Ms. Laurie Duncan fell into teaching Latin rather accidentally, she says. After completing her undergraduate degree in classics at the University of Virginia, Ms. Duncan began to think about attending law school, but when her close friends and mentors all repeatedly said they saw her as a great teacher, she took pause, and the opportunity to teach fell into her lap.
For the next 13 years, Ms. Duncan taught at a girls school in Charlottesville, teaching Latin and earning her master’s degree. During this time she had the opportunity to study languages in Rome, attend speaking Latin conventions, and “fell in love with teaching Latin as a profession,” she added.
As she reconnected with her Catholic faith, Ms. Duncan said she began to “ache for a place that was faithful.”
“I wanted to be at a Catholic school where faith complements their intellectual pursuit,” Ms. Duncan said, and when she walked into Oakcrest School for the first time and saw the Chapel at the center of the school, she knew she had found an incredibly special school.
“Being at Oakcrest for the last four years feels like much longer,” she said, reflecting on her time at Oakcrest thus far. “I have amazing students, the best colleagues, and I really like our program and the way the classroom experience is a support to the students' character formation and faith formation, as well as supporting families while they’re navigating a difficult time to be human - from the sixth graders to the seniors.”
In an age where Latin may be losing ground in some educational environments, Ms. Duncan sees learning Latin as a key to connecting with both history and faith.
“I think the real reason to learn Latin is that the intellectual heritage of the last 2000+ years in the West is in Latin and it is still the official language of the Church,” she explains. “In order to read Galileo, Cicero, Erasmus, you have to know Latin. About 80 percent of the literature in Latin has never been translated into English. Learning Latin may not seem as easily applicable to modern life at first glance, but the doors that it opens to the Church’s intellectual heritage, to the politics of Rome, the Renaissance, Latin is the thread.”
As to what sets Oakcrest students apart, Ms. Duncan said that girls have “very unique virtues and that the relational aspect of an all-girls learning community makes it a delightful place to teach, especially in the context of a school in the classical, Catholic tradition.”
“Girls are so relationally focused by nature, and that makes it easier as a teacher for us to teach the whole person. For the average girl, doing well in class means that she is doing well on the whole. At Oakcrest, because the students get such beautiful faith and character formation throughout their other course work, I really get to reap the benefits in the classroom.”
From introducing Latin to beginners in the sixth grade, to reading literature with older students in Latin or even in Greek, Ms. Duncan says she is grateful to come into work every day. “I get to talk about my favorite things with some of my favorite people,” she says.
As Master Teacher of Foreign Languages at Oakcrest, Ms. Duncan said she enjoys seeing love and appreciation for Latin and languages growing at Oakcrest. Her vision for the program in the years to come would be for the languages to be seen as essential core classes with the understanding that “learning a language requires something equally important for forming well-rounded students and that its intellectual value and character is unlike anything else,” she said.