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How My Road Led to Rome – A Latin Teacher’s Testimony

I am often asked why I became a Latin teacher.  The story is not what one might expect.  It is every bit a testimony of God’s direction in my life. The Lord had a plan and a purpose for me.  He made sure to lead me down a path that He clearly purposed for my life, my own Roman road of sorts.


Psalm 37:23-24

The steps of a man are established by the Lord,
    when he delights in His way;
though he fall, he shall not be cast headlong,
    for the Lord upholds his hand.

One day while I was in 6th grade the teacher passed out choice sheets for us to select our courses when we went to junior high the following year. My friends and I were very excited about the opportunity to choose a few of our classes. I was most excited about the opportunity to study a foreign language. I really wanted to learn French. At that time, I was almost certain that I would become a ballerina. I loved dance, particularly classical ballet, I had already performed a minor role in a professional production, and my teachers were encouraging me towards that profession. French would be useful for this career path and it seemed like a beautiful language. We had to also list a 2nd and 3rd alternate option. I chose German next because my grandfather was German and had been able to speak the language. The last two options available were Spanish and Latin. My mother insisted that I study at least a few years of Latin as it would be so good for my English. Both of my parents had studied Latin in high school (at a time when that study was still required of all students) and as a teacher herself she saw numerous benefits to the study. I wasn’t at all convinced. I thought Latin seemed dull and dreary. However, I decided that I would humor my mother. Spanish didn’t interest me at all. And, it was my third choice. It wouldn’t happen anyway. Then, God intervened.

Romans 8:28

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose. 

The school lost my choice sheet. How was this God working things to my good?! The school made a mistake. Seriously?! My teacher verified that I had turned it in on time to the right place, but my family moved that summer and the school failed to send the sheet to the correct middle school. The system lost my sheet, or perhaps more rightly, Divine Providence sent it elsewhere. Two weeks before school began I filled out my choice sheet again. Two weeks later I found myself sitting in a Latin class. The teacher, a very sweet lady who was always wearing a smile, asked the class on the very first day who was taking Latin because their mother made them. I, miserable and very unhappy, raised my hand with a few others. She then went on to encourage us to give Latin a chance, we just might like it.

To my astonishment, she was right. Over the next two years my fascination with this ancient language and the people who spoke it grew. I had never studied anything of Rome in school before as I did not attend a classical school. All I knew of the Romans came from reading the Bible and attending church. Here was an ancient civilization with incredible art, architecture, and indoor plumbing! I’ve always loved history and it occurred to me that by learning this language I might one day read first hand historical accounts – that could be really interesting and maybe even cool. Besides, I didn’t really need to speak French fluently to understand the ballet terms I needed to know, at least not now. There would be time for that later. In the meantime, Latin wasn’t so bad.

Then, God forever changed the course of my life. Towards the end of my 7th grade year my father was diagnosed with cancer. The disease took its toll. My father was no longer able to work, medical bills were high, and so ballet lessons ended. About that same time I wrote a biographical report on Maria Tallchief, an American Prima Ballerina. I realized that the life of a ballerina was extremely demanding and could prove difficult for a stable family. More than anything I wanted to be a wife and a mother. God shut that door and I needed to let that dream go.

Psalm 37: 4

Delight yourself in the Lord,
    and He will give you the desires of your heart.

Letting go of that dream was painful, but in the light of my family’s struggle that sacrifice seemed very small. I trusted God’s plan for my life. I kept my heart open to His direction. Meanwhile I continued my Latin studies into high school. I was a bit nervous at first because all the older kids told us that the high school teacher was mean and very hard. However, I needed to meet a language proficiency requirement and I didn’t want to start over. Mrs. Fugate was indeed tough, but I found her to be a wonderful teacher and mentor.  She demanded a lot, because she knew we were capable of excellence. She encouraged us to press on through the tough final lessons in grammar – subjunctive clauses (which made us all want to quit Latin class) – so we could enjoy reading the literature. As I began to study Latin literature I found that that this was more than merely a study in language, it was a course in world knowledge. Through Latin I studied history, poetry, philosophy, art, theatre – all in the original language. The poetry in particular was just amazing. Incredibly beautiful. My mind soared. I had often thought of becoming a teacher one day, but could never decide on a subject. I now realized that through Latin I could study and teach them all.  My senior trip to Italy sealed the deal. The opportunity to go to Rome and Florence and see the amazing places I had read about for years was absolutely life-changing. I found joy in something I once thought dull and dreary. I found a study and a career that I would truly enjoy and even continue to find exciting for years to come. The Lord shaped a new desire in my heart.

