Read my teaching statement.
Below are letters of recommendation I received from students for my nomination for the campus-wide Academic Senate teaching award at UCSB. I received this nomination two times during my tenure for two separate classes: Introductory Econometrics (Econ 140) and Data Wrangling for Economics (Econ 145). I have withheld the names of the students for privacy.
Dear UCSB Academic Senate,
This past quarter I was a student in Michael Topper’s section for an Econometrics class, and I truly believe that he deserves this Academic Senate Teaching Assistant Award and recognition for his incredible ability as a teacher. He was understanding, kind, and patient, but the most important quality I think he brought to the class and my own learning experience is confidence.
Anyone in Michael’s section could see that he went above and beyond in the way he prepared for his sections. It was clear that he really valued his students’ time and did everything in his power to create lessons that were clear and concise, filling every second of that 50 minute class period with useful information. But even though he always had a plan for that day’s section, he also listened to what problems we were having with the material and could think on his feet quickly enough to change his plan so he could help us with concepts that were harder to grasp. He would create problems on the spot, explain them in depth, and go through different ways to think about the problem until the whole class felt that they understood the concept. During his office hours, I would often stay for the whole time working on other problems but listen to the questions that other students would bring in. Being able to observe him working with other students made it even more clear to me how his patients and determination to help us master the material was an asset to all of our learning experiences. People would come in at different times right before the test and ask for help on the same question. But instead of getting annoyed that he was going over the same problem for the 4th time in an hour, each time he taught it, it was clear he was using that as a way to see which way of explaining it was getting through to his students the best and refining his teaching approach each subsequent time.
The way he was able to explain certain concepts was also very impactful, and I feel that because of the way he explained things, I have retained more from his class than any other statistics related course I have taken. In previous statistics classes, I would just memorize what steps to show I “understood” the concept. In the past, I’ve had teachers dismiss my questions because “there was no need to get into the nitty gritty details” and “as long as I knew what steps to take and what formula to follow I would be fine for the test.” But Micheal didn’t think about teaching in a grades based sense, and he spent a lot of time and effort in making sure that we all really understood the concepts we were being taught. Whenever I asked a question, it was clear that his goal was to make sure I left the classroom with confidence in my understanding of the material. It was because of his outlook on teaching that I felt more confident than ever going into the tests because I finally felt I had the foundational background to solve any problem the test threw at me.
I sincerely believe that Michael’s dedication and understanding-oriented approach to teaching is something that should be held in high regard. His ability to adapt to the needs of each of his students and truly prioritize our learning is amazing. And the impact that had on me is so important because I cannot stress enough how great a feeling it was to be confident in my own knowledge and ability to do well in this class. He is an asset to the department and UCSB as a whole, and I feel that his contributions should be recognized.
Dear Academic Senate,
This letter is written to support Michael Topper in his nomination for the Outstanding Teaching Assistant Award.
My name is [REDACTED] and I am more than happy and willing to endorse Michael for the award. I can say, with confidence that Michael was the best teaching assistant I had the honor of having throughout my three years at UCSB.
Many teaching assistants do the bare minimum–show up, “teach” something and move on. Each day, Michael did the maximum. He strived to help students understand difficult concepts and to not only do well but excel in the topics. He also throws in jokes here and there to hopefully help you enjoy econometrics just a little more.
There were instances when I could not make it to his office hours but to make sure I had my questions answered, he was more than happy to meet at a different time. Michael also opened up additional office hours before midterms/finals to be more accessible to his students. Despite the personal work he had for the graduate department, he made time to help his students the best he can.
Michael was very popular as a TA because he was great at what he does. His review sessions were always packed. Students filled not only the seats, but also the aisles and the front. Needless to say, it was always a little stuffy in there. My friends joked that Michael is on par with some of the Economics professors at UCSB. He definitely has a career in the teaching profession.
I believe Michael is truly deserving of this award and is a model for how teaching assistants should aspire to be. I am more than happy to be endorsing him and would love to see him be rewarded for his positive impact on his students.
Dear [Main Committee Person],
It is my pleasure to write this letter of recommendation for Michael Topper for the nomination of the Excellence in Teaching Award. As an undergraduate student at the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB), I was impressed by Topper’s passion for genuinely wanting to see students succeed and learn, and in my experience, I can confidently say that he has been an outstanding TA.
I first noticed Topper’s passion for teaching when I attended my first section of Econ 145 last quarter, the data wrangling class that he was the TA for. I truly believe that his teaching style is what made the class more unique than the other ones that I was taking during that time. During sections, Topper wanted to emphasize a setting where students actually learn something that they will be able to apply to other classes, work, etc. I have taken numerous classes where I have felt like the material that was being taught in the sections was only being taught for the sole purpose of getting the students to pass the class and nothing more.
During this current quarter, there have been times where I have felt extremely lucky to have previously taken Econ 145 with Topper. As of right now, I am taking several courses that require students to analyze data, and most students are struggling with doing basic data manipulation tasks through RStudio, the program that students were taught in Econ 145. I, on the other hand, complete every single homework assignment with full accuracy and pure effiency, all thanks to Topper putting his best effort to teach the Econ 145 sections. In addition to that, attending Topper’s sections helped me discover my passion for data science, which allowed me to focus on what I want to do as a career in the future, and I am very thankful for that.
Topper was one of the few TA’s that put in overtime hours to create Econ 145, and I am extremely impressed with how organized the class structure was. The homework assignments felt more like solving puzzles, rather than something to be stressed out about. While they were still challenging at times, I welcomed the challenges that I faced because I felt like I was learning something from them that will be of use later in life. In summary, I enthusiastically and unreservedly support Michael Topper in the nomination for the Excellence in Teaching Award. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me via email at [REDACTED].
“He’s extremely smart but presents the material in a way that everyone understands. He’s extremely thorough which allows us to understand what we’re doing. He’s very welcoming to questions and literally makes 5000% more sense than the professor. He cares a lot and does everything he can to help us out. Give him a raise.”
“He basically taught the entire class and my experience would have been vastly different without him. Highly proficient and best TA I had this year.”
“Michael is the highlight of Econ 10A. I went to his week 1 section and was super impressed! So impressed that I went and raved about how amazing he was to my friends also in this class. After my compliments they had to understand what the race was about they now too attend his sections and are super impressed too! We all look forward to Friday mornings, because we know that any questions we have, Michael will explain them so thoroughly! Plus he is fun, he has this joy to his teaching style that humors your, puts a smile on your face and keeps you entertained (in a good way). He understands the concepts so well! What I love about him and has drawn my friends too, is how he goes over topic and actual step-by-step ways to solve it! The way he writes out the steps is heaven sent! That is the hard part of 10A, you get the concept but not the math and Michael fixes that concern! If I was the head of my department at any university I would want every Professor and every TA to be Michael. I would know he getting the job done SUCCESSFULLY! In case it wasn’t obvious, Michael is amazing, great, has positive energy and knowledgeable.”
“Michael is amazing, from his speed to lecture formatting and teaching style. I would be disappointed if he changed anything! What he is doing now works!”
“Michael definitely knows his material. He presents the material in a way that is digestible to students. He always asks if anyone has questions throughout the class, and it gives the chance for students who do have questions to clarify on things they had questions on. When students still don’t understand, he tries different methods to try and get students to understand. Michael is the only reason why I understand stuff in 140A, so he’s a great TA!”
“Super clear, logical explanations at a great pace. In all honesty Michael is the best TA I’ve had so far at UCSB. He just has a knack for making the material click in a way I can’t really explain but really appreciate.”