Teacher Feature – Reflecting with Ms. Richards

Latin teacher and recalls her teaching inspirations, experiences in North Carolina and Texas

Q: What do you teach?

A: I teach all seven levels of Latin that are taught here at Carroll ISD: I teach Latin 1, Latin 2 and Latin 2 Advanced, Latin 3 and Latin 3 Advanced, Latin 4 and AP Latin 4.


Q: What first got you into teaching?

A: My high school Latin teacher was an insane human and everyone, with very few exceptions, absolutely adored him. He was crazy and would break up all the fights and also once chased a man through several backyards who had invaded the school, and he was just entertaining. And, therefore, had a pretty standard Latin program. Not huge, but solid. And the year I graduated was his last year teaching. And the next year a new Latin teacher came in and everyone who I knew who was still back at school was telling me that the new Latin teacher sucked and two years later the school didn’t have a Latin program. So I was like, welp, I’m not gonna learn seven martial arts at the instructor level, but I can be enough of a ham in front of teenagers to keep a Latin program alive.


Q: What was teaching like when you first started?

A: Well, I first started in a different state, and I also started in the poorest district in a fairly poor state. I was, in fact, myself, teaching at the middle school that was between the worst-performing elementary school in the state and fed into the worst-performing high school in the state. And that comes with a bunch of challenges from, a lot of our kids, we didn’t know where their next meal was coming from to, a lot of kids didn’t feel safe at home, so you end up with behavior issues at school, or just being emotionally shut down at school and no one can absorb information then, and then it has other challenges, such as the state deciding that they were gonna ‘fix us,’ and their version of fixing us was just, so much paperwork. There was an absurd amount of paperwork. But, what there wasn’t was such a free access to, you know, lovely online tools that are not appropriate for use. So there was, in some ways, I could trust more what was turned in to me as being representative of my students’ work. I will say, I actually really loved teaching at those schools despite the stupid amounts of paperwork because, like, those kids really needed to see someone who A. loved them, and B. did not compromise on who they were to fit in, because I am an insane person, and I have never pretended to be anything other than that. And so, for some kids, it was like, oh, you can just like, do what you want, and not do what some guy tells you is more attractive. So, yeah, I mean, it wasn’t just that it was the time period I was teaching, I think it was also the location. 


Q: So how do you think some of the skills you learned at that first job have transferred as you’ve gone on?

A: My first year here I was, like, what am I doing here? My first year here, they had been through so many Latin teachers before me. I eventually figured out what had happened: every kid had a private Latin tutor. And I was like, why am I here? What is my purpose? And it didn’t take me too long to realize, you know, it doesn’t actually matter if your stresses come from not knowing, you know, if there’s going to be, like, violence in your neighborhood when you go home that night, or if your stresses come from some of the cruelties you’ll see from some of these kids who are chronically online, or other different, equally harsh home situations, the kids still need to be loved, I still need to have a stupid amount of snacks in my classroom, it doesn’t matter, apparently. And some of them still need that consistency. They still need just someone who comes in and is unequivocally, obnoxiously, themselves, and they can learn and they all- all of y’all, and all of them, always needed to have someone who will tell them no, and also tell them when they’re being unwise. 


Q: So, why Latin specifically?

A: Well, Latin specifically, I think initially, to honor Mr. Lewis, and to try and, like, preserve something that someone who had been so influential in my life had worked to preserve. And then it didn’t take me long to realize: I like to say I have professional ADHD because I teach seven levels of Latin, and I haven’t died yet. So, I do know that I like the freedom Latin gives me, and it gives me freedom in two ways: primarily it gives me freedom because everything is Latin, or rather Latin is everything. I can talk about science, Pliny the Elder, I can talk about history, I can talk about military tactics, I can talk about linguistics in general because Latin is so very different from English. I can talk about English because English is built out of Latin. I can talk about religious studies, I can talk about philosophy, I can talk about mythology, I have the ability to pull so many different interests and weave them through, and therefore I’m less likely to be bored and therefore the kids are less likely to be bored, and it allows me to be a storyteller because so often the things that we know are, like, well, take for the inscription about the birthday card, right? What it teaches us is there was a woman who lived near a Roman fort who was literate, who had a best friend, who lived in the camp with her husband, and her ‘filiolus,’ her ‘little son,’ but also has some interesting, like, alternative spellings, like she spells ‘charissime’ [meaning dear] with a ‘k’ instead of with a ‘ch,’ she uses ‘have’ which is the archaic ‘ave,’ [meaning goodbye] so I can learn these little, tiny details about her, and from that, I can learn a lot, right? And all I have is a tiny, little birthday party invitation, basically. And I can start telling myself the story of this woman and her time period, and then I can take that to y’all. And I’m a ham for being able to tell stories. I would say that’s probably why Latin, because it gives me so much freedom to go that way.