The Templeton Honors College has been cultivating great students since 1999. Now we’re launching a Master of Arts in Teaching, Concentration in Classical Education in order to develop more great teachers like Monica and Frank.
In March of 2015, two months before graduation, four before marriage, and five before a 2,346 mile move across the country, my then-fiancé Frank and I each accepted an offer to teach at Trivium Preparatory Academy, a classical charter school in Goodyear, Arizona (one of the Great Hearts Academies). The first several months brought with them challenges and joys in equal measure. We looked back with misty eyes at those college days spent holed away in the library reading and writing, the conversations with friends in the classroom and in our dorm rooms, and the space and time to grapple with some of life’s greatest questions. In many ways, we felt we had just begun to find our footing as students, and now we were expected to be teachers! We were thrown into a world filled with 10-13 year olds, stacks of papers to grade, weeks of lesson-plans to prepare, and many a failed lesson to our names. But at the heart of all of these things was our most important and challenging purpose: to cultivate the hearts and minds of our students by leading them toward wisdom and virtue.
In his book Desiring the Kingdom, James K. A. Smith invites us to re-imagine “education as a formative rather than just an informative project.” At Trivium, we strive to uphold this ideal. It would be so much simpler (and far more measurable) to ensure that my Latin students knew the 2nd declension endings by heart than to teach them what makes a painting, a symphony, or a classic novel worthy of their attention and admiration. But if the transfer of information were our highest aim, what would we be assuming about human beings? That our highest purpose is to serve as a database full of facts and figures, rather than a whole person, body and soul, a sub-creator (to use Tolkien’s words) destined for communion with God himself?
At Trivium, the aim of the teacher is to instill in the students a love for what is good, true, and beautiful. This task could not be more daunting, nor could it be more essential. But how are we to accomplish it? In attempting to answer this question, Frank and I have come to realize that this very task now placed before us is one we have already undergone ourselves. We have had teachers who have shown us what it means to love the good, to work hard, to pursue truth no matter the cost. Reading dense philosophical texts became a far more desirable task as they guided us through the conversation with unquenchable wonder and delight. In our professors at Eastern we had examples of men and women who were seeking daily to better themselves and to lead lives of wisdom, virtue, and devotion to God. Simultaneously, they were artfully guiding their students down that same path. I can say with certainty that our professors at Eastern made the good life, a life of virtue and wisdom, desirable to their students. By their lives, they showed us what it means to serve God and to live beautifully. It was these inspiring examples that taught us to desire the good for ourselves; it is now our task as teachers to continue fighting the good fight with courage and faith in hopes that our own love of truth might light a flame in even one student’s heart.
In thinking of all my teachers throughout my life – my parents, many of my dearest friends, my grade school teachers, my college professors, and each Great Book I have encountered – I am convinced that every great teacher is also a great student. Without continuing our own education and formation – our own pursuit of the good, true, and beautiful – we cannot hope to succeed in the great responsibility of serving as guides. We hope and pray that we will learn to emulate their examples as we continue our journey.
Monica (Jekel) Chilbert graduated from the Templeton Honors College in 2015 with a B.A. in Philosophy. She met her husband Frank at Eastern University, and they both now teach in Great Hearts Academies, a classical charter-school system in Arizona and Texas. Monica teaches middle school Latin and Literature.