Professor Jeanne Marie Neumann Wins Triple Crown
In January 2020, Professor of Classics Jeanne Marie Neumann won her third teaching award when she accepted the Society for Classical Studies (SCS) 2019 Award for Excellence in Teaching of the Classics at the College Level.
The SCS, founded in 1869 as the American Philological Association, is the national association for scholars who study the ancient Greek and Roman worlds, including how people have responded to the classical tradition.
“By making the past present,” her citation noted, “she offers her students the opportunity to illuminate their understanding of both worlds, their relationships to one another, and importantly students’ understanding of themselves.”
It also praised her commitment to evidence-based pedagogy and her high expectations for students.
Just nine months earlier, in April 2019, she received the 2018 Classical Association of the Middle West and South (CAMWS) Award for Excellence in College Teaching. CAMWS covers 32 states and three Canadian provinces.
It’s difficult to say which award is the higher honor, since CAMWS includes many high school teachers and has long paid particular attention to teaching.
Several Davidson students are quoted in the CAMWS citation. One reported that after his first course with Neumann, he decided that he too would write a dissertation on Horace’s Epistles 1—though he hadn’t yet read them. Another said Neumann “shines most in those subjects that are slightly outside her comfort zone—her love of learning shows her students that learning doesn’t stop when you have your degree in hand.”
This national and international recognition surprised no one at Davidson, where Neumann received the 2005 Hunter-Hamilton Love of Teaching Award.
Student nominators praised her rigor and her passion. One student described a memorable afternoon at Assos in Turkey: “After a brief lecture on the Doric temple to Athena, she asked us to sit on the overturned slabs and stop taking notes. We did so, and as we sat, with the ancient columns turning rosy in the fading light, she read to us her favorite poems of Sappho, with the island of the poet’s birth a hazy blue smudge in the distance. The memory is so clear to me now because there was such joy, such interest and passion” in her reading.
“She isn’t afraid to fail. She loves to teach new topics,” said classics department chair Peter Krentz. “She experiments with new kinds of assignments and new methods of grading. She enjoys using new software. She works hard and expects her students to work hard too. Students who aren’t willing to put in the work frustrate her, even make her angry, because she cares so much about their success. I have never met a teacher who cares more about her students.”
How did a teacher at a small liberal arts college come to national attention? Partly through participating in panels and workshops about how best to teach Latin, and partly through publications.
Neumann has long advocated teaching Latin as a living language rather than a code to be deconstructed. Over many years, she found Hans Ørberg’s Lingua Latina, written entirely in Latin, matched her classroom approach best. But she found that Davidson students struggled to get through the first volume in two semesters. She began writing notes to adapt Ørberg’s pace to a college schedule. Eventually, she assembled these notes and published Lingua Latina: A College Companion in 2008. A second edition came out in 2016 under the title Lingua Latina: A Companion to Familia Romana, followed by her companion to Ørberg’s next volume, Lingua Latina: A Companion to Roma Aeterna, in 2017.
These publications brought Neumann to the attention of teachers around the country, including homeschoolers. One group of homeschoolers in Virginia invited her to conduct a workshop, at which they presented her with a dessert decorated to look like the first edition cover. Perhaps we cannot count this treat another award, but it’s certainly icing on the cake.
- July 9, 2021