Latin and Spanish Teacher Ms. Marissa Porter, PhD. wraps up her 15th school year at Fenwick next month.
What is your educational background?
MP: I have a BA in Classics from Brown University. I took a few classes in Greek and Latin at UC Berkeley, and then I went to graduate school at the University of Texas, where I earned both an MA and a PhD. I was also able to attend the University of Glasgow, Scotland, where I studied ancient Greek oratory.
What did you do prior to becoming a teacher at Fenwick?
MP: I spent many formative years at Regina Dominican High School in Wilmette [Illinois]. I was very lucky to be teaching Latin there while also finishing up my PhD. Before coming to Chicago, I taught Latin as a graduate student at UT-Austin.
What are you currently reading for enjoyment?
MP: I am stuck for some time, for some reason or other, on mid-century “middlebrow” novels by British authors such as Barbara Pym and Elizabeth Taylor (not the late actress!). It is so good also to read Latin with other people, for fun. Recently I read Juvenal’s (horrendously vitriolic) Satire 2.
What interests do you pursue outside of the classroom?
MP: I like to make my house more functional. I cultivate my eye and I work on my Spotify playlist. I am obsessive about Thursday-Sunday NY Times crossword puzzles because they are so hard! During the past few summers, I devoted much of my time to studying ancient Greek again.
To what teams and/or clubs did you belong as a student?
MP: Not much, really. I was more involved in the activities of my synagogue’s youth group. But I was in the Spanish Club -- I was president one year. I was in the Math Club, and JETS -- but never a key player. This was at my high school in Houston, Texas.
Which clubs/sports/activities do you run at Fenwick?
MP: For about 10 years, I was the JV Scholastic Bowl Coach. I worked with both Tom Draski and Colby Burnett. I loved that. Also, I coached Latin Certamen. Training the students was three-quarters of the fun. I am finding, however, that I am more interested in reading Latin, and incorporating speaking Latin, which is a new approach for me. I have just very recently assumed the helm of the Latin Club.
What quality/characteristic marks a Fenwick student?
MP: Fenwick students are so serious and restrained, and so very funny. Each student has a superpower, that is, an arts, sports or academic sideline, sometimes, two, sometimes, all three. It is very impressive; I became enchanted by so many of the strengths of the student culture of Fenwick when I first arrived. And, then, I became more attuned to the ethos of kindness, which, to me, is the hallmark of our school community.
When did you decide to become a teacher, and why did you choose this field?
MP: I remember early on being jealous of my older sister starting Spanish at school. It also had an impact on me that my neighborhood high school was a magnet school for foreign languages. From then on, I have always studied foreign languages in my spare time. Random circumstances contributed to my being good in some of them; I did Spanish and German, for instance, before ancient Greek (which was to become my academic focus), and then Latin came along and began to dominate my life. I could not have foreseen this when I was in high school. Like many students, I believed I would be doing what is now called STEM.
What personal strengths do you find especially helpful in your teaching?
MP: I can really “geek out” on my subject area, especially Julius Caesar’s writings. And I like what I do: I am willing to learn from students as we push together the rock up the hill always again on Monday. I take so much joy in the cooperation we have achieved -- as early as Tuesday. And we all learn, as we will have realized, by Friday.