Monmouth College is among only 14 schools in the United States cited in U.S. News and World Report's 2008 "America's Best Colleges" issue for offering Latin teacher education.
One of the few academic departments dating to the college's founding in 1853, Monmouth's classics department has continued to thrive in recent years, despite a downward national trend in the offering of Latin and Greek at the college level.
Thomas Sienkewicz, MC's Capron Professor of Classics, is one of a handful of academics working to address a nationwide shortage of Latin teachers at the K-12 level. In 2003, he helped organize the first annual National Latin Teacher Recruitment Week to raise awareness of the problem.
"There is a nationwide shortage of Latin teachers at the K-12 level," said Sienkewicz. "Every year, a Latin program dies because a school cannot find a qualified teacher. Also, thriving programs are told they cannot expand, and schools that want to add Latin are unable to do so."
Most of the 14 colleges listed by U.S. News are significantly larger than Monmouth. They include the University of Illinois, Brigham Young University and Western Michigan University.
"In recent years, Monmouth has been producing at least as many Latin teacher candidates as the University of Illinois," Sienkewicz noted.
Lisa Wolfe, a 1994 Monmouth graduate who teaches approximately 60 Galesburg students in Latin I through IV, said she got her position because of the national teacher shortage.
"They're few and far between," she said. "The previous Latin teacher retired and I sort of got drafted."
According to literature published in conjunction with National Latin Teacher Recruitment Week, "beginning salaries (are) often in the $30-40,000 range for just a nine- or ten-month contract. And Latin teachers have more fun than most: their students tend to be motivated and academically capable above the average, and the subject they teach is richly interdisciplinary, including not only the language and literature of the ancient Romans, but also their history and politics, philosophy and religion, myths and legends (and) art and architecture."
Wolfe certainly agrees.
"I tell people that I have the easiest job in the world," she said. "Latin students are highly motivated and are usually bright. They're taking Latin because they want to."