People always tell me that I’m hopelessly addicted to education. It is true, in a way; I spend a lot of time reading, even when I’m under no obligation to do so. I picked my job because I was promised the right to study and write about arcane electricity pricing mechanisms. I’m called studious, but I suppose it’s all a euphemism for being a nerd. But I’m okay with that, because after all, this sort of thing is genetic: my grandfather was a teacher and a school principal. So, after all, you wouldn’t fault the kin of a chef for liking pizza, would you?
The professors really indulged me at Fuqua. By the end of my time there, I was so inundated with information, both useless and useful, that for a short while, I actually felt like I needed a break from the lifestyle of education, lest I begin forgetting trivial things like my birthday or social security number. I began to assume it was the variety of the content that was so compelling; in a given week, I could hope to brush up on the esoteric aspects of derivative pricing, what psychological predilections are associated with which colors, or how supply chain management is always applicable, even when the supplies involved are live animals in India. It’d have been overwhelming, even intimidating, if I weren’t amongst like-minded folks.
But was it really the content that made the difference, or did the medium have something to do with it? It’s been said by smarter people than me that teaching is the most under appreciated profession. Reflecting on my own education, I found that I’ve assigned a system of asymmetric rewards to my teachers. Most of the bad ones (and there were quite a few in high school) I remember very well. But the good ones went humbly about their business; I think about them sometimes, but perhaps not as often as I should, or with the deserved reverence.
What Makes a Good Teacher?
When I landed a part-time gig as an adjunct instructor at a college in New York, I was understandably devoid of a method for teaching. The content I understood quite well — it was right out of the playbook of the job I had before business school. But how does one connect with students? How do you relay a sticky message? How do you stand in front of people for two hours without getting nervous?
To tell the truth, it ended up being a little bit more improvised than was advisable. I had slides, but was almost certain they wouldn’t last two hours. But as class started, I found that I began taking cues from my professors at Fuqua. When someone attempted to call me Professor Ferguson, I instinctively responded with, “Call me Mike.” I also tried to land a lame accounting joke to a chorus of forced laughter. I tried keeping the slides bare, but the conversation full. I attempted to decrease the amount of theory, and up the quantity of cases. My lesson ended up being little more than a pastiche of lectures from the past two years.
In hindsight, this was the ultimate compliment, to a group of people who don’t get enough of them. It’s with great humility that we ascribe our post-business school success to Fuqua, but what does that mean anyway? More and more, I’m coming to the realization that, even if we don’t acknowledge it, we pattern ourselves after our professors.