamish or overly proper attitude.

One of the problems with getting older is that things wear out. While I'm still relatively young, I've had a few irritating problems lately. One of them that's developed over the loast couple of years is a pretty nasty case of hemorrhoids (basically varicose veins in the butt). After all, I have a job where I sit down a lot. And while cycling doesn't cause them, it can aggravate existing ones.

So, last Friday, I went in for outpatient surgery. Of course, that meant that on Thursday I had to uses something like this to get all "cleaned out". For a far-too-detailed description of the "prep" process, check out Dave Barry's post here (while you're there, if you haven;t yet had a colonoscopy and you're due for one, get to it).

The actual surgery (early Friday afternoon) went fine - they gave some high quality dru…

Send Them The Message

I watched a bit of a movie the other night (Where the Wild Things Are) and they had a classroom scene where the teacher stood in front of the group and did 100 percent of the talking while the students stared around the room in a mix of distraction, boredom, and random note taking. Education at its best(?) I watched a television show the other night (Breaking Bad) and they had a classroom scene where the teacher stood in front of the group and did 100 percent of the talking while the students stared around the room in a mix of distraction, boredom, and note taking. Education at its best(?)

I am convinced that you need to set the tone for the entire semester on the very first day. Right at the beginning, you need to send a signal for what you want and expect from the students. My recommendation for the first day would be to do a whole lot less than 100 percent of the talking. Make that a very high priority. Send the message immediately: In this course, you have to be acti…

What Do You Tell Your Students?

Virtually all of the blogs that I have written over the past 8 months have been directed toward teachers. My goal has been to encourage teachers and give you folks something to think about that might stimulate a bit of improvement.

It crossed my mind this morning to wonder: who encourages the students? Being a student is not easy. They study hard and are constantly under pressure to do well on papers, tests, class presentations and the like. They are human; they need encouragement—especially when things are not going well.

Who encourages students? Well, I guess it should be their teachers. You need encouragement; you need assurance; you need positive feedback. And, so do they. If you genuinely want to teach students successfully, some small part of the job (I believe) must be to encourage them to do the work that is necessary.

Do we do that? Or, do we simply ignore that aspect of the teaching process and then complain when students don’t live up to our expectati…

What Does The Class of 2014 Know?

When I was an undergrad (yeah, I know - a long time ago), I would often roll my eyes when a professor made a cultural reference that was about 30 years before my time. Now I increasingly find myself in the clueless professor's shoes. It's not surprising, since I've lived almost 3x as long as incoming freshmen.

Every year, Beloit College publishes a "mindset" list for the incoming freshman class. It lists some of the "cultural touchstones" are a part of the class's lives (who were mostly born in 1992). Here are some of the items on this year's list that stood out:

4. Al Gore has always been animated.
12. Clint Eastwood is better known as a sensitive director than as Dirty Harry.
27. Computers have never lacked a CD-ROM disk drive.
53. J.R. Ewing has always been dead and gone. Hasn't he?
64. Having hundreds of cable channels but nothing to watch has always been routine.
Read the whole thing here - interesting stuff, and it'll make some of…

Listening to Former Students

I like listening to my former students, especially the ones who seem to be doing well out there in the adult world. “Was your education lacking in any way?” “How could I have better prepared you for life after graduation?” “Am I doing anything in my classes that is just a waste of time?” It is hard to make improvements if you don’t have a good assessment of your own strengths and weaknesses. And, who understands them better than students who have gone through your class and are now out in the real world.

A couple of days ago, I posted the previous blog (below) about pushing students to go beyond the right answer and encouraging them to address the more important issue: why is a certain answer the right answer? Today, I got an email from a student who was in a couple of my classes 3-4 years ago. She started out at the University of Richmond and finished up at Wharton and seems to have done well since graduation. I respect her opinion. Here was her response to that post…

Getting The Right Answer Is Not Enough

I start my classes again in 9 days. Even after 39 years, I am always tense as to what I want to say to my students on the first day. They have been in school for 15-16 previous years and, unfortunately, some of them expect every class to be more of the same. A few (maybe more) start off with a poor attitude. I am a big believer in first impressions. I want to get the class off to the perfect start. I want the students to realize that I want something different from them. They are college students, more should be demanded of them. But, if all you’ve ever been asked to do is memorize, it is hard to believe there is something more that the teacher might want.

I got a note today from Steve Markoff, a friend of mine who teaches at Montclair State. He told me about a book where computers were programmed to come up with the perfect move each time in various backgammon situations. The book, then, tries to help the reader figure out why each of those moves was the right one…


One of my favorite pastimes at any AAA convention is to visit the poster sessions where teachers from around the country talk about their classroom innovations. It is always impressive to me to see how many teachers are working to figure out new and different ways to encourage interest among students along with a deeper level of understanding.

One of my favorites last week in San Francisco was work done by Mary Michel at Manhattan College. I have a saying (that I stole) that I think applies to all students:

“Tell me and I'll forget; show me and I may remember; involve me and I'll understand.”

But, let’s be truthful, it is always a whole lot easier to tell students information than it is to involve them in learning. Anyone can lecture and the students will take notes. Involving students is much more challenging and requires teachers to do some serious thinking about their goals for the learning experience.

Dr. Michel starts off her Advanced Accounting class by …

Find the Variables That Lead To Experimentation

I have recently been writing about some of the wonderful people that I met at the American Accounting Association annual meeting in San Francisco. On this past Wednesday, I participated in a panel discussion on blogging: how is it done and why do we do it? I talked for about 10 minutes about my blog and the enjoyment I get in writing about teaching and hearing from my readers about their teaching.

On the panel, I was sitting beside of Tom Selling who has the incredible blog The Accounting Onion ( When I returned to my seat, he handed me a sheet of paper where he had written a few sentences that he had penciled while I was speaking. I thought his words on self-improvement in teaching were so neat that I wanted to pass them along to you. (Thanks – Tom – this was one of those moments where I said “Gee, I wish I had said that.”)

“Teaching is highly idiosyncratic. The process of self discovery through experimentation is integral to self-imp…


I am writing this week from the annual meeting of the American Accounting Association in San Francisco. On Monday, I had one of those wonderful experiences that I so enjoy, the type that always seems to rejuvenate my teaching spirits. I had a long conversation with a person who really knew and understood how to be a great teacher. I find, in colleges, that there are not enough times when you sit down with another teacher and just talk about teaching: What works? What do you do in this situation? How do you handle this topic?

I had never met David Marcinko before Monday but he is on the faculty at Skidmore. As soon as we sat down and started talking about Financial Accounting, it was clear that Professor Marcinko had spent a lot of serious time over the years thinking about teaching. How do you get students engaged? What should you cover in the first chapter to interest them and not turn them off? When do you introduce Accumulated Depreciation without confusing them?


I Was Impressed

I am at the annual meeting of the American Accounting Association in San Francisco. I thought, if I saw something interesting while I am here, that I would write about it.

Yesterday, I was lucky enough to have a long conversation with Presha Neidermeyer, Associate Professor of Accounting at West Virginia University. She was telling me about all of her many trips to Africa to take her students to places like Uganda and South Africa to work with the not-for-profit organizations there. We typically think about accounting professors sitting in a classroom teaching sleepy students about debits and credits. Dr. Neidermeyer is going way, way beyond that. She takes small groups (“I like to be able to load them all up in a van, if I have to”) and goes to the country and helps out some of the NFPs there. She talked specifically about one organization that did micro-lending and how her students helped them organize their forms so they could become more efficient.

Can you imagine how h…