August 8, 2003Editor's Note: Jeffrey P. Johnson is a graduate student in the Department of Classics at Princeton University and a former student of Dr. Alden Smith, chair and associate professor of classics and director of Baylor's University Scholars Program. Upon learning that his mentor had received the 2003 teaching award of the American Philological Association, Johnson interviewed several of Dr. Smith's former students and submitted the following essay in his honor.
This year, Professor Alden Smith of Baylor won the prestigious teaching award of the American Philological Association. This honor comes to a teacher who couldn't be more deserving. I contacted several of his former students, now in graduate school or teaching, and asked them to share their favorite memories about Dr. Smith and the impact he had on their lives.
His passion for classics:Tracy Jamison:
"Alden is Obi Wan Kenobi. He pulled a Jedi mind trick and Bam! I'm a classicist."
"He came into the office, gave an evil grin and cackle and said in a creepy voice, "Another convert!"
"Before I stepped foot in Dr. Smith's office, I was taking Latin to suffice my foreign language credit. However ... Dr. Smith persuaded me to become a classics major even before I knew everything it entailed."
"He certainly sucked me into take Greek, which has enriched my professional life greatly, and he supported me throughout my studies at Baylor."
"I was never technically his student, yet Dr. Smith has taken an active interest in my academic career and my development as a person. This says much about the way things are done at Baylor, but it says even more about Dr. Smith's character."
"At one point, I went in to tell him that I was done with classics forever after 2301; I came out of his office signed up for 2302, a 3000-level course on Plautus and having promised I would begin Greek as a junior."
"Someone wandered into our classroom looking for another class. Alden said, 'Stay. Learn Latin. It's easy and fun.' And I think she did stay."
"Classics turned out to be much more interesting than I had anticipated, and Alden more persuasive. Swiftly, I was hooked, and the rest, as they say, is history."
Favorite memories of his teaching style:
Most say there are too many to list, but a couple made the attempt.
"I think my favorite memory of him is teaching the Catilinarian using various voices from the Indian gas station clerk to Joe Bob Redneck Hick."
"There's all his wacky mnemonic devices: "After si, nisi, num and ne, all the ali's take a hike!," ice cream participles, orange juice indirect statements, etc., etc. They are just part of what makes his classes such a pleasure."
"With the exception of one, Dr. Smith taught every Latin class I took at Baylor, and his sense of humor and passion for the subject engendered in me a true appreciation for Latin and Roman history. He encouraged me to begin a major in classics, saying there is nothing more important than to do something you love."
"There's the time he did a wonderful rendition of Venus striding about 'head and shoulders above all the others ... with her garment flowing down to her feet.'"
"In Rome, there is a magician who, instead of a magic wand, has a magic bone, a turkey drumstick. So the fall I was in his 2301 class, we were reading our Latin right in the middle of the campus in front of the fountain, and suddenly Dr. Smith pulled out a turkey bone and started waving it around and shrieking 'Magic bone! Magic boooone!' A passing bicyclist was so startled he rode right into the fountain."
On molding a new generation of classics teachers:Laura Veal:
"Alden taught me that a teacher must take on all the roles of a friend, mentor, parent, instructor, discipliner, encourager and the many other tasks and duties that shows the interest in students' affairs, such as sponsoring activities and helping in campuswide events. Can I just say how much teaching the Participial Ice Cream has helped?"
"From Dr. Smith, I learned that attitude is everything. As a teacher, if my attitude is sullen and boring, I can be assured that my students will nod off to sleep. However, in all four years at Baylor, Dr. Smith's classes were never slow. His crazy stories and outrageous lessons always kept students on their toes. I use much of what he taught me in my classroom: ice cream participles, the Passive Periphrastic Rap."
"From Dr. Smith, I learned that you can be a nut and still be respected in the classroom, that the best teachers love what the do and that students know the difference. I learned that the teacher has to be there for the students, for whatever their problems are, academic or otherwise."
"I learned from him that a teacher must be truly competent in their subject, must truly want to teach, must care about their students as learners and as people, and must be an example both of personal and intellectual integrity."
