Monday, October 28, 2013

My Latin Heritage

As CAES is in its 50th year, it seems fitting that our members take some time to reflect on the organization, as well as our profession. I'd like to share a bit about my Latin "heritage," the path I took in becoming a Latin teacher.

I began my Latin career as an aimless college freshman, bored with my major (computer science), and unsure of what I wanted to do with my life. I was in my second trimester at Union College in the winter of 1987-88, and a classmate suggested I might enjoy being a Classics major. He was an interdisciplinary physics-Classics major, and was planning on studying abroad in Greece the following winter. I thought that sounded like a fine idea, and since Classics majors jumped to the front of the line for that term abroad, I decided to switch. I had to interview with the chair of the department, Christina Sorum, who asked me what I thought I would do with the major. I suggested law school might be in my future, she said it was a fine major for a pre-law person, and then put forth one small requirement I had overlooked: I had to take four trimesters in a Classical language. I decided that since I had studied French for four years, Latin made more sense than Greek (and shared the same alphabet).

I took my first Classics course in the spring of 1988 (History of the Roman Empire), and dove into Latin the following year. I was not accepted for the term abroad in Greece, but I figured I could apply again in my junior year. My first-year Latin professor was John Marincola, and he was amazing. I was a lackluster, unmotivated student, but he took the time to encourage me, and even shared some personal stories which truly inspired me. The following year (my junior year) he was on sabbatical, but I took his advice and encouragement to heart. I decided not to apply for the term abroad since I didn't want to disrupt my Latin sequence; plus, I wanted to begin Greek that year.

By the time I was a senior I was so engaged in my studies that I didn't even apply for the term abroad. I loved Latin and the Classical world, and was a diligent, devoted student. Professor Marincola commented that he didn't understand what happened to me when he was away on sabbatical, and wished he could have taken some credit for my turn-around. (He really was my inspiration as a teacher, and is one of the finest teachers I've ever known.) I had set aside thoughts of law school, and was uncertain what to do. The prospect of a Ph.D. was a bit daunting, and I wasn't sure the professorial life was for me. Professor Sorum suggested I consider teaching Latin in a public school, and turned me towards the Union M.A.T. program. I did a visitation on December break with Mary Wilson at Niskayuna High School, and decided (when I could catch my breath that week - teachers are so busy!) that this was the life for me. I ended up enrolling in the M.A.T. program, had Mary as my Latin methods advisor, and was placed for the entire 1991-1992 school year at Albany High School with Judy Greenwood as my mentor.

I worked on my master's thesis (concerning Petronius' Satyricon, with John Marincola as my advisor) and took my graduate classes in the afternoons and evenings, while teaching at least two classes each morning at AHS. Since I was working with Judy every day for the entire year, she insisted I also work with the Latin Club, and I am so grateful to her for that. I attended my first certamen tournament, hosted by David Pellegrino who at the time was teaching in Chatham, NY. In addition to meeting David, I made the acquaintance of Ellyn Bibik who asked if I was interested in teaching Latin in Rome. Ita vero! A few months later I checked back with Ellyn, contacted the Rome C.S.D., and had my first Latin job… teaching Latin in Rome (NY).

Tempus fugit! A lot happened in the interim, and I even took some time away from teaching. However, I could never stay away long. I have been teaching in Pittsford at Barker Road Middle School for the past several years. Our district is dedicated to its Latin program, and we have four other fantastic Latin teachers in our middle and high schools (David Pellegrino, Lynn Smith, Rochelle Guido, and Julia Smith). Each of us has our own Latin heritage, some of it shared, which led us to our vocation and Pittsford.

I am sure that many of you who are reading this have a similar story to tell. Please consider sharing your Latin heritage with CAES! E-mail your story if you are a Latin teacher, or share the story of someone who was your favorite Latin teacher. Feel free to send a photo or two as well! As we receive these, we will post them to the site in celebration of the 50th year of the Classical Association of the Empire State. Gratias et vale,

Mike (

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