Becky Daniel came home recently to find that husband Steve had filled her kitchen counters with a variety of mops, toilet brushes and the like.
"It's for the Latin banquet," he told her.
She wasn't surprised.
Steve Daniel has taught Latin at West Rowan High School full-time since 1996. The program is gaining a statewide reputation for its victories at the state Latin convention, held each spring in Chapel Hill.
This year, West students walked away with the trophy for the ninth consecutive year.
The enthusiastic Daniel is at the heart of the program. Yet he consistently deflects any praise away from himself, heaping it instead on his students.
"That's him," his wife says. "He can't stand for his name to be mentioned."
Daniel even garners praise from Caesar.
Well, at least from Erick Brown, the student who played Caesar at the recent Latin banquet.
Brown decided to take Latin for his foreign language because he thought it "seemed like the most fun" — and he had an interest in mythology.
Brown says of Daniel, "He's easily the best part of the class. He always keeps everything interesting."
All by itself, Daniel's room is interesting.
Over the years, he's kept many of the projects his students have made for the contest. There are posters and mosaics. There's a pin-the-tail on Cicero game. There are numerous styrofoam Parthenons and aqueducts.
There's even a bunny — a real one. Caligula, the rabbit formerly known as Baby Bunny when he lived in Mrs. Daniel's room at China Grove Elementary — hops here and there, settling underneath a table where it's nice and cozy.
Outside in the hall, there's a large display case featuring entries for this year's N.C. Junior Classical League convention. Entries comprise everything from posters to needlework to pottery to watercolor. There are board games and models. Most all of them have ribbons with them.
"We took 72 kids," Daniel says, munching on a sub sandwich during his planning period.
Daniel has grown the program to include 185 students in Latin I, II, III and IV. Latin, he explains, works well with the school's block schedule. A class might include a combination of vocabulary, language, history and grammar.
Perhaps better than any subject at West, the class helps students with other subjects — English, science, history.
That's one reason it appeals to Daniel so much.
Yet when he was in school, Daniel had his fill of Latin. He attended Forsyth Country Day School, and started taking the language in seventh grade.
"After my last Latin exam in high school, I looked up at that classroom, and I said to myself, I am never taking Latin again," he says.
While working on his master's degree in English, Daniel found that Latin seemed to pop up in every class.
When he taught English at Corriher-Lipe, he found the kids didn't know grammar. He told his colleague, the late Betty Yates, about it. Yates, who would later become that school's principal, encouraged him to get certified to teach Latin. He did, then moved on to the high school level, where he taught at South and West.
"My program got big enough at both schools that I had to pick one or the other," Daniel says.
At the time, the family lived in the West district, so he chose West.
The first year he taught at West part-time, in 1992-'93, he took six students to the state convention.
"Each year, we got a little better, and the kids really felt good about winning," Daniel remembers. "I thought, well, I need to put more time into it."
He became a judge to find out more about what was required of students.
"It just kind of evolved," he says of his program's success.
He won't take credit for it, however.
"The kids do this," Daniel says. "It's just amazing what the kids can do."
Megan Brandon has been a goddess for the past four years. Students who placed first in the state contest get their pictures on Daniel's wall of deification. Brandon is only one of two students to attain this feat in all of the 19 years Daniel has been teaching.
"We just get stuff drilled in our head," Brandon says of the hours practicing for the Latin Quiz Bowl and for other areas of competition.
"Mr. D is pretty much of a legend at this school," she says. "I'm a big fan of the English language, and I wanted to learn more about where the language came from. As a freshman, I was nervous, but as time goes on, we learn to enjoy ourselves more and have fun with it.
"Lately, we've been winning by a lot," Brandon continues, speaking of the statewide competition. "I think we're so successful because Mr. D cares a lot about the subject, and the students care. Even people I know who don't love language love Mr. D. He goes the extra mile to make us enjoy what we're doing."
The students who wander in and out of Daniel's class during lunchtime agree with Brandon.
"He is the greatest teacher I've ever had," says sophomore McKayne Hill. "He teaches us to teach ourselves, which is vital in anything."
Daniel does agree with that.
"That's my goal is to help them teach themselves," he says. "Latin is the foundation for learning."
Daniel's teaching, his wife says, is more than a job.
"He looks at teaching as his witness," she says. "He feels it's more than a job, it's more than a career, it's a calling. His reward is seeing their success."
Daniel is inclined to agree.
"It's a ministry for any teacher," he says. "You set an example. You stay positive. You watch what you say."
While the couple throws themselves into teaching from August to May, they spend the summer traveling with their two children, Sam, 14, and Maggie, 11.
"We both traveled as children," Becky Daniel says. "We both brought a love of travel into our marriage and into parenthood. We wanted it for our children."
This summer, they'll go on a Caribbean cruise, and travel to Canada, Atlanta and Washington.
"He's the itinerary guy," Becky Daniel says. "There's no such thing as a leisurely vacation with Mr. Daniel."
Next summer, the Daniels will accompany West students on their biannual trip to Italy. The 2006 trip will include stops in London and Paris.
Daniel is also planning a family vacation for Iceland next summer. He and Sam hope to tee off in the middle of the night for the Iceland Open, when the sun is shining.
"Who else would research that, because isn't that neat?" Becky Daniel says of her husband. "He never passes up an educational opportunity."