"Dr. Smith is exactly the kind of teacher I hope to be one day. He holds his students and himself to the absolute highest standard of excellence. He has modeled for me that, for a Christian, the life of scholarship isn't simply a job, it's a vocation to which God calls and equips us. I made the choice to become an academic because of seeing teachers, including Dr. Smith, who give their whole lives to this calling."
"As he played a major role first in getting me into classics and then in encouraging me to graduate school, he still plays a major role now. He has been and still is a valued teacher, mentor and adviser, but as the years progress, he has become even more a colleague and friend."
His Christian influence:Tommy Fagan:
"Dr. Smith always seemed a very strong Christian, although usually not overtly, and seemed to encourage faith in scholarship and just in everyday life. All in all, he is a man I admire greatly, and one I feel can be held as a role model for aspiring classicists, both scholastically and otherwise."
"The one quality which I most admire about Alden is his compassion for all his students. I can recall numerous times where he would devote hours to me, listening to my laments, patiently offering friendship more than advice. When I learned that he had become a Christian later in his life, I was shocked -- he permanently bears the patience, hope and love of any model of Christianity."
"Dr. Smith encouraged me to teach my boyfriend at the time (now fiancé) Greek. His reasoning was based on his personal experience. He said, 'There's nothing better than reading the original Greek New Testament with your spouse.' This has always stuck with me."
"I know that Dr. Smith encourages all of his students to understand their vocation as a calling from God. Teaching us to look for the kingdom of God at every turn. What could be more Christ-like?"
"He is my mentor and role model, inside and outside the classroom. If I can treat my fellow man with half the compassion, patience, understanding and open-mindedness as Dr. Smith, I think I'll be fine in this life."
"The classics department is very close-knit and sometimes tends toward cliquishness among the students. A real check on this tendency is the fact that Dr. Smith cares about everybody. We tried to live up to how Dr. Smith would want us to treat the people we were not crazy about and to find what he saw in them."
"Beyond academics alone, he has been for me a model of the Christian professor I aspire to be someday; he has been a listening ear and a steady counselor for personal crises of both faith and learning over the years."
Baylor in Italy memories:Laura Veal:
"I'll never forget the image of Alden, racing through the Piazza Venezia with his 'Indiana Smith' hat and whip leading us on the infamous 'death marches' throughout Rome. Or when, in the Capitoline Museum, he put his finger through the mouth of a Roman Theatre mask to give it a tongue."
"I remember in Italy I commented once to Dr. Smith that I hadn't eaten enough at dinner the previous night and had gone to bed hungry. From that point on, he told the managers at each restaurant we went to that I was alternately a football player or a Mafioso from America and my servings at dinner began to increase immediately."
"I was vacationing in Italy on money I'd saved from my stipend, but I was able to meet up with the Baylor in Italy group. Dr. Smith learned how little money I had and decided he needed to see I had at least one decent meal. He refused to let me pay for a lovely dinner with the group on the terrace at the Hotel Bellevue Syrene."
"It was at his urging that I went to Rome (selling my car to afford the trip), and while in Rome I went on my first date with Amanda Seamans, whom I married last summer."
"En route from somewhere to somewhere in rural Italy at about 6 a.m., he made Fabio stop the bus and roused the entire epigraphy class from peaceful slumber so that we could translate the inscription on a Roman mile marker he happened to see."
"All of us were on the Gianicolo hill watching the sun set over the city when Alden led us all in a cheerfully (even purposefully) unmelodic, impromptu chorus of "That's Amore." It still is one of my favorite memories of that trip, all of us sitting on the wall, swaying in unison, singing 'When the moon hits your eye like a big pizza pie, that's amoreeeeeeee!'"
Concern for his students:Tommy Fagan:
"It was his constant urging and support that were very instrumental in getting me where I am today. At the end of my next to last semester, during a very rough senior year for me, and while Dr. Smith was on sabbatical, I realized I had done nothing toward grad school applications. I e-mailed Dr. Smith semi-hysterically and dejectedly asking him whether it was too late. He was an enormous help, working with me, giving me a list of schools to apply to, writing a recommendation -- all while he was on sabbatical."
