Life as an Extreme Sport

may you continue dancing, somewhere

The fabulous and glamourous Deborah Kerr has died, something I mention only because, personally, she’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 — the elegant, graceful teacher who delights in her students as much as they delight in her. (And, of course, her dancing with Yul Brynner.)

I’ve talked before on the things that have motivated me to become an academic, and it’s only been recently I’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 Kerr’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 it’s true — it’s one thing to read and write and even talk casually about something with colleagues, but it’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 that’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 Kerr’s that I have apparently also either picked up, or simply think similarly on — 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.

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