Herbert A. Simon Award for Teaching Excellence 2018
School of Computer Science, Carnegie Mellon University
Pittsburgh PA 15213-3891
(412)268-8525 . (412)268-5576 (fax)

What's love got to do with it?

John Mackey

A friend asked me to write "a few or more paragraphs on teaching", indicating that this is to be, "text that comes from the heart". Well, I would have it no other way, and it is a pleasure to write something for everyone.

Teaching has always been very personal for me, and human-human interaction has always formed the core of the teaching/learning symbiosis. Teaching technology has dazzled recently, and I find all the new bells and whistles to be very useful when they facilitate the human-human interactions that make life meaningful. There is no more for me to say about teaching technology, because the essence of teaching and learning, for me, is based more in art and emotion.

I remember my mother teaching me how letters correspond to sounds, but not really getting it. I remember exactly where I was (I was alone, with her inspiring words in the back of my mind) when it finally dawned on me that "R" made the "R" sound. I stumbled out to the kitchen to find my mother, and the feeling that I had for her was one of gratitude and love. Probably right then, I was headed toward a future based on teaching and learning. I wanted to be like her, and I wanted to help people to have that same feeling of understanding. In no small way, I probably wanted people to love me, too.

Every time I teach something, or inspire a moment of revelation, I have a feeling that I can't quite convey with a countable alphabet, and very frequently, students teach me as much or more than I teach them. When a class is going particularly well, I find myself floating above my body in the classroom, seeing myself and the students in the classroom. The words come out just right, and it is as though they are coming from somewhere else. The students' questions are insightful and the discussion moves like a breeze flowing down the Manoa valley. I won't speculate on an afterlife here, but certainly this comes as close as I will ever experience in a waking state.

So that is what teaching is for me, people, it is an expression of, and a reception of, love. I have loved teaching, and I have loved sharing with students. I happily accept this award, and I thank all who made it possible.

20 May 2018

Return to: SCS Faculty Awards