When James Hartman stepped into a classroom to teach for the first time, he opened his mouth to talk, but nothing came out. He was so nervous his throat froze up and wouldn’t produce words. So he walked out to the hall, got a drink of water and told himself, “Man up, partner.”
That was more than four decades ago, when Hartman still was a graduate instructor, and it never happened again. As proof of just how much he manned up, Hartman has received the Career Achievement Teaching Award from the Kansas University College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, the college announced Thursday.
Over his career Hartman taught thousands of students, many of whom he still remembers vividly. Beginning in 1970, Hartman taught classes on grammar and the history of the English language. While a professor he also researched the evolution and pronunciation of American English and contributed to dictionaries, scholarly journals and conferences.
Today Hartman is a professor emeritus but still sits on dissertation committees, talks with and works with students and colleagues, and is helping with a project to conduct a new survey of American English. “It’s still sort of stunning to think, ‘That was my career,’” he said. “It’s hard for me to say my career was in the past.”
Hartman said he misses the classroom. During the decades that he taught, he tried daily to gauge how his students were handling the material. He rehearsed and fine-tuned his lectures in an effort to make the abstractions of language understandable to his students. He included things he had read in newspapers or comments from friends as illustrations. Sometimes inspiration would wake him in the middle of the night. “Ah! That’s the example I want,” he would think.
While an active professor at KU, Hartman received the Kemper Award, the Conger-Gabel Teaching Professorship and the Ed Grier Award for Integrating Scholarship into Teaching. The career achievement award came with a $1,000 check, which came in the mail recently, and he will speak at a reception for new faculty on Sept. 25.
The money is nice, but so are the kudos for Hart’s investment of time and energy into something he loved. “The recognition is really very touching,” he said.