Prof. Potkay Recognized with Teaching Excellence Award| May 7, 2012
Professor Potkay has a demonstrated history of excellent teaching in a variety of courses, from the freshman/sophomore survey courses to senior seminars. A respected scholar, he excels in drawing from his research to shape his classes and challenge his students to the limit of their abilities. His current senior seminar on Wordsworth, for example, is closely tied to his forthcoming book on Wordsworth's Ethics; and his senior seminar on the sublime, from antiquity to the present, was taught in conjunction with research for an article on the romantic sublime, which is forthcoming in a collection. In all the subject areas he teaches, his eloquence, enthusiasm, and teaching skill have made demanding course content accessible to and exciting for his students. Sensitive to the needs of beginning poetry students, for example, Professor Potkay introduces an exercise that engages them in syntactic analysis by taking them through the grammar and syntax of poetic lines that might otherwise remain inaccessible. These exercises have the great virtue of instilling in students the habit of close reading — breaking apart sentences, pondering the dictionary definitions of unfamiliar words, and analyzing the way grammar shapes poetic meaning. His course materials generally are filled with thoughtful explanations and appendices (one syllabus contains elaborate timelines of events shaping the literature of the long eighteenth century), and are testimony to the willingness and enthusiasm of a gifted scholar to undertake difficult work in the classroom.
Professor Potkay's additional contributions to excellence in teaching include long service as a Freshman Advisor (since 1991) and preparation of the English Major's Handbook, a guide to critical writing and preparation for graduate and professional school (adopted by the Department of English in 1995). It is fitting that he now be recognized with the Arts and Sciences 2012 Faculty Award for Teaching Excellence.