In 1955 I was a junior in college studying to be a physical education and dance teacher. The dance part was fine, but I intensely disliked team sports and the thought of teaching them was depressing although I chose the college and major precisely so I could support myself after graduation. I never applied to liberal arts colleges because I didn’t think I was smart enough, nor did I want to ask my parents to pay for my education. This college was far from New York City so I could get away from my family, and inexpensive enough that I could pretty much pay my way by working in the summer and taking a part-time job during the school year
When I heard that a psychologist was doing occupational testing, and that it was free to students, I signed up. Many of the questions made no sense to me in terms of possible occupation, but answering was easy enough since I had no idea why the questions were there. For example: Did I prefer to be with large groups or small? Actually, I preferred to be in no groups, but there was no place to say that.
When I met with the psychologist two weeks later, she looked at me, puzzled. “Your results make no sense. You like being alone, yet you’re good with groups. You’re studying physical education yet you would like to work with all the arts—visual, dance, theatre, music—and you don’t like to perform. I can’t think of a job where you could use all the arts, The best you could do would be a teacher specializing in one.”
What she said made sense. Even my mother used to tell me, “You’re a jack of all trades and a master of none.”
I didn’t give up on the dream as much as I stopped thinking about it. I was too busy being a mother, a wife married and divorced, twice, and then, discovering a way to teach at the University of Delaware. I was hired as a part-time teacher of public speaking, and then found a way to teach creative drama, children’s theatre, and movement full time in the Theatre Department, becoming a full professor in 1980.
In 1984 I began teaching in the University of Delaware’s Honors Program, creating courses around topics that interested me, with titles such as: Creating Theatre from Myth; The Text, the Self, the World; To Walk in Someone’s Shoes . . . One day, a student said, “I love your courses. It’s wonderful to be able to use all the arts in class instead of having to focus on one. I feel free to choose whatever medium seems right to me rather than having to use just one, depending on the course I’m taking.”
“Huh!” I was dumbfounded. He was right. Why hadn’t this occurred to me? My students sculpted, painted, wrote, moved, created music and drama, and role-played as a way to understand characters so different from themselves, all in the service of exploring whatever book we were reading. In the process they were learning a lot about who they were—their ideas, feelings, assumptions, and biases.
After the student spoke, others joined in, expressing their pleasure as well. I recognized how lucky and grateful I was to be able to teach what was personally intriguing, in ways that engaged and challenged my students and me. How satisfying it was to teach world literature using all the arts. I remembered the psychologist saying what I wanted to do was impossible. I’d never find a way to teach this way. How wrong she was.
And yet, it didn’t happen consciously. In the process of trying to use all my interests and provide a rich learning environment for my students, I ended up making my dream come true.
Have you had a dream as a young person, then, many years later, found, without realizing it, you made your dream come true?
Life tales from a woman different living in The City Different.