Seattle Latin teacher wins national award

SEATTLE — A Seattle high school Latin teacher has won one of the nation’s top awards for instruction on that subject.

It’s the first time in more than a decade that the honor has gone to an educator on the West Coast, The Seattle Times reported in Monday’s newspaper.

Nora MacDonald has taught Latin at Seattle’s Roosevelt High School for 35 years. On Saturday she will receive one of two pre-collegiate Latin teaching awards from the two top national classics organizations. The award will be presented at the American Philological Association’s annual meeting, held in Seattle for the first time in its 144-year history.

MacDonald is one of just a handful of Latin teachers left at Washington state public schools. She has spent her career keeping the Latin program alive at the high school where she was first exposed to the language.

She studied Latin on a scholarship at the University of Washington, despite her mother’s fears that she’d never earn much money. A few years later, she returned to Roosevelt, where she’s spent the past 35 years promoting and teaching a language she believes is as relevant and useful as ever.

“People don’t understand how valuable and really how practical taking Latin is,” MacDonald said.

Through Latin, she said, her students learn about ancient history and literature, and gain a greater understanding of English grammar and vocabulary, which is based on Latin. And they hone their skills in logic, she said, because Latin’s structure is complicated.

In recommending MacDonald for the award, one of her former students wrote that the teacher opened her eyes “to a whole new world: a world of classical philosophy, dangerous politics, conquests, beautiful poetry, and powerful mythology.”

The story of how MacDonald returned to Roosevelt includes some of that drama.

Her former teacher, fearing that Latin might be discontinued when she retired, kept her departure plans secret until a few days before school started in fall 1977. Because students had already signed up for classes, the district had to scramble to find someone to teach them.

MacDonald’s teacher recommended her for the job, and the district called, giving her just four hours to find a baby sitter for her young children so she could fill out the employment paperwork. She started teaching the next day and hasn’t stopped.

Over the years, she has led trips to Rome 14 times and taken students to 66 national and state conventions.

“She’s done more for Latin education in the city of Seattle than anyone in recent memory,” said Logan Searl, one of three Latin teachers at the private Lakeside School, perhaps the only school in the state to offer a full eight years of Latin instruction to students who want it.

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