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The 5 Minute Professor

By David Baek, IV Form

In Ms. Millet’s AP World History class, students were given an opportunity to showcase a topic to their class that they had chosen themselves to teach, for an exercise called the “5 Minute Professor.”  Such topics were, “How is steel made?” and “The philosophy of Adam Smith (capitalism).” Given approximately a week to prepare, I scrambled the Internet and books in the library to search for any information on the philosophy of Adam Smith and its impact in world history. Using all my free time, I was able to understand Adam Smith’s ideas by reading some of the articles in his major work, An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations (1776) and an economic book called Globalization and Free Trade by Natalie Goldstein. Although the latter focused more on contemporary macroeconomics, the author clearly demonstrated from the beginning how these ideas came into being. Furthermore, this accidental stumble into an unknown book flourished a sudden, personal interest in the study of economics, allowing me to go further into the depth of Adam Smith’s philosophy of capitalism. Thus, my need to learn more to teach a class and the various necessities that the project required  gave me motivation and  drive to travel outside of the class textbook and into the world of open research and discoveries.

In the World Civilizations: The Global Experience, which is the textbook our class uses, Adam Smith was just a figure under the heading, “Enlightenment;” he enlightened the world with his economic idea of non-governmental intervention. No further attempt was made to describe him. I soon became frustrated and naturally headed to the Internet, where untethered information flew freely. It was there where I learned that Smith’s revolutionary ideas changed many people’s perspectives on mercantilism, which was the established economic theory that most of the European nation-states used in order to gain and extract more wealth than the rivalries in a zero-sum game. However, this idea that the wealth was fixed was taken fallaciously in Smith’s view. He believed that the world’s wealth was not fixed and that nation-states could profit without stealing money from each other. This belief led to many core ideas of his contribution, which were division of labor, private properties, and open trading driven by the Invisible Hand. These were many topics that I would have never known without that necessary urge to learn them in order to teach the class about Adam Smith’s philosophy. In other words, how would the class understand the philosophy if I, who would be teaching, did not fully know the topic myself?

With my new knowledge, I had one last thing to do:  design how to deliver the diverse clusters of information to the whole class effectively. Unlike the traditional way of using a PowerPoint and solely talking in front of the class for five minutes, I wanted to do something new, something more interactive. To do this, I decided to make an interactive sheet, made up of three boxes that were labeled, “What happened before Adam Smith,” “Adam Smith’s Philosophy,” and “The Impact of His Work.” Then, I created an answer sheet, where I filled in the boxes with facts and information that I have gathered during my free time. After labeling all of these, I stared at the paper, looking at any possible connections or links that I could make to facilitate a student’s process of grasping the bigger picture of my topic. Despite long hours of battling the dilemma, I was finally able to come up with my own version of teaching Adam Smith’s philosophy and its significance in world history. The only part I left out was the delivery of my speech, and this came to cripple my teaching.

Soon, the thrilling moment arrived. I confidently stood up to pass out the sheet I had prepared and waited by the board until everyone had the interactive sheet. Then, I began by asking questions that I thought would be helpful in starting my lesson. I asked the class, “What was the political, economical, and cultural landscapes in Europe during the early modern age?”

Dead silence filled the air.

The students gave me blank looks, and I quickly became frustrated.

I asked again with an angrier tone, “Does anybody remember what we learned two weeks ago?” From that point on, I was not really leading them to understand the point of my question, but rather expressing disapproval of the students’ inability to produce an anticipated answer. I tried my best to clarify my question better, but I stared at the windowpanes thinking of a way to lead the students to the answer I wanted to get.

Suddenly, one student’s hand shot up to the air, and I waited for an answer with glimmering, hopeful eyes.

“Nations?” the student replied, and I dispiritingly said, “Nope.”

Unsurprisingly, a lengthy moment of silence filled the room again.

At the moment, I was locked in an impasse, and the clock continuously ticked toward five minutes, which was the maximum limit of my time.

Finally, somebody said, “Monarchy.” I nagged at the students to say “nation-states,” which I wanted them to say from the first time I asked. But was I really trying to understand them or was I just arrogantly centered on doing what I planned to do?

This is one of many dilemmas that I had experienced from the moment I started doing the project to the end. Hence, through this 5 Minute Professor project, I was able to expand my perspective on teaching. Learning it the hard way, I became aware that teaching was not only thinking about how one would teach, but also fully understanding the students and expanding their abilities and confidence by adapting to their own style and process of learning and comprehension at the right time. The most worthwhile teaching always occurs at the right time, which demonstrates the job’s need for high acumen and sharp perception. Hence, for me, it was a dart to the dartboard.

Consequently, when I go back to the question, “Is teaching really that easy?” I feel the strong urge to recant my formerly naïve answer of “Yes.”

Seung Hwan (David) Baek is a IVth Form boarding student from Irvine, California. He is interested in computer programming, stock markets, investment strategies, and leadership ideas.

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