Teaching Economics as a Non-Specialist: 10 Tips for Survival

worried teacher

The American poet (and teacher) Mark Van Doren once said that The art of teaching is the art of assisting discovery. But what if you the teacher are required to go through this process of discovery prior to teaching thirty or so teenagers an entire A Level?  In the world of budget squeezes and rationalisation that is indeed what many of us are increasingly being asked to do. Below are my top ten tips for those of you who have been asked to teach Economics for the first time.

 

 

1. Plan aheadplan ahead

Whichever examination board you are following, the Economics syllabus has a clear line of progression. The economic problem leads into resource allocation… resource allocation leads into markets… markets takes you into supply and demand and so on and so on. Speak with faculty colleagues. They may have a programme of study that you can adopt as your own or alternatively most of the examination boards offer something similar. It is absolutely vital that before you begin you have a clear plan of delivery for the entire year. I would recommend a week-by-week plan to give you some flexibility. Take some time to think about which topics will be most challenging (and so will require more time). If you are unsure help can be found in the points below.

 

2. Get to know the assessment model

I can’t stress this point enough. Of course it is vital that you understand how an economics paper will be assessed so that your students can have the best chance of success in their exams however in economics it runs deeper than this. The ability to analyse and evaluate key concepts is a skill that a good economist must develop in order to be able to fully understand the subject itself. The ability to make arguments using their economic ‘tool kit’ is not just vital in the context of an exam paper but also an integral part of being an economist. Examination boards are now providing mark schemes with more detail than ever. Use these in conjunction with past papers and examiners reports to help you to get a feel for the sort of questions your students will be asked in those all important examinations.

3. Ask for advice or teaching materials from colleagues

There is no shame in asking colleagues to share their teaching ideas or materials with you if you are not sure of how to approach a particular topic – indeed most of us enjoy nothing more than the opportunity to show off our resources! Your colleagues will appreciate how tough it is to teach something away from your specialism and they will be happy to help out with information or materials. Make sure you take the opportunity to pick their brains about the order in which they deliver materials – they may even have an old scheme of work that they could pass onto you.

4. Book yourself onto a course

Although exam boards are beginning to move away from the traditional one-day CPD courses, there are still a number of outstanding providers out there. These can be a priceless opportunity to gather resources and ideas, as well as an opportunity to meet other professionals and build your own professional network.

teachers planner5. Stay a couple of weeks ahead

For your own sanity and the good of your students try to prepare lessons a few weeks ahead. I know that this is often easier said than done but when teaching Economics it is useful to have an understanding of where the syllabus is heading. This will help you to plan and build resources for each lesson, knowing what key material students must understand before moving on.

 

 

6. Build cross curricular links

The Business Studies teachers that I work with are a rich and invaluable source of interesting information, facts and figures. As you progress through the Economics syllabus you will notice opportunities to bring in some of what you are doing with your Business Studies students – particularly anecdotes or quirky facts that will help to breath life into some of the more conceptual areas of the Economics syllabus.

7. Let the material teach itself!

Economics is a tremendously fun and engaging subject to teach because it is so relevant. Hardly a day will go by without a news report appearing that can be used by you with your students. Just listening to the radio on the drive into work can provide you with a lessons worth of discussion material. The usual media outlets are a treasure trove of useful news articles and video clips. Using these as a supplement to what you teach will add to its relevance and really enrich the discussions you are having with students in class.

resource bank8. Build your resource bank

The scale and speed in which you are able to do this may, of course, depend on what sort of budget you are working with. It is important that you make your case to the budget holder and are clear about what your requirements will be. Although many schools seem to be moving away from purchasing full sets of text books (at least in hard copy form) I would  recommend you purchase at least one copy of the exam board approved text. In most cases these will have been penned by chief or principal examiners and will follow the prescribed syllabus closely. Most will contain some useful activities or worksheets that can be used in class. My own centre follows OCR but I also have copies of texts approved for the other examination boards as the material is quite similar. There are a large number of educational resource providers in the market – my recommendation to begin with would be to stick with those companies that you trust and that have served your Business Studies needs well in the past.

9. Sign up to social mediasocial

Education is changing. Teachers are building their own professional networks through social media and are using these outlets to share ideas and resources. Business and Economics teachers already have a thriving social media network – particularly on the Twitter and LinkedIn platforms. These can be a rich source of ideas and resources and can also provide opportunities to ask for advice or guidance. Try searching in Twitter using #ecbusteach

10. Enjoy it and stay positive!

Admittedly I may be slightly biased but in my humble opinion, Economics is tremendously interesting and fun to teach. As a subject it is so diverse that students will inevitably build their own cross curricular links with other A Levels they are studying and this is where things can get really interesting for them. I believe there are few A Level subjects as relevant to students everyday lives and as important in helping them in understanding their own futures. There will be times when the content may appear a little daunting or counter-intuitive. Some of the more challenging diagrams can begin to resemble and aerial shot of Spaghetti Junction but stick with it and like your students, you will find that your own view of the world is altered irrevocably.