UF's Teacher-Scholar of the Year, Homan, sees confirmation in career recognition
Published: Thursday, April 10, 2014 at 2:56 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, April 10, 2014 at 2:56 p.m.
By his own reckoning, Sidney Homan should have retired from the University of Florida at least a decade ago, but he loves teaching Shakespeare too much to quit.
“Honestly, I love going into campus,” the 75-year-old Homan said Wednesday, a day after being named UF's Teacher-Scholar of the Year.
Being around 19- and 20-year-old students keeps him young. “I love being with the kids, as I call them. I have no plans to retire,” he said.
It is the latest of several awards Homan has earned in his 42 years at UF, “far more than I've deserved,” he said modestly. He also is a member of the Academy of Distinguished Teaching Scholars and Visiting Professor of Jilin University in the People's Republic of China.
Homan was nominated by his department chair, Kenneth Kidd.
To finally receive the university's oldest and most prestigious teaching award at this stage validates Homan's decision to stay in the game.
“I haven't made a total ass of myself by not retiring earlier,” he said with a chuckle.
The idea that he'd be spending his life conveying his love of Shakespeare, Samuel Beckett and other great drama to students was once as remote as the prospect of communicating with wireless cell phones bouncing off satellites.
Homan grew up in a blue-collar South Philadelphia neighborhood, the son of a telephone installer. He was all set to become an apprentice phone installer in 1956 when his mother, a short, strong-willed redhead, decided he would go to Princeton. She'd gotten the idea after reading “This Side of Paradise,” the debut novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald, which recounts the tale of a dashing young student who goes to Princeton.
“I remember her saying, 'You're going to Princeton. If it's good enough for Fitzgerald, it's good enough for you',” Homan said. “I got in on a fluke.”
The blue-collar kid whose parents never attended college found himself hobnobbing with the children of the affluent. While they went on to become doctors and lawyers, Homan chose academia.
For decades, Homan recollected, his father would have the same conversation with him: “These boys became something, but you had to become an English teacher.” During the last decade of his life, however, Homan's father mellowed enough to see the similarities between his job and his son's career. “We're both in communications,” he'd say.
“There was still a little of my Dad in me,” Homan said.
Homan used to greet his dad at the bus stop at the end of his work day and watch his old man wearily step off the bus, shoulders slumped, after a 10-hour work day -- but gratified that his job installing phones for customers helped them connect and made them happy.
Homan said he comes home from work feeling less sure about his impact on the world, since his product is less tangible than a freshly installed landline.
“You have your doubts, but when you get awards like this, you can see you put in your day's work,” Homan said.
Besides teaching, Homan has authored and edited books on Shakespeare, Beckett and Harold Pinter. He also has written a memoir about growing up in South Philly, based on the stories he told children in the bone marrow unit at UF Health Shands Teaching Hospital during his tenure as Artist-in-Residence for the Arts in Medicine Program at Shands.
Homan also has directed and acted in professional, community and university theaters. He compared Shakespeare's Prospero from “The Tempest” to the role of professor.
Prospero is confined to his magical island aptly named “the Globe” but in the end wants to return to the community of men, Homan explained. In his famous soliloquy, Prospero says he needs the approval and applause of others to set him free, “or else my object fails.”
The object of teaching, Homan said, is to make whatever he is teaching relatable to that scared little freshman in the front row. “That is your object,” Homan said. “I serve them.”
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