The fabulous and glamourous Deborah Kerr has died, something I mention only because, personally, sheâ€™s one of those iconic images and memories that has had a lasting influence on me. Her roll in The King and I is always in the back of my mind whenever I step in front of a classroom to teach â€“ the elegant, graceful teacher who delights in her students as much as they delight in her. (And, of course, her dancing with Yul Brynner.)
Iâ€™ve talked before on the things that have motivated me to become an academic, and itâ€™s only been recently Iâ€™ve realized I have a several of these lingering images in my mind of what it seems like an academic should be. And while somewhat gawky and definitely uncoordinated me will never have Kerrâ€™s grace (nor do I anticipate dancing with anyone I work with any time soon), I certainly have that sense of wondering delight when I have the opportunity to teach.
My mentor and advisor at the University of Washington, Phillip Thurtle, once told me that some people learn best by teaching others (and I was one of those people). And itâ€™s true â€“ itâ€™s one thing to read and write and even talk casually about something with colleagues, but itâ€™s another to see it reflected through and back in the eyes of those you teach it to. There is a magic and wonder to it thatâ€™s hard to describe, but all the folks I think of as excellent teachers seem to immediately know what I mean.
The BBC obit mentions another charming quirk of Kerrâ€™s that I have apparently also either picked up, or simply think similarly on â€“ I have that tendency to downplay success in favour of granting an awful lot of luck.
What we internalize unconsciously is truly a fascinating thing.