Darden: Where Great Teachers Are Gods

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dean Robert Bruner has mentored many of his Darden professors on teaching

 

 

 

 

 

 

NO ONE IN HIS FAMILY WAS A TEACHER

Allayannis was not born into the profession. His father ran a lumber business in Greece started by his grandfather. His mother, who died the year he came to Darden in 1996, was a housewife. Jokes Allayannis: “The first generation builds the company. The second grows it and the third one destroys it. And now you know why I am here teaching.”

The first sign that he was destined to teach occurred while he was earning his undergraduate degree in electrical engineering in Greece at the National Technical University of Athens. He found he very much enjoyed tutoring students in different subjects and had a knack for it.

Soon after graduating in 1988, Allayannis came to the U.S. for his MBA at the University of Massachusetts. Instead of landing a typical MBA job in consulting or investment banking, however, he decided to pursue his PhD in finance at New York University’s Stern School.

‘TEACHING IS AN HONOR AND A PRIVILEGE TO SHAPE YOUNG PEOPLE’S MINDS. INDIRECTLY, YOU CAN SHAPE A NATION AND A WORLD’

The first time he walked into a classroom to teach was in 1995 as a PhD student for an undergraduate class in finance.  He was a natural at it, winning the award for outstanding teaching from Stern students within a year. “I enjoyed that very much and the experience solidified it for me,” he says. “I love teaching. It’s really my passion. It’s fun. It’s beautiful. It is an honor and a privilege to shape young people’s minds. Indirectly, you can shape a nation and a world.”

Armed with his PhD in finance, he joined the Darden School in 1996. With the exception of a two-year stint as an investment banker at Citibank in New York, from 2005 to 2007, he has taught at Darden now for 13 years. When he started at Darden, Allayannis often was observed by Robert Bruner, then a professor who has a reputation for being one of the world’s best case study teachers in finance.

Allayannis was teaching the first-year core course in finance, and Bruner strolled in and sat in the back of the classroom. “Bob wrote all the questions I asked the students in the case,” recalls Allayannis., who says he spent many hours in Bruner classes watching him teach. “Not only that, he even saw whether I was going more to the left or the right when I was pacing.

SOME IMPORTANT ADVICE ON TEACHING FROM AN IMPORTANT MENTOR

“The biggest piece of advice I received was when he showed me all the questions I had asked in the class. ‘You see these questions,’ he said. ‘You asked what, what, what and what. Your first how question was asked almost an hour into the case.’ This was like my tenth case at Darden. It was tremendous feedback. It took three years, I would say, to get to a level where I felt things were clicking. I was never a dud. But I wasn’t where I wanted to be.”

Years later, he takes great pride in returning that favor. “We try to coach and guide and share wisdom with our younger colleagues. I tell them if you mess up the first class don’t think, ‘Oh my God. Think about what you are going to do to fix this without dragging yourself down too much. Just move on.’” Of a young professor he is currently mentoring, Allayannis says, “I am so proud of him. It’s great to see him grow.”

“We have first year teaching meetings where every professor goes over his or her plan: ‘Here’s the key points, here’s the most important questions I’m going to ask.’ It’s impressive. You don’t just walk in and teach here. Senior colleagues are helping to guide you with the sequence of questions and how the problems arrive.”

MENTORING, FACULTY AND STUDENT EVALUATIONS, NUMEROUS AWARDS AND A CULTURE THAT MAKES TEACHING CRITICAL

How does Darden do it? First off, exceptional teaching is highly valued and highly rewarded. Young instructors are routinely mentored in teaching by more senior professors. First-year teaching meetings are held at which instructors go over their approach to a specific case, including what key points they intend to make and what questions they will ask the students.