Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Celebrity Teachers

I am not the celebrity hound that my dear friend and colleague Marcene is.  She has pictures with everyone from Red West to Dee Snider of Twisted Sister fame.  Nevertheless, I was as geeked up as the next guy when my son and I got to meet Michael Sweet, lead singer and guitarist for the hair-band Stryper.

Yet I realized that I am still a huge, stars-in-the-eyes fan of a certain group of people.  It is not sports stars or actors, not politicians or authors.  It is teachers.

I recently attended the National Junior Classical League Convention, which was hosted this year by my own state, Indiana, at my alma mater, Indiana University.  While there with over fifteen hundred Latin students, teachers, and professors from around the country for a week of competitions, learning, and fun related to the languages and cultures of ancient Greece and Rome, my wife, also a Latin teacher, and I had the opportunity to visit with professors from our undergrad days.

On the first day of the convention, Matt Christ, department chair of Classical Studies at IU, spoke to us before one of the assemblies.  As we talked about Classics at the university, I could not help thinking, "I'm talking to the department chair!"  A few days later he dined with us at a banquet for all the teachers, and as our talk meandered through Classics at the university and secondary levels, I was again struck by the opportunity I was enjoying.

My wife, Melissa, and I with Matt

Mid-week of the convention, I met my good friend Tim Long for breakfast.  Tim is a professor emeritus of Classics at IU, and far more than just being my Greek professor, he gave me sage advice on many matters when I was an undergrad and has remained a good friend whom I often consult whenever Classical questions arise.  When I left the breakfast table after two hours of conversation, it was as if I had just sat down.

Tim and I with the first winner of the scholarship our high school Latin Club has in his name

That afternoon my wife, Melissa, and I had the chance to relive a memory.  We sat in Ballantine Hall, where we had so many classes as undergrads, and listened as Ellie Leach presented her work on the mythological paintings in Roman houses.  We had been her students in multiple classes, and to have the chance to sit under her instruction again, in the classroom building where it all began for us, was a tremendous thrill.

Then that evening I received an email from Derek Vint.  Derek has been the office manager and fiscal officer of the Classical Studies department for many years.  We made it a point to visit him the following day, and when I asked how long he had been there, he said that this September would mark 40 years.  Derek was always the one who assisted us with our class scheduling, and as he gestured to open chairs so we could sit and chat and turned on his window air conditioner for our comfort, we knew we had come home.  (We did not get a picture with Derek because I was partly in costume for a presentation as a Roman centurion and did not have my camera with me.)

Finally, on the last day of the convention, Betty Rose Nagle had us over for pie.  Betty Rose taught the first and last classes I took as an undergraduate, the first being on Cicero and the last on Ovid.  We remain Facebook friends, and she is often a person I reach out to with my many questions.  We spent the morning on her porch, eating wickedly good key lime pie that she had made, and discussing her work with 18th century German-authored Latin texts on human skulls and various other Classics related topics that made me never want to leave.  When we did, however, she imparted a box full of books that are already in my classroom.

The relationship between teachers and students never ends, and like the biggest rock and roll fan, I was giddy with excitement in each of these encounters with these friends in education who have had such an effect on my life and what I do.  And why shouldn't we be excited to interact with our teachers?  They worked with us in our formative years in loco parentis, and the places where we learned with them bear the name alma mater, nourishing mother.  Our teachers and professors are more significant parts of our lives than most celebrities ever will be.  The next time you have a chance, pay one of them a visit.  It will mean the world to both you.

No comments:

Post a Comment

While I welcome thoughts relevant to discussions of education, comments that are vulgar, insulting, or in any way inappropriate will be deleted.