Martin Hearson

Martin teaches International Political Economy and Politics of Money in the World Economy in the International Relations department

I’ve learnt that students have goals both in terms of what they want to learn about the world by being here and in terms of the qualifications they want to achieve.

Martin Hearson Cropped 747
Martin Hearson

This year Martin was nominated by his department for the LSE Class Teacher Award and received nominations from his students for the LSE Student Union Teaching Awards. 

How do you ensure everyone participates in class? 

It’s about creating a friendly environment where people feel confident to speak out. 

In class I’ll ask students to have discussions in small groups while I wander round and listen to what everyone’s saying. I‘ll then open the discussion out to the whole class and if I’ve heard someone who doesn’t speak often make a good point I‘ll invite them to share it with everyone - that can make them feel more encouraged and involved. 

You organise lots of extra-curricular activities for students. Why do you think it’s important to do this? 

When students, particularly Master’s students, arrive in London they often don’t know each other or the city and part of what makes the course successful is if the students feel comfortable around each other and me. To help with this, I organise activities that relate to the course content but also have a social aspect. 

For example, last year we did a walking tour of the financial district organised by some people who had been part of the Occupy movement – they give a very different perspective on the role of the City than that given in a lot of the literature so it’s interesting for students to hear this other view. We then went to a pub in central London to discuss what we had seen and heard. 

The course I teach is about global finance so being in London, a centre of the global financial system, is a good opportunity for students to do things like this! 

I also held two movie nights where we watched films about the financial crisis and separately I organised a Q&A with someone who works for Black Rock Investors. This gave the students a chance to ask questions about their course with someone who actually does some of the things they study on a daily basis.  It was also an opportunity for them to ask questions about future career options.  

How do you build rapport and why do you think it’s important? 

Last year was my first year as a teaching fellow so I thought a lot in advance about how I would build rapport. 

One thing I decided to do was wear a suit as I think it helps establish some authority and distance. I find if you have distance like this on some levels, it allows you to build more informal relationships on other levels. 

So I wear a suit, I give lectures, I assess students’ work but I also do things like share stories about my personal life. For example, last year I had a baby - well my wife did - and the students came with me on that journey as the baby was due during term time.  

I also do an exercise where we replicate Keynes’ famous ‘beauty contest’ example of how financial markets work, and I did this using pictures of my family’s cats. I could have used pictures from the internet but using something more personal helped create rapport with students and encouraged them to talk about their lives too. 

Having this balance means the students understand I’m not one of them but I see them as fellow human beings who I’m interested in knowing. 

Does this rapport make it easier for students to ask for help or say when they’re struggling? 

Definitely. Students should feel comfortable saying they don’t know the answer or saying when they think I’ve going something wrong. 

We all bring different knowledge to a discussion. In one class for example I was teaching central banking to someone who was a central banker. So if I had a difficult question on the topic I would ask for his input. Similarly, if I have a difficult question on American politics, I’ll ask one of the American students – “how would you answer that?” 

Sometimes class discussion is as much about facilitating students learning from each other as it is about passing on knowledge to them. 

What makes a good teacher?  

I’ve learnt that students have goals both in terms of what they want to learn about the world by being here and in terms of the qualifications they want to achieve.   

A good teacher should be able to combine these in a mutually reinforcing way that encourages development of knowledge within a student and rewards this but is also mindful that students will need to perform objectively well in an exam to gain the necessary qualifications. 

Have you used any innovative teaching methods? 

Last year I ran a mini dissertation workshop where the students presented and commented on each other’s dissertation plans while I took a step back and steered the discussion. 

I think they got better quality feedback than if they’d just had one-to-one meetings with me as you learn to have ideas about your own work when you’re commenting on other people’s work.   

It was a really successful model that would be great to see used more widely. 

What has been your teaching highlight so far? 

I did one lecture last year where I got a spontaneous round of applause at the end - that was a great feeling!

It was later in on the course and by that point I was writing for an audience I knew so that definitely helped.  

What do you enjoy most about teaching? 

Karl Marx once said “The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways. The point, however, is to change it” and for me that’s an opportunity of teaching at LSE, where some of our students will go on to become political and economic leaders. We have a chance to see real impact in real time on people who will go on to do great things and that’s a real privilege!

I suppose you have to wait 20 years until you see people in a position of power but you know it will happen at some point as that’s the nature of the institution.