Distinguished teacher connects with students

He's been known to incorporate the Simpson's cartoon family into his lectures and inspire students to say they could "listen to him all day". He's also earned the reputation as a meticulous planner and master of his scholarship. For that, and a variety of other reasons, Dr. Ian McAdam is the 2009 Distinguished Teaching Award recipient.

"I find it exceptionally gratifying, especially at an institution that emphasizes teaching excellence. I guess it does validate my approach and it also makes me a little nervous that I have to live up to it for the rest of my career," McAdam laughs.

An English professor, the Calgary-raised McAdam has been on staff at the University since 1995. With a boundless enthusiasm and infectious passion for modern literature, McAdam is known for his ability to engage students. He says the small class sizes at the U of L are a perfect fit for his teaching style.

"It allows you to have conversations and discussions in class that are manageable," McAdam says. "I think with a smaller class size, students are more willing to speak up, they feel less intimidated. It's also an advantage for me in that I still think marking an essay is one of the major tests for evaluation in English literature, and it means that it's a doable amount of work for me with 40 students as opposed to 80."

McAdam is especially adept at connecting classic texts to timeless themes found in literature or current popular culture. Film clips, excerpts from related scholarship and musical and artistic artifacts help him put literature in context. Through anecdotes, analogies, and examples (such as the Simpson's), he is able to make obscure concepts clear and reach even those students who might have had little or no previous interest in literature of the 16th and 17th centuries.

"There's something old fashioned about me, I like to focus on what might be the universal messages in literature that I teach," he says. "A lot of recent theory and scholarly approaches emphasize a historical context but in spite of that, I believe you can identify certain themes that recur over the centuries and I think that works."

McAdam is also a dedicated researcher who is particularly interested in the use of magic in early modern literature. He has recently authored a book that is going to press on masculinity and magic in early modern English drama. Taking that research into the classroom and encouraging dialogue with students is a long held University tenet and something McAdam takes to heart.

"We have an approachable faculty where students feel comfortable coming to see us on a regular basis. I try and encourage my students to come see me and sometimes wish they would come by more often," he says. "We also have a great balance between teaching and research – we are a University, not a college – so that gives us a double advantage."

A father of two (five-year-old Kate and three-year-old Sam), with his wife Wendy, McAdam revels in his role as a professor of modern literature, even deflecting some of the credit to the authors he's privileged to study.

"Anyone who makes a living teaching great, and endlessly interesting, literature to groups of young adults should feel ridiculously lucky," he says. "Since I get my very best evaluations, I think, in my Shakespeare classes, I feel, honestly, that I owe something of that positive response to the brilliance of Shakespeare himself."

He humbly adds the words of a University of Victoria professor, from whom he took an undergraduate course.

"He told me that if you can't teach Shakespeare (and make it interesting), you shouldn't be teaching at all."

Thankfully, McAdam is teaching, and doing so remarkably well.