The Alan J. Perlis SCS Student Teaching Award
School of Computer Science, Carnegie Mellon University
Pittsburgh PA 15213-3891
(412)268-8525 . (412)268-5576 (fax)

The Love Theorem

Sang Tian
2013 Undergraduate Student Teaching Award

Over my five semesters teaching math and computer science, I have surely proven hundreds of theorems to my students. However, my ultimate goal during all of this time is to prove to my students the most beautiful theorem of all.

Theorem: Students are more than thinkers who deserve to be taught. They are humans who deserve to be loved.

I find that the most effective way to prove this theorem is to actually live it out. In fact, I believe that my efforts to do so are the key ingredient to being a good teacher - not my expertise in computer science, nor my articulation skills, nor my ability to make good course notes or PowerPoints, but my desire to unconditionally love my students. Over the years, I have developed the following four lemmas for proving this theorem:

Lemma: Sacrifice yourself. Good teaching and steadfast love require constant sacrifices. For example:

  • If you don't have the time to invest in students, drop some classes.
  • Make sure the next homework is better than the previous, even if it requires pul ling all-nighters.
  • When falling behind with grading, skip Carnival.
  • When tutoring students, defer all personal homework until the students can fare well without you.

Lemma: Humble yourself. Students won't approach you if they think that you'r e too good for them. Instead, be their friend! Try the following:

  • Freely give out your phone number and allow students to text or call you w henever they want.
  • Make sure that no one thinks that you're busy by not doing any personal home work when you are with them.
  • Avoid "showing off" esoteric jargon so that the students can easily understand you.
  • If you don't know a concept as well as you should have, openly admit it and get back to them later instead of aimlessly making stuff up on the spot.
Lemma: Offer hope and encouragement. It is very easy to focus too much on th e course material and forget that students are humans with feelings and emotions . Instead:

  • Wander around Gates from floor to floor in hopes of bumping into students who are studying and offer hope and encouragement.
  • Bring cookies with you! :)
  • Find out which students are feeling overwhelmed or depressed and invite them to lunch to cheer them up.
  • Always wear your brightest smile, even when you are going through much suffering.

Lemma: Be thankful! If any good can come from me, it is because others have empowered me first. In particular, I thank:

  • David Kosbie for seeing potential in me and catalyzing my entire career in teaching,
  • John Mackey for being my initial inspiration and my role model teacher,
  • Adam Blank for his invaluable teaching advice,
  • Ryan O'Donnell for his deep sense of care and drive to make me try even harder,
  • Of course, my students for always making my heart jump and my smile widen.
  • Most importantly, I thank God, for the only reason why I can love is because he loved me first.

Corollary: When students are loved, they can be empowered to love others.

The beautiful thing about the Love Theorem is that it is designed to propagate. I would consider my teaching at CMU a success if my students can think, "Hey! I'm not at CMU just to work my butt off! There are people around me going through similar trials and ordeals. I can be loving them! This is why I love my students. They are more than just my students. They are my friends, my joy, my "children" whom I have had the privilege to inspire and to love. I am satisfied when I see them growing and smiling, knowing that not only have they learned more computer science, but also that they have gained new insight into life, that to be a computer scientist, they need to be first and foremost human, living and breathing, loving and caring, smiling, eager to pass onto others the joys of life, from now 'til forever.

Q.E.D. and Amen

An extended version is available at the author's website

Return to: SCS Student Awards