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#PREPpeople: Mike Russo
Posted 05/17/2020 05:35PM

#PREPpeople is one in an occasional series of snapshots spotlighting the people of St. John's Prep

Mike Russo for PREPpeopleHometown: Wakefield, Mass.

Education: B.A. in Classics, Middlebury College; Ongoing pursuit of M.A. in Classical Studies (Latin track), Villanova University

Years at St. John’s: 4

Subject: Latin

Describe a teacher who inspired you growing up: “Tom Bankert was my music teacher throughout high school and he had an aura that inspired you to strive for success. He knew his stuff so well and had such high expectations for his band program that you, in turn, wanted to show him your mastery of the music and fulfill his expectations. He constantly pushed me to be a better musician/trumpeter by assigning me challenging parts in jazz band, marching band, and elsewhere. The sense of achievement and joy that his leadership and support provided will always stay with me.”

Classroom lessons evolve, but what’s an exercise, unit, or concept you look forward to teaching every year and why? “For my Latin 1 students, I enjoy an activity called Circus Maximus. I learned this from another teacher, and I only do it the day before a break, but the kids and I both heartily enjoy it. I draw a chariot track on the board, tape images of chariots to the starting point on the board, and hand out short English sentences to the students. They then work in teams (as I play intense, energetic music on the classroom speakers) to write these sentences in Latin. Every time they get a sentence correct they move forward on the chariot track until they cross the finish line. They get so into it. I also enjoy teaching ‘purpose clauses’ to my Latin 2 students because it’s one of the first things I learned in Latin, so it’s a little sentimental, and secondly, it marks the point when they finally start to learn more difficult (and more authentically Latin) constructions.”

List four traits or tactics you think are crucial to a gratifying teaching career? “1) Passion to share what you love about your subject; 2) Make sure the students are smiling as often as you can; 3) Properly achieve the balance between encouraging/supporting students when they struggle and holding students accountable for work; 4) Serenity. The ability to handle every situation with a calm smile or a laugh. (Retired Prep Spanish teacher) Wendy Larivee was the prime example of this for me. She never seemed stressed by the changes to the schedule, the classes she had to plan, the assignments she had to grade, the emails she had to send, the students who didn’t show up after school, and many other stressors large and small that play into the day of a teacher. She handled every situation with gentle aplomb and I would like to look back on my teaching career as one marked by this serenity rather than frenetic stress.”

What’s the most insightful thing a student has ever said to you? “I had a rather philosophically-minded student last year who was very talented with the language. One day I gave the class time to compose some of their own sentences in Latin and he was able to produce something along these lines (and I very much paraphrase): ‘All things must be perfect because God created them. God is perfect and, therefore, all things which come from God must be perfect.’ Mind you, he did this in Latin!”

If you weren’t a teacher, what would you do for a living? “I have this romanticized vision of working in some pub or a winery surrounded by beautiful fields. Getting to work in an atmosphere where people come to relax, socialize, and laugh away their worries sounds appealing. I would also learn how to play the pipes/flute and do some gigs with an Irish band on the side.”

Fun fact: “I’ve hiked to the top of Mount Olympus. I didn’t see any gods, but they were probably sunbathing on the Greek islands.”

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