Student-MadeApr 14, 2021
— updated Apr 14, 2021
A few minutes with … Dr. Nix
A passion for Latin and learning
By Symaira Elliott ’22
Dr. Sarah Nix, the MHS Language Department Chair and Latin and Greek Teacher, arrived at Miss Hall’s in 2007. She previously worked at Brown University, the University of Rhode Island, and UMass Amherst before joining Miss Hall’s. Horizons Media Team member Symaira Elliott’22 recently caught up with Dr. Nix for this interview.
• What’s the difference between when you first arrived at MHS and this year?
How has it changed?There are the physical changes to the campus, of course, and changes to the schedule, which is often what alums comment upon first when they talk about what’s changed at Miss Hall’s. When I read this question, what resonates for me, actually, is what hasn’t changed: Our amazing students, my inspiring colleagues, our community. Miss Hall’s is a unique place, and I feel lucky to have been able to make it my professional home for the last thirteen years.
• What advice would you give to a new teacher?
- Get to know your students as people, not just as students of your subject area.
- Talk less, listen more.
- Share with your students your pedagogical philosophy: why you are doing what you are doing in class; what the larger picture is for their learning; why you assess the way you do.
- Make room in your courses for students to direct the learning.
- My two COVID watchwords — compassion and flexibility — are important to good teaching at all times, I believe, but might not be the chief guiding principles of a new teacher.
• How did you decide to go into teaching? How did you find your subject area?
Ha! I am the only child of two teachers: My mom taught U.S. history and government in high school, and my dad was a biology professor. Every evening, they prepped and graded at their desks. They loved their work: My mom would often talk at breakfast about what she was going to teach that day, and I got to breed fruit flies and set mosquito traps with my dad.
I wanted to be a vet when I was little. Then, for a long time, I thought seriously about becoming a professional clarinetist (I studied all the way through college). In the end, it was my Latin teacher for my last two years of high school who sparked my love for the language and my interest in the ancient world. I still remember the first time he said “Rome” in class and I thought, “I don’t know anything about Rome. But I want to know.” And it was the language, too, that captivated me: its flexibility, its beauty, its sound, and the literature that reflected human emotions that I could relate to, even from two thousand years ago. By the time I entered college I knew I wanted to be a Classics major, adding ancient Greek to my language studies, and I knew I wanted to teach. I wasn’t sure whether that would be at the high school or college level.
• What do you enjoy most about teaching?
Many things! Getting to live in the first century all day long in my head, sharing my passion for Latin and for language learning, watching my students grow over the course of three or four years — I have a unique perspective on my students, since we spend three to four years together. I really get to see their transformation as students of Latin and as people. I love it.
• If you taught in college, what’s the difference between college and MHS?
High school students and college students are at different places in their lives and in their learning, and the teaching reflects that. The first years of my teaching career were spent at the university level (Brown, the University of Rhode Island, UMass Amherst), and so my teaching was molded by higher education.
College students manage a larger workload, of course, with more independence, and, in my field, especially if they are more advanced students, they have committed to a level of mastery that will allow them to ask different types of questions and see a different level of the text. In other words, it’s not just knowing what the Latin says, and how the syntax is working to create meaning, but exploring what the text means in a larger literary and cultural context. Taking the thinking to this level is what we try to do in Hallmark Latin.
Is there any advice you would give to younger you about teaching and experiences?
- Don’t get locked into one way of doing something; try different things.
- On this same note, talk to colleagues, particularly in different departments, about what they are doing in their classes, especially around the themes of project-based learning and assessment.