Teaching Report–Week I

On Friday, I finished my first week of teaching.  I am beginning to get the sense that I have gained traction with a reasonable number of students.  We ended the week still deep in a discussion of the different entities under which to conduct business.  I have woven in a sense of the US tax system, since tax planning drives entity selection more often than not.   The students seem to relate to the connection.

I have had confidence to attack more complex subjects outside the text of the lectures that have been translated.  This drives the translator crazy, but I do this slowly on the blackboard and bring everyone along.  There is an art I am trying to master that simplifies the language but not the content of sophisticated topics; I keep reminding myself that these students are really smart or they would not be here; the issue is language, not intelligence.

The students sit in three rows of small wooden desks, with the rows reaching far into the long narrow room.  There are a row of windows on my right as I face the class, letting in light but without a view of anything.  The class stands at the start of each class; I say “dobroe utro” (good morning) as a start and they are seated.  The school has told me that I must take the five minute break when the bell sounds between the two periods during which I teach; rules here are really rules, no American insubordination.

When I arrive the classroom lights are off.  The lights are off in most hallways most of the time, and in many rooms also.  In our dorm the hall lights are on timers, the halls go dark periodically and you need to bang on the wall switch.  Clearly electricity is rationed here.

I stand behind a larger desk, my notes spread out in front of me, the blackboard at my back.  I am using the board and not powerpoint because the board allows me to draw arrows, take tangents, stop to explain when the expressions are particularly blank.  I am of the view that powerpoint almost always is a bad idea, anyway; it allows the mind to relax, and the argument that some people learn visually does not require use of powerpoint,  just the use of the written word in some form at some point.  But, as the joke goes, I digress.

Questions have increased markedly, on Friday I spent 15 minutes at the start answering               questions about the prior lecture that had been given the translator in writing.  At break and at end of class I get lots of questions.  Since some students are assigned to walk me back to the dorm at the end of class, they are impatient to get me moving; I have to tell them to wait, I want to deal with the questions.  I suspect I am causing some of them to miss class in the following period, but I need to keep the students engaged.

My last lecture included a segue into deep capitalism: I traced a venture capital investment by describing the rights of different classes of stock at various stages.  The students really seemed to find that of interest.

So for the first time, I gave an assignment over the weekend.  I asked them to be prepared to talk in class about why all companies should not be organized as LLCs, since the form is so flexible.   We will see if I can break the so-called “rule” that there is no way  to have a Socratic teaching experience in Russia.

I will separately blog at length, when time permits, on the cultural and physical aspects of our experience here, which are really fascinating, but I am attempting to separate those aspects from the teaching reports, as I recognize that not everyone wants to hear about the roads, the foods, the manners of the place.  I plan an omnibus blog on all of that, but give me some time to get it all down.


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