Professor named ‘College Teacher of the Year’

English and Creative Writing professor Ray Horton was named College Teacher of the Year. (Photo courtesy of

English and Creative Writing professor Ray Horton was named ‘College Teacher of the Year.’ (Photo courtesy of

MacKenzie Rogers, Staff Writer

After only six years of teaching, English professor Ray Horton was awarded the 2023 College Teacher of the Year award from the Kentucky Council of Teachers of English/Language Arts.

KCTE recognizes distinguished English and language arts educators on all levels, from kindergarten through graduate school.

Horton, who is also co-coordinator of the undergraduate literature program, said he did not know he had been nominated.

“It was a really, really great feeling,” Horton said. “It’s really quite an honor. I’m in a department with so many phenomenal teachers just right here. It’s nice to have…the work I do in the classroom recognized in that way.”

Horton specializes in 20th century American literature, literature and religion, secularization and contemporary fiction.

Horton said he has a lot of personal interest in literature and religion, as someone whose views and experiences have changed over the years.

“[I want] to kind of make sense of things and to think about positive and negative ways that different religious discourses sort of influenced the culture,” Horton said. “What better way to do that? And then studying sort of this…understudied tradition of American writers who have a kind of tense relationship with religion sometimes but are nevertheless really, really fascinated by it.”

Horton currently is returning to his doctoral dissertation and preparing to revise it into a book manuscript. The book has been tentatively titled “American Fiction, Secular Faith.”

“It’s about 20th century and contemporary American novelists who draw on a variety of religious beliefs, experiences, traditions in ways that are often sort of conceived of as very secular or very sort of nonreligious,” Horton said.

Horton currently teaches American Literature 1865 to 1945, general education English and the American Novel course at the graduate level.

He says his favorite class to teach is “the American Novel” because it covers the end of the 18th century to the present, a time period that captures his interest.

“What I love about teaching literature is that I so often get to teach texts that I’ve written about or thought about very extensively and very deeply,” Horton said. “As a teacher, just watching my own students’ growth and development, seeing students develop more sort of intellectual independence, seeing them come to conclusions that are clearly their own that they’ve worked really hard to develop makes it worth it, you know?”

Horton is excited about the upcoming fall semester’s rotation, as he says he will finally be given the opportunity to teach the Major Authors course, focusing on James Baldwin.

“I’ve been waiting very patiently, badgering all my colleagues about it mostly, like, ‘One of these days, I’m gonna teach my Baldwin course,’” Horton said. “And now it’s here.”

One of Horton’s teaching philosophies is the importance of students discovering their own voices, learning to trust those voices and having a lot of respect for their own intuition.

“I’m really interested in the concept of revision, both in terms of student writing and in terms of our own approach to a text, to the world, to our beliefs, to our values,” Horton said. “Trying to teach in a way that prompts students to be open to their own questions and analyze them carefully and really think hard about them and take them seriously as valid and valuable questions that they can keep returning to.”

The KCTE spring conference, when the 2023 Teacher of the Year is honored takes place at Murray State on March 4.