Latin may be a dead language to some, but ancient Roman words survive thanks to teachers like Cedar Hall School's Margaret "Ann" Smith.
"It's not dead," Smith said after teaching a Latin class at the small private school on farm on the far south side of Rutherford County. "It lived through the dark ages. It lives in English because more than half our words come from Latin."
She tells her students they have a better chance to win scholarships if they study how Latin applies to today's language. English, for example, has 185 words with roots that derive from the Latin word "facere," which means do or make, Smith said.
"It will impress colleges," Smith said.
A retired public school educator who's worked part-time at Cedar Hall for a decade, Smith learned recently that The American Classical League selected her as its 2006 recipient for National Latin Teacher of the Year Award.
Smith said she was surprised by this recognition because she did not submit any application for consideration. Cedar Hall Headmaster Gilbert Gordon plans to present the teacher with a framed copy of the award during this year's graduation ceremony May 26.
Former students wrote recommendations for Smith to win this award.
"There is no doubt in my mind that my teacher loves what she does and does exactly what she loves: teaching Latin," wrote Hannah Vick.
"Though the mechanics of Latin may not stay with me for many more years, the lessons learned in Miss Smith's classroom, mainly dedication and endurance, will affect all aspects of my life for many years to come," wrote Elizabeth Gassler.
Smith grew up in Rutherford County and attended Rockvale School before she transferred to Murfreesboro Central High School when it was located on Maple Street. After the high school burned, she spent much of her junior year at McFadden School and then finished her last year in 1945, when classes were held in the basement of a building at State Teachers College, which today is called MTSU.
While at Central, Smith took three years of Latin from the late Frances Hobgood, a teacher who was married to the late Baxter Hobgood, a former superintendent of Murfreesboro City Schools.
"She was my mentor," said Smith, who went on to minor in Latin and major in Spanish at Vanderbilt University.
She taught both languages, as well as English through the years. She focused on Latin at Hillsboro High School in Nashville for 21 years and taught the subject at La Vergne High for the final four years in public education.
In addition to teaching language, Smith also takes pride in spending a summer in Rome in 1963 as a Fulbright Scholarship winner at the American Academy. She studied art, architecture and history during that stint and saw President John F. Kennedy when he visited Italy.
Smith encourages her students at Cedar Hall to save money, so they can travel as she did years before.
The Cedar Hall teacher is also adamant that Latin can help her students score well on SAT and ACT tests that focus on vocabulary.
"It expands your knowledge," Smith said. "You can figure out the meaning of root of the words. If you take Latin, you raise our I.Q."
Students interested in careers in law and medicine in particular will benefit because many terms used in both professions are Latin or derived from Latin, Smith said.
Students will also see better results in math if they study Latin because both subjects involve using logic to understand them, Smith added.
While English meaning is conveyed often through where a word is placed in a sentence, Latin meaning is derived from the spelling of the word, she said.
Students who study Latin will have an easier time learning five current Romance languages derived from it: Romanian, Italian, French, Spanish and Portuguese.
Smith's two favorite Latin words are magnanimous, which means great spirit, and pusillanimous, which means very little courage.
"Latin reinforces English grammar," Smith said. "It expands your knowledge. You can figure out the meanings of words."