On Giving Recognition and Gratitude to Latin Teachers
From Pier Paolo Vergerio’s De ingenuis moribus et liberalibus adulescentiae studiis:
“Chance, and occasionally choice, assigns a country to a person; but each person must attain the good arts and virtue for himself; and these things ought to be chosen far ahead of all others which can be attained by human effort. For riches, glory, and pleasures are fleeting, and perish; but the practice and reward of virtue remains sound and eternal.”
casus, nonnumquam electio, dat homini patriam; bonas autem artes atque ipsam virtutem sibi ipsi unusquisque comparat, quae quidem prae omnibus quae possunt ab hominibus studio quaeri exoptanda est. Nam opes, gloria, voluptates, fluxae res sunt et caducae; habitus autem fructusque virtutum perstat integer atque aeternus manet.
Both Palaiophron and I are or have been Latin teachers. I started my career teaching Latin in a high school; I taught Latin in graduate school; and, while I have taught Greek exclusively for over a decade, I can still argue the merits of Wheelock and Ecce Romani and sometimes have nightmares about the three parts into which Gaul is divided.
Most people I know who study Classics or just love the classics have some story about a dedicated, eccentric, loving, crazy, or brilliant Latin teacher who changed their lives. Mine was Mrs. Lyla Baldwin of Bonny Eagle High School. Although I have not talked to her in many years, I think about her all the time: I still have one of her books, I will never forget the double dative because she made me give a presentation on it, and she exposed me first to Horace, Vergil and my beloved Catullus.
(There were other teachers too of Latin, Greek, English and More…but my Latin teacher was the first…)
Teachers in general are underpaid, overworked, and excessively hassled (especially with real-time grade reporting!). Latin teachers can bear even the worse burden of constantly having to explain why what they teach is worth teaching. And, from my experience, they are some of the most dedicated, creative, and dynamic teachers working today.
Yesterday I started a hashtag on twitter (#mylatinteacher) to give some recognition to the teachers who have changed our lives. It worked out rather well, and I used storify to bring together some of the responses. The responses were funny and touching–many prodive glimpses of all those lives lived with and for others.
Read through them, add your own. Or, just send a message to your Latin teacher this holiday season.
A Great Passage from Aristotle about teachers from Aristotle (From D.L. Vitae Philosophorum 5.2):
“When asked what the difference was between those who were educated and those who were not, Aristotle said “as great as between the living and the dead.” He used to say that education was an ornament in good times and a refuge in bad. He also believed that teachers should be honored more than parents who merely gave birth. The latter give life, but the former help us live well. To a man boasting that he was from a great city, he said “Don’t look at this, but instead who is worthy of a great country.” When he was asked what a friend is, he replied “one soul occupying two bodies.”
ἐρωτηθεὶς τίνι διαφέρουσιν οἱ πεπαιδευμένοι τῶν ἀπαιδεύτων, “ὅσῳ,” εἶπεν, “οἱ ζῶντες τῶν τεθνεώτων.” τὴν παιδείαν ἔλεγεν ἐν μὲν ταῖς εὐτυχίαις εἶναι κόσμον, ἐν δὲ ταῖς ἀτυχίαις καταφυγήν. τῶν γονέων τοὺς παιδεύσαντας ἐντιμοτέρους εἶναι τῶν μόνον γεννησάντων· τοὺς μὲν γὰρ τὸ ζῆν, τοὺς δὲ τὸ καλῶς ζῆν παρασχέσθαι. πρὸς τὸν καυχώμενον ὡς ἀπὸ μεγάλης πόλεως εἴη, “οὐ τοῦτο,” ἔφη, “δεῖ σκοπεῖν, ἀλλ’ ὅστις μεγάλης πατρίδος ἄξιός ἐστιν.” ἐρωτηθεὶς τί ἐστι φίλος, ἔφη, “μία ψυχὴ δύο σώμασιν ἐνοικοῦσα.”
A Less kind anecdote From Boswell’s Life of Johnson:
“He began to learn Latin with Mr. Hawkins, usher, or under-master of Lichfield school, ‘a man (said he) very skilful in his little way.’ With him he continued two years, and then rose to be under the care of Mr. Hunter, the headmaster, who, according to his account, ‘was very severe, and wrong-headedly severe. He used (said he) to beat us unmercifully; and he did not distinguish between ignorance and negligence; for he would beat a boy equally for not knowing a thing, as for neglecting to know it. He would ask a boy a question; and if he did not answer it, he would beat him, without considering whether he had an opportunity of knowing how to answer it. For instance, he would call up a boy and ask him Latin for a candlestick, which the boy could not expect to be asked. Now, Sir, if a boy could answer every question, there would be no need of a master to teach him.'”