After making the decision to return to secondary education, I got to live the dream of teaching high school Latin. Many people have asked why I did not continue with Ph.D. work in Classics or whether I would have preferred to teach at the collegiate level. While I certainly enjoyed my time teaching at that level, I was made for high school. Teenagers have boundless enthusiasm and are just plain fun to be around. Teaching at the high school level also allows you to explore multiple levels of the language.
I was hired to teach Latin I through Latin IV and etymology at L.B.J. High School in Austin, Texas. As a Johnson Jaguar, I had big shoes to fill, as legendary Latin teachers had gone before me at this school. I was blessed to work with a great faculty and fantastic students. One of our students designed a logo for us of a jaguar head next to a Roman helmet with the motto Nil satis nisi optimum around it. This motto one of our students discovered while on a band trip to England, and we quickly adopted it. We then painted that logo on one of our walls, the wall that held the ever growing rows of ribbons to mark our achievements at the Texas State Junior Classical League state convention each year. Our students competed in academic tests, art, spoken-word contests, costume contests, and more and always brought back to L.B.J. the glory. We put their names and awards on the chalkboard, and that usually took up more than half of my teaching space!
Apparently, we were into wall painting, for we painted the entirety of the back wall of the room to look like ancient Rome. We put three columns across it to give the impression that our room was a Roman house that overlooked the ancient city. It was a long process, but all of the students were involved and gave our room a unique feel.
My wife, who had started the Latin program at Pearce Middle School in Austin worked with me to host an annual event called the Fall Classics Festival. Latin students from Austin came together on a Saturday for certamen, Olympics, and workshops.
In the spring of 1998, we hosted the Area-F Latin convention. Texas is so big that prior to the state convention, regional conventions are held. Our students did an amazing job hosting that event.
It was also at L.B.J. that I published my first article. In the winter 1998 of Texas Classics in Action, the journal of the Texas Classical Association, there appeared my piece, "Clodius vs. Cicero: The Trial of the Century That Never Took Place." It detailed our Latin III project in which students dressed in Roman garb went to a courtroom at the Travis County Courthouse and enacted the trial of Cicero that should have taken place in 58 B.C., but did not because Cicero fled the country. As I will discuss in the next post, academic publication has played a huge role in my life, and I remember Ginny Lindzey with gratitude for asking me to write what would be my first professional article.
In the spring of 1998, I was honored as the Texas Foreign Language Association Latin Teacher of the Year and shared the honor of L.B.J. Teacher of the Year with Don Haynes, who is still the band director there. It was also at that time that my wife and I made the decision to return to our home state of Indiana. I well remember driving around downtown Austin as tears streamed down my face. We had made wonderful friends and loved the weather, the food, and the incredible spirit of Texas. My extraordinary students took us out for a farewell dinner at The Salt Lick, a legendary BBQ restaurant near Austin. A sign over the door asked patrons to limit their dining time to 2 1/2 hours, and our waitress kept bringing plate after plate of brisket, sausage, and ribs to our table...my kind of place!
The next stage in the Latin journey would take us to Indiana, but I shall never forget our spectacular days in Texas.