Classical language teacher Scott Schreiber instructs students in Greek and Latin at Holy Spirit Preparatory School. He’s been teaching for 36 years, including 24 as a college philosophy professor. He’s also done intelligence work for the government, been a Benedictine monk and headed a classical school. He plans to retire at the end of the coming school year.
Schreiber says he never tires of teaching the classics. “Classical literature never changes,” he said. “But the ancient thinkers were so profoundly wise that every time I re-read a text I discover new depths. I will be reading Plato’s ‘Republic’ this year with my advanced Greek students. I have probably taught the same text at least 20 times, and I can’t wait to dive in again and find new treasures.”
What attracted you to teaching at first?
When you love something, you want to share it. I fell in love with ancient Greek and Roman philosophy and literature from my first years in college, and the only way I know to share knowledge is to teach it to others.
Has the appeal changed?
That desire to share is still strong. But I have also discovered that until I figure out a way to teach another person, I don’t really have a complete command of the subject myself. In short, teaching something to another person turns out to be the only proof that I truly understand the material myself. Teaching another is also teaching myself!
What do you think makes a great teacher?
A great teacher exhibits two loves: He loves his subject and he loves his students. You can be a good teacher with one of those loves, but the great teachers manifest both.
What do you want to see in your students?
Obviously, I want them to share my love for the material. But it is important to me that my students learn intellectual humility. I do not want students to end their studies with a triumphant, “Look at me. I’m brilliant because I can read Greek and Latin!” I want them to be awed by how little they know, but still thankful that they now have the tools to slowly advance to greater wisdom.
How do you engage your students?
To master an ancient language takes diligent effort. It is not easy. But modern culture gives me that perennial hook: mythology! Students love Greek mythology. The stories are ageless. And every age seems to re-imagine a new entryway into the world of classical myth. Between the Harry Potter books and Rick Riordan’s “Heroes of Olympus” series, my students already know and love the ancient stories. My job is to show them that the Greek/Latin originals are even better than the modern renditions.
Do you have a project or special program you use year after year?
It would take quite a bit of Greek to show the superiority of Homer to Rick Riordan. But it takes only a couple of months of Greek to show how inferior any English translation of the New Testament is to the Greek original. Because our students take theology classes each year and have a solid exposure to the Bible, I regularly show them how the most commonly used English Bibles all fail to capture the nuances and sophistication of the inspired Greek texts.
Is there a “trick” that works to get students involved?
I wouldn’t call it a trick, but I’ve had the privilege to bring my students to Greece for study tours in 2012, 2014 and 2016. When they return the next year to class, Greece is no longer a textbook abstraction. They have walked the archaeological sites, visited different Greek islands, eaten Greek food, haggled with Greek shopkeepers, and learned about Greece from native Greeks. Their only complaint is that the tour was too short!
What do you hope your students take away from your class?
I want them humbled before the achievements of the classical cultures of Greece and Rome, and eager to deepen their exposure to those cultures throughout their adult lives.
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