An Interview with Mr. Lueck, Oratory’s New Latin Teacher


Image courtesy of Oratory Prep

Joseph Sannito, Staff Writer

1: What experiences do you have in teaching Latin?I taught Latin at Preston High School in the Bronx for fourteen years.  When I arrived there, the school had never had more than a Latin I and a Latin II class.  In my second year there I expanded it so that there was a Latin III, and I eventually was able to add a Latin IV class that offered college credit through St. John’s University’s College Advantage program.

2: I remember you telling us that you taught Latin in a school in the Bronx. How does the atmosphere of that school compare to Oratory?  First of all, I have to say that both schools are very nice places, and in comparing one to the other I do not want to diminish either.  I will say that the atmosphere at Oratory is calmer.  I think a lot of that has to do with the smaller class sizes at Oratory, which is an exceptional advantage for learning.  I think that that also fosters a sense of camaraderie that makes Oratory unique.

3: So far at Oratory, what do you enjoy most about teaching here?

The students are motivated and responsible when it comes to learning Latin. The fact that I never have to worry about disruptive students is a huge plus.  There are just a lot of really good people at Oratory—students, faculty, administrators, staff.  I get the feeling that everyone wants to help each other succeed.

4: How does the caliber of Latin at Oratory compare to that of the previous school you taught at?

Since I was the only Latin teacher where I previously taught, this is a tricky question!  Also, I have only been here a month, and taking over midstream is very difficult.  I will just say that I am thankful to Mr. Cuddihy and Dr. Sherry for the work they have done in teaching Latin students at Oratory before my arrival.  My sense is that I may emphasize grammar, English to Latin translation, and an active understanding of the language more.  Different Latin teachers emphasize different things, and I am more language-focused than culture or history-focused, for example.  I appreciate that Latin has a strong tradition at Oratory and seems to be highly valued here. More than anything, I am happy to be teaching here, and I hope my students and I can work together to continually increase each other’s skills with Latin.

5: How are your experiences teaching virtually over the computer?

Naturally, 99.9% of my teaching experience is teaching in-person in the classroom.  As a result, I am far more comfortable teaching in the classroom. However, I am coming to see that virtual learning has great potential, if done correctly, and that it is a necessity to have to do a certain amount of it in today’s environment where Covid cases are beginning to increase exponentially again.  If virtual learning can help prevent hospital beds from overflowing with Covid cases, that is a good thing, not a bad thing.  However, it is also a good thing for students to be able to socialize in person.  Human contact is very important. Finding the right balance is a tricky proposition that we all struggle with.

6: Lastly, I notice a lot of students ask me why do you take Latin as opposed to other languages, like Spanish or Italian. How would you explain the importance of Latin in the modern world?

I will try to be as brief as possible, but books have been written on this question. I would say that there are different motivations for learning different languages.  Naturally, the motivation behind learning Spanish or Italian is the hope that one will be able to converse with people who speak Spanish or Italian. The motivation behind learning Latin has more to do with creating a foundation for future knowledge.  Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, French, and Romanian are all heavily derived from Latin, so a firm grasp of Latin makes it much easier to learn any of these languages in the future. A little-known fact is that sixty percent of English words are actually derived from Latin and ninety percent of scientific and technical vocabulary is derived from Latin and ancient Greek roots.  So the more Latin you truly learn and make connections to English, the more easily entrenched these words and ideas can become in your mind, thereby accelerating the speed of acquisition of these ideas while increasing the retention of these ideas.  Furthermore, Latin is a difficult language.  There are a lot of forms to learn and the grammar is very complicated.  However, it is extremely logical.  As such, there is a scholarly component and a problem-solving component to learning Latin that most modern languages don’t have.  I could go on about how Latin students do better on SATs, you learn some interesting mythology and history, etc., but at the end of the day, everyone’s experience is unique.  I will simply end by saying that I personally feel much smarter having learned Latin than I would have had I not.