Jesse Sawyer, Classics
In his third year at Milton, Jesse Sawyer teaches a range of Classics courses, from Grade 8 Latin to advanced Latin, and all levels of Ancient Greek.
“The Greek courses are some of my favorites to teach,” says Jesse. “In many ways, the Greeks were the pioneers of poetry, history, drama, and philosophy. In our study of the language, students immerse themselves in a culture whose contributions have stood the test of time. Even in Greek 1, where students learn the fundamentals of language and grammar, we can’t escape the richness of Greek thought. Questions come up in class such as, ‘How do you know what you know?’ or ‘What is wisdom?’ These ideas are embedded even in the early levels.”
For Jesse, teaching Latin V: Roman History is another favorite. “We read three different historians: Livy, Tacitus and Sallust. When you see the course title, you might think it’s the history of the period, but it’s more about: What is history? What are the components that go into writing history? What does our study of Roman history tell us about the Romans themselves and how they viewed their past? I want my students to hear the voices of those authors the way that someone in a Roman audience would, but I also want them to see how their ideas resonate two thousand years later.”
A favorite high school teacher predicted Jesse’s path to studying and teaching the Classics—due largely to Jesse’s sheer persistence. “I went to a small public high school, and every year I signed up for Latin, but the course never ran because of small numbers. For some reason, during my senior year, this teacher, who was a close mentor, told me I would make a good Classics teacher. And I had no real idea what that meant because I never took any classes in it!”
But as a freshman at University of Massachusetts, Amherst, Jesse fell in love with a Greek Religions course and went to the professor to see what he had to do to major in Classics. It meant an intense summer of catching up, compressing almost two years of Latin study into three months, and committing to independent work, reading Greek with the professor. From there, he went to University of Georgia, Athens, where he earned a master’s in Classics and did his student teaching at the university and also at local public and private high schools. After a year spent teaching at a private school in Birmingham, Alabama, Jesse took a position with an International Baccalaureate school in Hyannis, Massachusetts, where Latin was a required language.
“While I really liked the international school, I was looking to come back to a private day or boarding school where I could teach Greek as well as Latin. At Milton, you get a certain caliber of student. The kids are so perceptive, and they are excellent communicators. It’s a school that hones in on the ability to communicate and the importance of the word, written or spoken.”
Jesse is currently studying modern Greek at the Greek Institute in Cambridge, where he also teaches Ancient Greek. The two languages are very different, especially in pronunciation. “But once you figure out the pronunciation,” he says, “you begin to see more and more connections. And I’m able to bring that back into my classes here.”