Doctoral Students Are Honored for Their Outstanding Teaching

“Teaching is about joining students in learning to deal not only with the material but also with their lives” — so says Ansgar Mohnkern, one of nine Yale doctoral students who were awarded this year’s Prize Teaching Fellowships (PTFs).

Considering what qualities make a teacher good, and putting that knowledge into practice, is an important part of being a Ph.D. student at Yale. All doctoral candidates are expected to serve as teaching fellows for a semester or more en route to their Ph.D. degree. To help these students build their teaching skills, the Graduate School offers teacher-training workshops, one-on-one coaching and forums to explore issues in pedagogy.

Each year, Yale honors the most outstanding student teachers with PTFs. Winners are nominated anonymously by their students and by the faculty they assisted, and selected by a committee that includes the director of the Teaching Fellow Program, the deputy dean of Yale College and the director of the Graduate Teaching Center.

This year’s winners and their departments are: Eric Bianchi (music), John Biblin (physics), John Goss (cell biology), Marcus Labude (philosophy), Grace Leslie (history), Mary Ellen Leuver (history of medicine and science), Ansgar Mohnkern (Germanic languages & literatures), Andrea Moudarres (Italian languages & literatures), Evelyn Scaramella (Spanish & Portuguese) and Gilad Tanay (philosophy).

The nomination letters for the individual PTF winners invariably praise the doctoral students for their respect for and rapport with students, as well as their ability to motivate and encourage, their gift for making complex subjects comprehensible, and their upbeat approach.

Like Mohnkern, some of the PTF winners have definite ideas of what constitutes success leading a class.

Good teachers, contends Leuver, are generally “excited about what they are teaching. They can find a way to make things interesting while still covering the basics. … A good teacher is someone who has high expectations and who teaches students to meet those expectations.”

Scaramella believes that teachers must be “dedicated to their students’ learning needs, no matter how busy their own schedules may get, and … are professional, compassionate and kind to their students on a daily basis.” On the other hand, teaching is a “privilege” as well, she notes. “I found through my daily interaction with such bright, creative and caring students in my Spanish courses that it has been a true honor to be able to refine my own teaching skills with their support and willingness to help me grow as an instructor.”

At a dinner honoring this year’s PTF winners, which was co-hosted by Dean of Yale College Joseph Gordon, Graduate School Dean Jon Butler told the teachers-in-training: “You are here tonight because you care. … We live in a world in which many things aren’t going right, but individuals can have a significant effect on each other. … Something you did, something you said, affected your students. We’re here to thank you and praise you.”

— By Gila Reinstein

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Gila Reinstein:, 203-432-1325