Teacher Spotlight: Dr. Haney Brings Marine Biology Research Background to His Classroom

Ava Eimani

Dr. Todd Haney has taught at Sage Hill School since 2005 and teaches AP Biology and AP Environmental Science, as well as Biology through Summer at Sage. Where did this love of biology and the environment stem from? Haney describes how he’s always loved the outdoors and spent his childhood fishing, camping and boating in California and Arizona. He attended high school in the small desert town ofLake Havasu City, Ariz., where he spent time exploring and enjoying the Colorado River. He knew a career in biology would entail studying nature in the great outdoors, which he found more appealing than any desk job. This love of biology led Haney to spend his undergraduate years on the coast of Mexico, where he collected organisms for a research lab. This lab drew him into the field of marine biology where he studied the evolution of parasites living off whales, dolphins and porpoises. He then pursued a doctorate in evolutionary biology and ecology from UCLA and spent time  in fieldwork to collect and examine specimens that took him to Baja California and the Bahamas. He even joined deep-sea expeditions aboard the research submarine DSV Alvin

Haney hadn’t initially been interested in teaching at the secondary school level; in fact, he’d been on the path to becoming a professor and entering academia. Then, while he was studying at UCLA, he took a side job teaching AP Biology and Ecology. His first year at Sage Hill School sealed the deal. Now, Haney explains that his favorite aspect of teaching is building relationships with the students, teachers and staff. He enjoys how kind and respectful the students are, along with how the faculty and staff act together as a family with a common purpose.

When asked about how he remembers all of his students’ names over time, he says it’s easier to associate the student with something such as a “remarkably novel take on a project,” or “one who had not yet discovered the art of personal hygiene.” However, in his 17 years at Sage, Haney has also experienced a few embarrassing moments, one of which involving a misunderstanding with Head of School Patricia Merz. While discussing fossils with his freshman class, he showcased a pair of rare dinosaur eggs from Mongolia. As he held them to his chest, he leaned toward the row of students and asked “What do these look like?” He says, “It was not until seeing Ms. Merz’s facial expression that I understood I was holding two large, rounded, symmetric objects against my chest. My mind was on paleontology, but I had just made breasts.” 

Aside from his love of biology, Haney discusses how if he had to enroll in another class for a day, he would love to sit in one of Stephen Schumacher’s classes, where he envisions Schumacher “coaching students to see historical events through a broader lens, with meaningful connections to contemporary issues and to his and their own personal experiences.” Haney also loves classic rock music. When asked about what superlative he would’ve received in high school, he says he would’ve been called “the most likely to disappear into the wild.” Haney continues to be a favorite among the students for his sense of humor, passion for the sciences, and his constant kindness.