Jessie Craft’s first degree was in Italian. Soon he realized that his true vocation lay with us as a Latin teacher: He earned his second B. A. at the University of North Carolina in Greensboro, this time in Latin with teacher certification, and he was elected to Phi Beta Kappa.
Since 2013 he has taught full time, and currently serves two schools in Winston-Salem NC. To quote one of his colleagues, “Glenn is a disadvantaged high school with about 50% of its population receiving free or reduced lunch. Mt. Tabor serves a more diverse population ranging from the economically disadvantaged to the wealthy. Regardless of the population, Jessie takes into account every student that he teaches.” At each of these very different schools he teaches LAT 1-4, sponsors a JCL chapter and a Latin honor society—and also one AP course. He began “meeting his students where they are” by designing Minecraft projects on Roman architecture—think Legos online. Jessie reflects, “Over the past five years I have lost four Latin students to suicide or gang violence. Statistically speaking, this is not the usual demographic to sign up for Latin. While Minecraft was bringing more students into my class, the language elements were still troublesome for me and my kids. To expose my kids to educated and reflective discourse, I looked to ancient philosophy, and thus was born the Quote of the Day.” This short opportunity for reflection is what many former students cite as the most meaningful part of the class.
Jessie recognized that they were still not meeting his goal of learning Latin, and to remedy that lack he turned to research on second language learning and the use of comprehensible input. Because he persisted in the belief that he must meet all his students where they are, he individualized classroom materials. Says one student, “He faced yet another difficult scenario, having Latin III, Latin IV, and AP Latin students in a hybrid class, and again he took the time to evaluate each student and provide materials to best suit his or her ability level, some of which he had created himself, embedded with readings of authentic texts. I have never observed the same determination to ensure that each student is learning and being challenged according to their individual abilities in any other teacher.” “He creates videos in Latin to both assist in Latin understanding and teach about various elements of Roman culture, which are both engaging and helpful as they again immerse students in actually hearing the language, not just reading it,” writes another.
“Jessie’s students are not the only beneficiaries,” reports a colleague. “At our monthly Professional Learning Team (PLT) meetings, Jessie influences those of us with thirty years’ experience as much as those with two months’. Members continually seek his advice. Our district has not adopted a new Latin text in more than twenty years; consequently, we find ourselves limited to stilted adapted passages. Jessie has begun writing level appropriate texts, which include embedded readings of authentic texts, for all levels of Latin.”
Teachers and students far from North Carolina have access to many of these fine resources online, at MagisterCraft.com and on YouTube at DivusMagisterCraft.
For his passionate and unstinting efforts on behalf of students at all levels of Latin and all family backgrounds, and his generosity in sharing the fruits of his labor, we salute Jessie Craft.