2016 ACTFL National Language Teacher of the Year
Westwood High School, Westwood, MA
When I was a first year teacher more than fifteen years ago leading seminars and giving lectures in the college environment, the study of the ancient world was my passion. Even so, I wondered a great deal about its usefulness and how I would ever justify it to my students should they ask—students who would likely never study Latin or ancient history again and certainly could never tout the knowledge of Latin as a job advantage in a multi-lingual, global economy. Finally, years later, when one of my most defensive and jaded students identified Latin as a vehicle for learning how to think, I felt an immediate recognition of a principle which I had always known but as a rookie would have been hard pressed to identify, express, or justify. My goal as a Latin teacher and the true value of learning language and culture is just that: to teach students how to think. This principle extends beyond the tenet of learning language for the purpose of meaningful communication or knowing how and when to say what to whom. Every day in the classroom, whether discussing the origins of English vocabulary through Anglo-French (Freshman) or exploring views on the nature of the soul during the “Second Sophistic” (Seniors), I try to engage with the ancient world so that my students can think about their own lives and the world in which they live in a new way.
By studying Latin, I like to think that my students learn how to think logically and critically, act rationally, and argue persuasively, even if they do not realize it and cannot articulate it until long after they no longer remember conjugations or demonstrative adjectives. They will have immersed themselves in a language and culture through which they were compelled to reexamine their own values and beliefs. As a result, they come to be scholars and life-long learners, to lead informed lives, to respect knowledge for its own sake, to go beyond a shallow understanding of the world, and to seek the truth—for only then can we come to recognize what is good and beautiful when we see it, and even fight for it when we have to.