Educator Spotlight: Latin Teacher Dr. Jordan Almanzar – Exploring the Lost Continent of Latin Literature
What does an average day of teaching at Kolbe Academy look like?
I have two really sort of busy days. I get up really early, and I’ll prep for the day. It usually takes a couple hours to get fully ready.
Then I’ll log in at ten o’clock to a room of twenty-two, twenty-three students. Ten thirty is my first class, and on my days, it’s basically back, to back, to back, to back. It’s four in a row. Basically, I’ll get 20-minute breaks in between.
So it’s just jumping from conference room to conference room, except it’s all digital. I go from the lowest level up to the highest, so I go Latin 1, Latin 2, Latin 3, and then I finish the day with AP Latin. And I sort of wish it was the reverse, because, by that time, I’m kind of Latin-fatigued. All the hard questions come in AP Latin… My days teaching are busy.
Why did you choose to focus on Latin?
I didn’t get a classics degree. I learned Latin so that I could do research, basically. And I learned it when I was in grad school, so I learned it pretty late. I had always wanted to come back to Latin. I found it beautiful, but I always relied on Greek a lot more in what I was doing.
With Kolbe, I thought it would be an opportunity for me to sort of improve my own Latin, and I thought it would be fun to teach for once. I didn’t realize that there would be such a demand for it. There’s a lot—not just Kolbe, just in the U.S. in general—there’s this new resurgence of Latin studies, recovering the classics. So for me, it’s not just the gateway to other languages.
I think the whole of Latin literature is amazing. They say there’s a basically an entire lost continent, if you will, of Latin literature that no one has ever read from the Middle Ages. So, you know, there are the great Latin writers that we promote and we value, but I try to stimulate interest in the ones that aren’t known so well, or maybe a brand new text that’s never been translated.
I’d love to get my students interested in things like that because it’s a whole world that will be lost if we don’t have people trained who can actually look into it. And it was the Catholic world… Middle Ages, Pre-reformation stuff that’s just sitting there. So few people can read it that I’d love to build this little colony of researchers who would be interested in delving into some of that stuff in the future.
So that’s kind of my thing, I’m fighting for Latin. I want to help save Latin, but it takes students and parents who are willing to invest in that.
It’s not so much a developing field. It’s like a reconnaissance mission. But it’s an entire world of stuff. I’ve sort of just delved into the world of learning how they thought.
A lot of things can’t be expressed in English… To be able to understand the ancients and the Church Fathers, and even the official publications from the Vatican, you have to know some Latin. And the more you know, the more you’re going to appreciate it. I think you can fall in love with and get lost in that world.
What are some rewarding moments you’ve had working for Kolbe Academy? Can you name one particular instance where you knew your work was valuable?
It happens for me every day, for sure, because my wife works at Kolbe as well. She is the department chair of Theology. So that’s been a big blessing for us, that there was this opening for her, and she could use her degree and her studies.
Connecting with the families would be one. I was in Germany, and I was asked to be the faculty speaker at the graduation that we held in Atlanta. I would work on my speech while I was sitting in my backyard in Germany as the weather was warming up. I could not imagine that I was going to be in Atlanta in a couple of months, you know, and with these students I’d never met in person, but I felt like I knew them very well…
If you talk to other teachers, you’ll see they say the same thing: you get to know your students very, very well. Like, incredibly well, even in this environment. I knew quite a few of them were going to come, and it was my first batch from my first year of teaching.
It was that event in Atlanta, that was the main [rewarding moment]. Students who had never met each other before, parents, teachers, all the administrators that were there. It was this amazing reunion, it was almost heavenly.
Like, when you picture when you get to Heaven, and you see people for the first time, people that you know about. Maybe some of the saints, or something like that. It felt like finally getting to see, face-to-face, the people that you’ve known but with the buffer of it being online. Because you don’t know, it may be awkward to meet for the first time. But it wasn’t, it was nothing like that. It was an awesome, awesome experience.
So, for me, that’s the standout moment of all of them that have happened along the way. That’s the biggest one where I’m like, “This is an amazing place, and I’m so glad to be working for it.”
It was this celebrating together, this accomplishment. I had been there dragging some of them by their bootstraps through all the way. And it was like, “Man, you made it!”
What opportunities do Kolbe Academy students have to get to know one another?
The most practical one would be in class. Teachers aren’t required to do this, but I do it for basically every class that wants to (and for me, honestly, it’s a little bit of a hassle, because it takes away my break time.) But at the end of class, I let them get on webcams and talk with each other.
We have two concerts (we call them talent shows) a year, Kolbe-wide. Students will send in their audition tapes, I mean, amazing pianists and singers. If we chose all the talented students, it would be hours long. But we do a Christmas one, and then we do one at the end of the [school] year.
I usually emcee the talent show, and when I was in Germany, there were times I stayed up till like, two, three in the morning, because they always do it late at night. And tons of people show up… family, I think even their friends who want to watch, or, like, aunts and uncles who can get the link, so it’s usually huge groups of people in the room at once watching the talent show. That makes it fun for all of us.
And that is a great community builder for our school, because the students show up, and they root for each other. And they get to know each other in ways that I don’t even know about. The only things that I see are in class, but they become friends in other ways through other classes.
We do a weekly rosary, also, a student-led rosary. So students will show up with faculty members, and they’ll pray a rosary on Fridays. That’s another community builder.
And then there are ways I’m probably forgetting, so the students must have their own tricks. Because they get to know each other so well, I mean, you would think that they’re, like, siblings. They must communicate outside of class.
What’s the main focus of Kolbe education? What is it that Kolbe Academy educators want their students to become?
To become closer to God in their daily walk, that’s probably the main overarching focus, along with giving them this great classical education. I would say we are all united in that goal, that they become closer in their walks with God. That is our mission: true education.
True education is to learn more about God, to become more like God. That would be the overarching goal, and I think our families are looking for the same thing for their students. They’re looking for a guardian that has their same values, what they would want for their own children if they were teaching them in the home.
For me, I’ve always looked at my teaching as like an extension of the parents’ choice to educate at home. We have to work with the parents, so we trust the parents for their own cooperation, but we all have this goal together. And, in the end, it’s providing these opportunities for students at this young age to really grow in Christ. That’s the endgame, the only important thing in the end.
Dr. Jordan Almanzar is one of Kolbe Academy’s most beloved educators.
He teaches all levels of Latin, and he is the advisor of the languages department.
In 2017, he earned his Ph.D. in History and Literature of Ancient Christianity from Georg-August-Universität in Göttingen, Germany.