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Ethan Roberts hero image

Teacher Spotlight - Ethan Roberts, Head of Economics and Business Studies

Ethan Roberts is an economics specialist from the United States who has worked in several schools, both in the US and internationally. He enjoys teaching the 'economic way of thinking' to young people and says that BSKL has great leaders, amazing facilities and incredible colleagues. 

1. What positions, and for how many years, have you had at the school?

This is my third year at BSKL and  first year as the Head of Department for Economics and Business Studies. In my first year I taught IGCSE and A Level Economics, IGCSE Business Studies, and Year 7 Maths. In the last two years my teaching assignment is only Economics.

2. Tell us a bit more about your background teaching experience?

I completed my teacher training and licensure at Chief Sealth High School in Seattle, Washington, in the USA, and earned a Masters in Teaching from the University of Washington. As a trainee teacher I was assigned to teach 9th Grade Honors World History, 12th Grade Government, and 12th Grade Economics. I left Seattle to work at Tsinghua International School in Beijing, and have since worked at East West International School in Phnom Penh, and Cesar Chavez Charter School in Washington DC. After working at Chavez Charter I left teaching to pursue a Masters in Economics and worked as a graduate research fellow at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University.

3. What is your main area of interest/specialism?

Economics is my area of specialisation, and is a personal passion. Though I used highly quantitative, sophisticated economic methods in graduate school and as a research fellow, I find fundamental economic concepts to be the most useful and most enjoyable to grapple with and teach.

4. How does BSKL differ from other international schools?

I’ve worked in several international schools. I’ve had good coworkers, I’ve worked for good administrators (leaders), and I’ve been in top-quality facilities. BSKL is different because it is the only school I’ve worked for that has all three of those things. When I walk from Secondary campus to the school theatre in Junior campus, I’m still amazed at the facilities available to students at BSKL. I regularly tell my wife that I have incredible coworkers. There couldn’t be a better fellow Economics teacher than Steven Scragg, who was my Head of department when I started here and who is now my pastoral line manager. In my first year, when I taught Maths, I was impressed by how well Adam Simson runs his department. As a parent, I hear parents talk, and I have heard multiple mentions of how supportive and effective the Secondary Leadership Team is.

5. What has been your biggest career success so far?

Two things stand out to me as successes. One is that a former student told me my class convinced her to study Economics, rather than medicine, at university. More importantly, though, she has remained in contact, and when I hear about the economics books she reads in her own time and the way she applies the economic way of thinking, I can tell that she has discovered a passion. I think it is a success to help a student develop a love for something, and I’m even more pleased that it happens to be a love for economics. The second success that stands out to me was having a parent of a new student tell me that her child had become more confident and talked positively about school, and that the student said it was because of me.

6. Describe your teaching style in three words

I surveyed some students about this, and after some discussion they generally agreed on: “direct, encouraging, comical”.

7. What do you love most about teaching Economics?

I love working with children. I do love economic theory and the economic way of thinking, but the reason I left my job as an economist was that I missed working with young people.

8. What strengths/skills helped you get to where you are today?

Organisation. When I was an undergraduate student I worked in restaurants, and after I graduated I continued cooking for several years. The most important skill for being successful in that line of work is organisation, and I’ve carried that through to teaching. Being organised makes everything easier because you don’t even have to think about the small stuff - if you’re organised well it all just happens automatically. That frees up more time for focusing on the bigger stuff, like how to improve a lesson or how to help a specific student.

9. Which of your childhood teachers stood out and why?

My AP Calculus teacher stands out to me. He had a powerful, booming voice, and I remember how much reverence and awe was in his voice every time he talked about the mathematician Carl Friedrich Gauss. His passion was obvious, and he made me want to know why he cared so much about a dead mathematician. I didn’t go on to major in Mathematics, but I did enjoy going to that Calculus class. He was also the first person I told after I found out that I had got an academic scholarship to the University of Wisconsin.

10. What is the most memorable lesson you have taught?

I surveyed some students as I think it might be better to know what students identify as a memorable lesson. The consensus seemed to be my first day lesson. I don’t want to give away my patented trade secrets, but will say that I start the first day of class with a quiz. I only allow 60 seconds for students to answer the quiz question - the purpose is to introduce students to the economic way of thinking. An economist would answer the quiz question in a way that very few non-economists would. The lesson on the first day is meant to be a clear, sharp illustration of how the economic way of thinking can be applied, and of how foreign it may seem to people who are not familiar with economics. It can be jarring or even cognitively uncomfortable for some, but for many students there is an “aha!” moment in that lesson, and it hooks them for more to come.

11. What is most rewarding about your job?

Hearing positive feedback from students and parents is the most rewarding part of the job. It doesn’t have to be related to my subject. I think that teaching economics is only a small part of my job. Really, my responsibility is to be a positive presence in the lives of kids. Hearing positive feedback from parents and students lets me know that I am actually creating value for others. As some teachers might say, “That’s why you do it.”

12. If you weren’t a teacher, what would you be doing?

I would still be working as an economist who analyses public policy.

13. What are your favourite hobbies/activities outside of school?

My favorite activities are playing with my daughter and painting Warhammer miniatures. My daughter is 4 and I love going to the pool with her, doing creative crafts with her, letting her paint my fingernails and playing pretend in the IKEA display rooms. My wife just gave birth to our second daughter, so I look forward to playing with her too. When I came to BSKL a few colleagues introduced me to Warhammer, and I’m now the leader of the Secondary school Warhammer club. I’d never been into painting or hobbying, but now I’m happy to spend hours painting tiny details on models, playing games with friends and students, and talking about the Warhammer lore.