"He aided me not only professionally with recommendations but personally with my aspirations and goals. I know he's terribly busy, but when I do contact him, he's always my loyal supporter. I know I can always count on him, which is something rare in the world of classics, for advice, assistance or even just a pick-me-up."
"He has supported me through all my goals and daily struggles both at Baylor and beyond. While in college, he supplied me with an immense amount of resources and ideas about life beyond Baylor (graduate school, teacher certification, finding a job, etc.). Even now, when I am teaching, one of his famous sayings ("Cookie! Cookie! Cookie!") will pop out of my mouth. Because at Baylor I was surrounded by so many encouraging, supportive and challenging professors, I continually feed off their example. When I am forced to make a difficult decision with a student, I ask myself 'How would Dr. Smith have handled this situation?' The unconditional support and guidance that Alden offered, not only to me but to all his students, returns to me as I approach each new day, new class, new student."
"Since graduation, he has written recommendations for me for jobs and grad school applications, and he is always prompt to offer help to me whenever I find obstacles in teaching. Whenever I take students to Waco, he welcomes them and inspires them to follow the same paths we classicists have taken. The most valued part of my professional relationship with Alden is his permanence in support and concern. His encouraging attitude helped me to become more self-confident in my abilities in classics, as well as in all facets of my life. He has shown me that the most valued treasures in life are happiness with others and your relationship with God."
"At one point I nearly dropped out of Baylor (because of medical concerns). Dr. Smith was extremely concerned. (At one especially difficult time) I have no doubt that he spent a whole weekend praying for my well-being. Over the weeks I was struggling, he often met privately with me. I don't think I could have made it through my first teaching assignment without the level of character I learned from Dr. Smith that semester. Without caring professors like Dr. Smith, I am sure I would never have finished at Baylor."
"He genuinely cares about his students, even after they've moved on from Baylor. I've seen him bless former students at their weddings and help them at the most difficult times in their lives. He has a generosity of spirit that is rarely seen in teachers."
"His audacious notion that I could actually do what I wanted to do with my life led me in rather astounding directions. His encouragement was all that kept me on track for much of my last year at Baylor."
"There's the time he looked me in the eyes and told me I would -- not could, but would --be great, and I actually believed him."
"For me, the best example of Alden's devotion to his students is the Friday afternoon phenomenon. His office door is always open, but on Fridays, it became an event in itself. Students in increasing numbers would drop by his office to talk about classis or anything at all. As each one came, Alden would simply pull up another chair and enlarge the circle of conversation. Everyone had a place, and everyone was welcome. He treated each student as an individual and encouraged his students to build friendships."
Tommy Fagan, '02, MA program in classics at the University of Kansas.
Holly Horan, BA '01, teaches Latin at Flower Mound (Texas) High School. She has received the CAMWS Teacher Training Award and the Principal's Green Apple Award at Flower Mound.
Tracy Jamison, BA '00, MA '02 (University of Kansas); PhD program in classics at the University of California-Santa Barbara.
Laura Veal BA '96, is in her sixth year of teaching Latin, teaching three years in the Garland (Texas) ISD and three years in the Plano (Texas) ISD. She has earned her teacher certification and is working toward her master's at University of Dallas. She was recognized by Who's Who Among America's Teachers and was one of three finalists for Teacher of the Year.
Nathan Wade, BSA '97, currently teaches at Texas Christian Academy in Waco.
John Lewis teaches Latin at Creekview High School in Carrollton, Texas.
Laura Seay, BA '00, MA in African Studies from Yale University, pursuing a PhD in government at University of Texas-Austin.
Sean Mathis, MA program in classics at the University of Georgia.
Britta Spann BA '01, MA program in classics at University of Kentucky.
Michaela White, MA program in classics at Brown University.
Angeline Chiu, BA '97, MA '00 (University of Vermont); PhD program in classics at Princeton University.