The Joint APA-ACL Committee on Classics in American Education is pleased to announce that one of the two winners of the 2012 American Philological Association Precollegiate Teaching Award is Nora MacDonald. Mrs. MacDonald earned a B.A. in Latin (cum laude) and M.A. in Latin from the University of Washington. For thirty-five years she has taught Latin at Roosevelt High School, a large urban public school in Seattle. Thanks to her skills, passion, hard work, and “iron will,” the program has grown in size and stature, and is now one of the most academically distinguished in the Pacific Northwest.
Mrs. MacDonald has achieved this remarkable success through a strategy of inclusion. As her nominator remarked, “Mrs. MacDonald has been committed throughout to fostering academic excellence and to creating an environment in which all students can challenge themselves so as to prepare for lives of intellectual, creative and civic action.” Her approach to teaching personalizes education. She offers students opportunities to let their enthusiasm for Greek and Roman culture shine, allows them to become the resident experts, and invites them to draw their own connections between Latin and their world. One recommender noted, “Everybody who passes through her classroom remembers her high standards, rigorous instruction, and lively interest in her students’ intellectual and personal growth.”
Rather than wait for students to come to her, she and her Latin students visit middle school 8th grade classes. An alumna, now working for a multinational accounting firm, vividly remembers the occasion: “Mrs. MacDonald came in with a couple of her students, holding posters. They spoke enthusiastically about the benefits of studying Latin… I decided there and then, I will study Latin in high school. Looking back, it was one of the best decisions I have ever made. Studying Latin with Mrs. MacDonald was more than just a language class. She opened my eyes to a whole new world; a world of classical philosophy, dangerous politics, conquests, beautiful poetry, and powerful mythology. The hour of Latin felt like History, Government, Poetry, and Art all rolled into one class.”
Mrs. MacDonald’s students continue their learning outside the classroom. She has organized 14 student trips to Rome, has taken students to 66 JCL state and national conventions, and has hosted the conventions 9 times! Whether they are medalling in the National Latin Exam or exploring Seattle’s Festa Italiana and St. Demetrios Greek Bazaar, her students are developing habits of life-long learning. In this, Mrs. MacDonald leads by example. She pursues a wide range of interests, from sailing and biking to gardening and theatre. She is active in her profession, participating in NEH Summer Seminars, serving on professional committees, and shining the media spotlight on classics (perhaps the highlight of these was a feature on Latin at Roosevelt High School on NPR’s All Things Considered). Apprentice teachers flock to Mrs. McDonald’s classroom, appreciative of her expertise and collaborative methods.
In a profession in which burnout continues to be a serious problem, Mrs. McDonald’s achievements over the course of thirty-five years are especially remarkable. As her nominator put it, “I am powerfully struck by the fact that the energy and inspiration that students remember from the late 1970s is still a forceful and life-changing presence in Nora’s classroom in the 2010s.” Mrs. MacDonald serves as an exemplum tuendum for the classical profession as a whole, and a worthy recipient of this award.
JCCAE Subcommittee on the Pre-Collegiate Teaching Award: