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Jim Hartman's Comments on Receiving the Career Achievement Teaching Award

This September, Professor Emeritus James Hartman was recognized by the College of Liberal Arts and Science with the Career Achievement Teaching Award. He delivered the following talk at a reception for incoming faculty on September 25, 2013.

James Hartman
CLAS Career Achievement Teaching Award

Thank you, Dean Anderson, for your kind introduction. I deeply want to thank my colleagues in the English department for supporting me for this award as well as the College administration for establishing the award and for finding me a worthy recipient. It is a very meaningful recognition for me. Thank you. And then thanks to all my colleagues, family and friends for being here even though they know I am a lousy speaker-pretty good teacher, not so good speaker.

Certainly, a very warm welcome to the new members of the College faculty. What an exciting time for you! May you derive as much pleasure and satisfaction from your career here as I have, for it has been enormous. 50 years ago nearly to the week I had left graduate school to " find myself," as the 60's would have it, and walked in to teach my very first class at a small Midwestern University. Once the considerable stage fright had passed, I knew that teaching was, for me, the perfect complement to my intellectual pursuits, just as I had discovered several years earlier that the study of the English-language was a delightful merging of two basic impulses: to describe rigorously how things work and to approach some understanding of the human condition.. Those two conjoining experiences have fueled me to this minute.

Well, this reception's organizers have given me only two hours to bury you guys in nostalgia. (By the way, grammar class, did you notice where I placed the "only"? Before the "two hours" and not between the "have" and "given"? That placement marks me by age and perhaps by education and training. But, Hartman, I hear you say, should we have noticed ? Is it better to have noticed or not have noticed? Are there really two kinds of people in the world, those who notice and those who don't? Well, there's an issue for us to ponder.) There certainly is nostalgic material to fill that time. The stone-faced student who sat silently through three of my classes, taking her grade from a mercy D, to a strong C to an A, with her final paper being better than I could have produced. The skinny, red-haired rising sophomore who walked into my summer graduate grammar class, and despite my expressed fears turned into one of the stronger students in the class. He is now a professor of English,. The potential list here is long, with joys and achievements attached to each one. Marvelous students in so many different ways stretching across the decades, including those from every continent. I have enjoyed them, learned much from them.

It is also clear, however, that the nature of my students, their goals, their preferred ways of working, attitudes about many things academic have shifted. My own understanding of my subject matter has deepened and shifted over the years (along with changing scholarship) as have the larger contexts for higher education -sources of financial support, institutional goals and expectations, for example. Thus, adapting to change has been a significant challenge over the course my career. Not that some things haven't endured--my desire to understand the English language, its structures, its functions its varieties, for one. My pleasure in looking for ways to frame, present, and share that knowledge in the classroom, for another. In fact, looking at knowledge from variant perspectives has added to both my teaching and scholarship. One of my wisest professors in graduate school said that to know about any facet of language (and other things as well) one has to examine it as a particle, a wave and a field: describe it, analyze its interactions, and consider all the other things that might potentially be in the same class. I have leaned on that maxim in a thousand different ways. And as the world within, in front of, and around me shifts, I continue to look for fresh ways of making sense of the English language for myself and for others. And "making sense of" something is giving it larger meaning--such as those of utility and human values.

That is, I tried to shape what I wanted my students to know and how I wanted them to know it. Because I had a supportive context, this freedom to give meaning to what I taught kept teaching vitally interesting over nearly five decades.

But I must stop here and tell you that I lied. I don't really have two hours up here, more like 7 minutes, So I will move from nostalgia to didacticism, moralizing, exhortation, preaching, maybe. Nearly five decades of change in University contexts have made me quite aware how important responding to change is, for values and commitments may slide from year to year. In language study it is axiomatic that meaning is shaped by context. And academic contexts have certainly shifted over the decades. Yet I found here at the University a supportive context that allowed and encouraged me to pour time, energy, thought and caring into my classrooms. Exactly what elements of this supportive context are crucial I don't know. Despite significant changes over the years, teaching is still a valued part of the University. Here we are, for instance. But are there limits to how far such changes might go to maintain such a supportive context? Will shifts in technology, values, and goals shunt aside the determination to share information, knowledge, and understanding, and thus make it less effective, less joyful? That is, will teaching continue to promote the meaning of our knowledge?

I encourage the new faculty to take on as part of your university identities the deep caring about teaching. It is that caring that will keep our supportive context evolving. You will be enriching your own intellectual self as well as that of your colleagues. Will one of you be standing here decades from now?

Preaching? If I had to identify what my experience suggests are the most crucial elements of a supportive context for strong teaching, I would say respect and love: respect and love for your students, respect and love for your subject matter, respect and love for yourself. None of these can be long neglected in a shifting context. I wish you all well. Thank you.

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