For the Love of Teaching

February 18, 2019

We are “born to love,” Billie Holiday tells us in one of her loveliest songs. That may be true, but love is far from simple. A variety of fascinating psychological processes make love a wonderful, confusing, and sometimes wrenching emotion.

Later this week, I will visit PSYC 110: Introduction to Psychology, to deliver my (nearly) annual “love lecture.” I taught PSYC 110 for many years, and I feel fortunate that Yale College Dean Marvin Chun, the Richard M. Colgate Professor of Psychology and professor of neuroscience, who teaches the course this year, has invited me back as a guest lecturer. Although my lecture, coming on the heels of Valentine’s Day, focuses on romantic love, being back in the classroom reminds me of another great love in my life—teaching.

Teaching at Yale is extraordinary for many reasons. Yale students are curious and motivated, and they are interested in ideas and topics beyond the scope of their majors. In many courses, faculty and students are able to collaborate on academic projects.

Our faculty members take seriously the responsibility to prepare the next generation of thinkers and leaders. Dean Chun taught popular courses in Yale College before being named dean in 2017. The recipient of the Lex Hixon Prize for Teaching Excellence in the Social Sciences and the Phi Beta Kappa William Clyde DeVane Award for distinguished undergraduate teaching, he returned to the classroom this year in addition to his duties as dean.

Great teaching at Yale is both rigorous and inspiring. Sarah Demers, the Horace D. Taft Associate Professor of Physics, is a particle physicist who has won several awards for her teaching. Last fall and spring, Professor Demers taught Fundamentals of Physics I and II (PHYS 200 and 201), foundational courses for physics and engineering majors. And she worked with professional dancer Emily Coates, a professor in theater studies with an appointment in the School of Drama and recipient of a Poorvu Family Award for Interdisciplinary Teaching, to develop the Physics of Dance, a course designed to help students explore the intersections between physics and the arts. Together they have written a new book, published this year by Yale University Press, that explores how art and science can help us understand the motions and movements of our daily lives.

Yale aspires to be the research university most committed to teaching, and our focus on teaching involves both classroom learning and hands-on discovery. Joseph Manning, the William K. & Marilyn Milton Simpson Professor of Classics & History, professor of forestry and environmental science, and senior research scholar at Yale Law School, was recently awarded a grant from the National Science Foundation to study how ancient Egyptian society responded to major climate and environmental changes. This fall Professor Manning took a group of graduate and undergraduate students to the Ice Core Laboratory of Professor Joe McConnell, Yale College Class of 1982, at the Desert Research Institute (DRI) in Reno, Nevada. The Yale team learned techniques of ice core work and how historians can use data from ice cores to refine the connections between climate change and human society. In turn, Yale students across a wide range of majors and graduate specializations shared their work in history and archaeology with DRI scientists. Even more exciting, collaborative work between Professor McConnell’s lab and the Yale-led research project is planned in the next few years. This multidisciplinary partnership exemplifies the educational and research opportunities our faculty and students enjoy at the intersection of humanities, social science, and sciences.

Our faculty members’ commitment to education—sharing their disciplines and their interests with the leaders of tomorrow—is part of what distinguishes Yale as a leading university. And for many of us, teaching is truly a labor of love.