I went on to study both Latin and Greek at the University of Texas at Austin. Truthfully, I chose that university because I wanted to stay at home. My father had passed away and my mother and sisters needed me. It was not until I was in U.T.’s Classics Department that I realized it was ranked as one of the top ten in the nation. Once again, God had ordered my steps, He had directed my path to the right place for college. He soon directed me to the right place for teaching. During college I also began my first teaching job at Regents School of Austin, which I stumbled into through God’s direction and providence through the jeweler who helped my husband and me with our wedding rings. This was my introduction to classical Christian education – teaching 3rd grade Latin – I loved it!

Psalm 37:23-24

The steps of a man are established by the Lord,
    when he delights in His way;
though he fall, he shall not be cast headlong,
    for the Lord upholds his hand.

While studying at U.T. I had the opportunity to study under Dr. M, a pillar in the world of Classics, a man of international renowned. He took it upon himself to personally train all students who would be Latin teachers. The class was a bit intimidating. One on one, just me and this giant in the world of Classics. We talked methodology, techniques, and he ran me through exercise after exercise. He was a hard man, difficult to please. He could often be arrogant and condescending. Then one day he told me in typical blunt British fashion that he thought I would certainly never be a good Latin teacher. I should choose another profession. I was stunned. I was nearly finished with my schooling at U.T., all that remained was a semester of student teaching. What should I do? I took the summer to pray, seek God, and seek council. My mother, my husband, my mentor, all encouraged me to continue. I steeled myself for a rough semester ahead under a professor who seemed set against me. Nevertheless, I believed this was the path to which God had called me, so I committed my way to him and determined to do my very best to prove Dr. M wrong.

Psalm 37:5-6

Commit your way to the Lord;
    trust in Him, and He will act.
He will bring forth your righteousness as the light,
    and your justice as the noonday.

I’ll never forget the day I returned to Dr. M’s office. It was early August and the semester would soon begin. I walked down the stairs to find his office with a white wreath hanging on his door. As I approached curiously I found an obituary posted alongside the wreath. The old professor had died! In his place one of my favorite professors, Dr. Nethercut, was assigned as my new supervisor for student teaching. Dr. Nethercut would also continue as a mentor for many years not only in my teaching, but also in the Latin children’s books I authored.  Dr. Nethercut was the perfect mentor for me, another blessing from God.

Romans 8:31

What then shall we say to these things? 

If God is for us, who can be against us?

Fast Forward:

As readers of this article likely know, I did end up becoming a Latin teacher. At the time of this article’s publication I have authored 7 Latin books (plus the teacher’s editions). I have trained Latin teachers from across the nation. I still speak at national conferences nearly every summer to encourage other teachers in classical schools. Best of all, a career teaching Latin in a classical and Christian school has supported me in my greatest dream – raising a family. It is because of my journey that my children were able to attend a classical Christian school, receiving an education I could only dream of.

I believe I can say with all humility that I became a pretty good Latin teacher despite Dr. M’s concerns. I did not rejoice in his death at all and I wish he were still here for me to share the success I have found.  I think he would have a good laugh.  I do not write this now to exalt myself (or to prove Dr. M wrong), but because I want to encourage others by sharing what great things the Lord has done for me. My successes are NOT because of anything intrinsically spectacular in me (I was an A-B student with my fair share of C’s), but because of God’s calling and God’s equipping and the manner in which God ordered my life. The road has not always been clear or easy. I often have had to wait patiently for God’s direction and trust Him through very difficult and challenging times. I can now look back and see His hand as I became stuck in that Latin class. I can see His guidance in my school change and the teachers I would have. I can also see how He used even the worst of people and circumstances to mold me and teach me. I see His direction as He led me toward classical education.

Morals to the Story

  • Do not begrudge nor take for granted the places where the Lord leads you. Whether you can see it at the time or not God is using all these things to work together for your good.
  • Do not allow the words of man – even those whom the world exalts as superior – dissuade you from what you know God has called you to do, but instead trust in God and lean on the wise council of godly mentors around you.
  • God does grant us the desires of our heart, but allow Him to reshape those desires to what He knows is best for you.
  • Trust that even the obstacles and the challenges and the disappointments that come your way are often brought under the loving hand of God because He is preparing you for your calling.
  • Those whom God calls, He faithfully equips.
  • And GIVE LATIN A CHANCE!!!

Hebrews 13:20-21

Now may the God of peace who brought up our Lord Jesus from the dead, that great Shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, make you complete in every good work to do His will, working in you what is well pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.

 

P.S. – God still allowed me to enjoy my love of dance. Over the years I continued to perform and choreograph pieces for local church performances and a couple of school musicals.  I enjoyed years of classical ballet with my daughter.  Now my husband and I have taken up ballroom dancing together.

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