[This is the first installment of my responses to AM's suggested questions for National Latin Teacher Recruitment Week]

How did you get started in Greek/Latin/Classics? What influenced you to pursue more than one course?

I came to Classics rather late (comparatively speaking) ... All through high school I had intended to go into the sciences, but had kept my options open by taking courses rather than 'spares' whenever possible -- none of those courses had anything to do with Latin or Ancient History. Indeed, the only real exposure I had to the ancient world had been back in Grade Six when we did a unit on Ancient Greece. I still remember tracing a picture of some Greek kid doing the long jump with those weights in his hand and thinking a) how stupid it was and b) how physically impossible it would be for him to jump in the position depicted (both arms and legs were going impossibly forward). During that unit, coincidentally, I fell from the top of the rope ladder during a physed test and mashed my leg up badly -- I got right up (trying desperately not to cry in front of my friends of course), and the teacher (after checking that I hadn't broken anything) decided to turn that into a teaching moment about the toughness of Spartan kiddies. But I digress ... by the time I was done Grade 12, I basically had enough credits in everything to get into practically anything I wanted in university ... the University of Calgary considered first year to be a sort of 'feeling out' year anyway, so one could keep one's options open there too.

I had grand ideas of going into law, so I initially entered university with the idea of taking Political Science. As I worked through various courses, however, I became fascinated with the idea that the political thought I was studying actually had some 'history' behind it and I enrolled in some history courses which had a political bent. As I took those, I learned that there were things that had 'gone before' in the ancient world, so I started thinking about taking an ancient history course. By this time, though, it was the end of the first year and you had to declare a major, so I declared History.

I decided to take a Classics course over the summer -- an Ancient History course would count towards my History credits -- and I somewhat naively took a second year Greek History course with Waldemar Heckel. Even though I performed miserably in that class, it did sort of presage everything which I have found is attractive about Classics. Heckel was (and still is, I assume) an excellent professor whose knowledge of 'broad issues' beyond Classics was impressive. As I took more courses, I found that without exception, the men and women who were teaching Classics were 'different' from the other profs I had. Sure, they had their eccentricities, but they were all excellent teachers. You always had the impression that they felt what they were teaching was important for you to know, even if you didn't realize it. I didn't get that impression from most of my History profs, although I remained a History major for a while. I certainly didn't get that from my Poli Sci profs (who are mostly known now as the 'Calgary School' and are lumped in with Leo Strauss). The Classics profs also would make appearances in the student lounge and would actually stop and chat about things which weren't necessarily connected to Classics, but connections could be found -- I think I could count on one hand the number of appearances a History prof made in the History lounge.

Outside of the teachers, what REALLY hooked me into Classics were the readily-available primary sources. Almost all the reading involved reading (in translation, of course) someone who had written thousands of years ago and it was supremely fascinating to see people labelled as 'historians' who were engaging in presentations which we might more associate with the National Enquirer or some other tabloid. It was even more fascinating to learn the techniques of determining what could be trusted and what couldn't, and how taking snippets from three or four different authors could be used to confirm or deny an argument.

As might be suspected, reading those authors in translation eventually led to a desire to read them in their original language, and so I took some Latin courses (from John Yardley and John Humphrey), and tried some Greek too. I wasn't a prodigy -- or anything approaching stellar -- at languages (especially Greek), but I did plug along. Whatever the case, by the time I was in fourth year, I had a double major -- History and Classical History and Civilization -- and it was time to apply to law school. I didn't get accepted, while many of my colleagues with similar marks and LSAT scores did (they had different chromosomes and 'connections' to the legal community). I decided to try another year at the U of C, and figured out I could get a degree after in Latin if I took a couple semester's worth of courses. So I did. I tried applying to law again and again was shut out, so I decided to apply to grad school. I was accepted at Queen's, took an MA and also met my future wife. Subsequently I was accepted at McMaster where I did all the coursework for my Ph.D., as well as three or four chapters of the dissertation, but realized -- after having two kids -- that if Classics were going to support my family, I probably wouldn't be in the same city as them. Spinoff events from an incident on the Classics list also suggested a level of politics going on in the 'background' that I didn't really want to be a part of. So I had to make the difficult decision to go to Teacher's College and get a B.Ed. and 'leave' my beloved Classics.

Of course, I didn't really leave. I thought I might find a gig teaching Latin somewhere. But here's where 'politics' got into the mix again. I entered Teacher's College (at Brock University) at the time when the Ontario government was imposing the College of Teachers as an overseeing organization on the teachers in the province. The way they had set themselves up, if you were in Teacher's College, you had to declare a 'teachable' subject. Those 'teachables' were based largely on the 'new curriculum' documents which were in the process of being created. If you wanted to teach in high school (where Latin was), you had to have two 'teachables' -- a certain number of courses in a particular subject area. Imagine my shock/horror when I learned that all my Classics courses did not count for anything. Nor did my PoliSci courses. Nor did my Latin. Nor did my Greek. Not one of them was considered 'teachable'. The only thing I had that was teachable was history. One teachable, though, meant that you could only declare elementary/middle school.

Man was I miffed! I was even more miffed the next year when Latin and Classics WERE declared teachables by the College of Teachers. Of course, being a bureaucracy, they would not allow me to retroactively declare the teachable unless I took more courses. I already had a job, though, so I never went down that path. Ironically, the first job I was offered was actually in a High School -- teaching Calculus! (That shows you how important -- not -- the 'teachable' subject actually was).

Whatever the case, throughout all this I maintained my Classics connection -- it was clearly part of me. I was still an obnoxious presence on the Classics list and was putting out my AWOTV listings and Explorator. Of course, I eventually got this blog going too. Classics is kind of like chronic fatigue ... once it's in you, you never really can get rid of it. If you forget about it for a day or two, you will definitely have a flare up when you least expect it.