I give thanks every day for having the opportunity to do what I love. It would be an understatement to say that I’m passionate about teaching. That’s primarily because, to me, the word “teaching” encompasses much more than what it does to most. Teaching is about building lasting relationships, it’s about sharing, it’s about trusting and, above all, it’s about caring.
The first time I actually realized this was when Professor Richard Powell invited my wife (girlfriend at the time) and me to dinner at his place. Professor Powell, now retired, was then a 56-year-old, long-haired, macroeconomics genius from Northern England living in Barcelona, who cared just as much about Bob Dylan as he did about John Maynard Keynes. During our first dinner visit, Richard’s wife, Dianne, served us English pies, while he popped open delicious cava (Catalan champagne) bottles—one after the other. I obviously enjoyed the bubbly (much, much!) more than the pastries. But what stood out the most that night was Richard’s empathic ability to break down the student-teacher barrier and receive my wife (also his student) and me like family friends. Our relationship, which I strongly cherish, has continued to this day.
I’ve been incredibly lucky to come across some fantastic professors. During graduate school, I met Andrzej (Andy) Skrzypacz. Although I barely managed to pass his insanely difficult microeconomics course, he taught me an invaluable, long-term lesson: to care deeply about those whom you serve. Indeed, what Andy essentially does—besides being a world-class scholar, of course—is to care for a living: he takes “open door policies” to another level. I was fortunate to organize the Stanford Mexico Study Trip along with him. During this two-week trip, we met the world’s wealthiest man, had a three-hour chat with my country’s former president, enjoyed delicious meals, and partied at some rocking clubs. But looking back, most of our conversations had nothing to do with supply and demand or marginal-cost curves (whatever those are). What I cherished the most was Andy’s ability to listen, to offer his support and, as I mentioned, to care.
When I launched my startup right after my MBA, Andy and Richard were the first ones to pitch in. Andy immediately supplied me with exhaustive business contacts in Poland (his home country), and Richard sent my potential investors a five-page recommendation letter that made my parents’ and my eyes water (it still does).
So now that I’m in the teacher’s seat, I’ve had a chance to reflect. I’ve concluded that much of my obsession for innovation comes from my long, cava-fueled conversations with Richard. Further, I am absolutely convinced that most—if not all—of my passion for teaching comes from seeing Andy work his magic on his students. I have much to live up to.
After teaching full-time for only one year, I know I have tons to learn about pedagogy, academia, and the art of lecturing. Yet what I do know is this: there is nothing—besides my wife, family and a couple of friends—that I care more about than my students. Indeed, I am proud to say that several of my former students have become my closest of friends—and a major part of my life here in Tromsø.
“The relationship with your students should be so strong that they actually feel the need to pick up the phone and call you as soon as they get engaged.”
I couldn’t agree with you more, Dag!
This post, I dedicate to all my students, whom I care about, appreciate, and admire. “Teaching,” for me, could not exist without you. I hope you call me when you get engaged