Day Earns College's Top Teaching Award

by Steve Charles

April 30, 2010

A Special Night for Day

The man Dean of the College Gary Phillips calls “the epitome of the Wabash teacher/scholar, whose career is itself an epigram of the way one lives and loves the liberal arts,” Professor of Classics Joe Day was honored Thursday night as the 2010 winner of the McLain-McTurnan-Arnold Award for Excellence in Teaching.

“Here we see our best aspirations honored,” President Pat White said as he welcomed guests to the College’s 2010 Awards Chapel, which celebrated Day and more than 100 students for excellence in their work at the College.

See photo albums from Awards Chapel here

A 27-year Wabash veteran and the 2009 Indiana Classics Teacher of the Year, Day received a standing ovation as strode down the Chapel aisle to receive his prize. It was an historic moment, both for the College and the Day family: Professor of Classics Leslie Day earned the McLain-McTurnan Arnold award in 1996, making the Days the first couple in which both members have won the College’s top award for teaching.

“After the ceremony, Leslie told me that she’s known I had won the award for two weeks,” Day said. “Boy, can she keep a secret! I revel in her joy, her beaming face as Gary was reading. That adds a lot to the meaning.

“I am more than happy—as my sainted mother would put it, I was tickled pink—to win the award. It means a lot to me. I'm also extremely pleased by the context in which the award was given: Classics majors and minors made off with a whole raft of significant awards last night, and they and I are enjoying our mutual recognition. I'm referring to Classics Department majors Mitch Brown, John Henry, and Denver Wade, and to minors like Kevin Andrews, Adam Brasich, David Haggard, and Jacob Stump.

"To be honored for teaching alongside some of the students you have taught is intense joy.”

Leslie Day was even more specific in noting the "coincidence" that both she and Joe had won this award in years their students had won big as well.

"When I got the award, our senior major that year was [now Wabash Professor] Jeremy Hartnett, who got a Mackintosh, the Classics prize, and the Phi Beta Kappa Prize (for his senior thesis with me)--and I walked off with the Big Mac. Jeremy went on to grad school in Classics. This time Mitch Brown got a Mackintosh, the Classics Prize, and the Phi Beta Kappa Prize (for his senior thesis with Joe)--and Joe walked off with the Big Mac. Mitch is going on to Cincinnati for a Ph.D in Classics."  

"Joe Day has the reputation of being a superb lecturer, able to turn a phrase, focus an argument, and condense in a most succinct way the central meaning of a text or event or cultural moment,” Dean Phillips said. “Socratic instruction is his preferred style. One graduating senior, who is not a major in our winner’s department, confided to me in his senior exit interview that he so enjoyed our winner’s lectures that he would walk over to his classroom just to stand in the hallway outside the classroom and listen."

Day himself has written, “I consider it my sacred mission to help students fall in love with details and find in them the wherewithal to envision ancient lives as they were actually led. Not that I want them to memorize and parrot back information, but to develop a certain habit of mind whereby they enjoy details for themselves.”

In recent years, Day has concentrated his scholarship on the epigram—a brief, clever, and usually memorable statement derived from the Greek word meaning "to write on, inscribe." Phillips said he could imagine the most appropriate epigram written on the syllabi for Professor Joe Day's courses: Love the details, live restlessly, learn so as to exceed your limits.


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