The Department of English proudly announces a new teaching award that celebrates the work of graduate student instructors. The David A. Hambright Teaching Award for Graduate Students commends excellence in teaching by honoring the valuable intellectual and pedagogical contributions of GTAs. In August 2022, the inaugural Hambright Award went to Madeline Crozier, a third-year English PhD student specializing in Rhetoric, Writing, and Linguistics. The award committee was impressed by her dynamic lecturing, thoughtful comments on students’ papers, and high-quality teaching materials.
Hambright’s career is proof that excellent writing instruction has impacts on student writers, lasting far beyond their time at the university. UT alumnus J. Scott Rose and his wife Jennifer created this award in the fall of 2022 to honor David Hambright. Rose was a student in Hambright’s first-year composition course in 1977, while Hambright was still a PhD student. Dr. Hambright went on to have a wonderful if too brief career as a college English professor; he died at the age of 41. The following remembrance by J. Scott Rose brings to life David Hambright’s legacy, which continues today in the work of our graduate student instructors. It is a reminder that meaningful teaching can last a lifetime.
Remembering David Hambright: Excellence lasts longer than a lifetime
I met David Hambright in September, 1977. He was the graduate student instructor for my first freshman English course at UTK as he worked to earn his Ph.D. He was only ten years older, but we were at the opposite ends of the academic gauntlet. He was burdened with finishing his dissertation and looking for a job while I was beginning my life’s quest merely by trying to write good freshman compositions.
Nevertheless, I remember David treating me, and all of us in his class, as if we were the most important figures in his life, as if our instruction was his greatest responsibility. He introduced us to new literature, many stories that I still remember today. He made us think carefully about what the writers were saying. He urged us to consider how their perspectives could influence our lives even as we were just beginning adulthood. And he helped us to express our thoughts clearly and concisely, as any great instructor in English must.
We could not have reciprocated by contributing in any way to his work on his dissertation. What did we know about The Vices And Virtues In The Evolution of the Grotesque From Medieval To Modern Literature? Yet, he met us every class period with a gleam in his mischievous eyes and a literary idea in his clever mind conceived just to challenge us. In this, David did not just instruct us in literature, he taught us to think for ourselves. And he smiled constantly through his thick brown beard while doing so.
Our class only met for fifty minutes, three times a week over the course of 10 weeks that fall. (The university was still on the quarter system then). I never had David as an instructor again, although I saw him regularly during the spring to share a meal and to talk about literature and the new classes I was taking (all at his recommendation). He had then reached his pinnacle by obtaining his doctorate degree. I had only settled into my undergraduate climb. But now he treated me as his intellectual equal and, more importantly, as his friend. For an eighteen-year old student with some measure of potential but quite limited self-belief, David’s open kindness and quiet encouragement were like lifeblood.
Unfortunately, we quickly lost touch after the summer of 1978. David took a job at Oak Ridge National Laboratories and drifted away from the university community. I moved on to upper level English classes and subsequently to law school and then the practice of law in Texas. Although I still think of him often, so far as I can recall I never spoke to him again after 1978. It was only in 2022 that I learned that David had died in 1990 of a rare disease. That explained why I had never been able to find any information about him on the Internet!
Despite our limited amount of contact that ended over forty years ago, I can say today without hesitation that David Hambright changed my life. He did this seemingly effortlessly and probably unintentionally. He simply imparted to me, as he did to other students, his love of literature, a love filtered through his constantly amused attitude toward life. He did this so casually and with such sincerity that he did not seem to be teaching us at all. I know now that he was subtly compelling us to see the world as he saw it – beautiful, dangerous, perhaps meaningless, but nevertheless infinitely interesting and worthy of our best efforts at all times. I so wish that I could talk to him today to thank him for introducing me to that perspective, and to tell him how effective it was in preparing me for my own journey.
Doubtless, David’s skills are seen in other classrooms at UTK today, in English as well as other disciplines. I profoundly hope that the students experiencing them are as impacted and energized as I was over forty years ago. The humanities in general, and English literature in particular, are as vital to our higher education as ever before. In this age of instant communication that conveys little of substance and often less of truth, we need instruction – perhaps even immersion – in great literature under the guidance of people like David Hambright.
Remarkably, I am still motivated by David’s work over forty years later, even though I pursued a profession seldom associated with great literature. That is the power of the gift of teaching. I fear that today’s students may not appreciate the gift that such instruction can bestow on them, and perhaps are not even recognizing the effort being made on their behalf. I fear also that such indifference will dull the effort and may ultimately destroy the gift.
My hope is that honoring David’s excellence in teaching through the establishment of a teaching fellowship will reward and strengthen today’s graduate students who are as dedicated to teaching as he was. If so, then their renewed efforts will doubtlessly inspire at least some of their students as David’s work inspired me and, I am certain, many others.
My law firm has long had a motto – “Excellence never has a bad day”. David Hambright showed that excellence also has a long legacy. I am proud to honor David’s legacy of excellence in teaching, and to strive to perpetuate it, through the establishment of the Dr. David A. Hambright Graduate Fellowship.
J. Scott Rose
UTK, Classes ‘81, ‘84
July, 2022 Santa Fe, NM