Teacher instills love of Latin
He doesn't look like a Latin teacher - no tie or sports coat with elbow patches. J.D. Munday is more a jeans, button-down shirt and hoop earring kind of guy.
He doesn't look like a Latin teacher - no tie or sports coat with elbow patches.
J.D. Munday is more a jeans, button-down shirt and hoop earring kind of guy.
But spend five minutes in his class at Cherry Hill High School West and you will find the unmistakable evidence of a Latin teacher who loves what he's doing, declensions, Ovid and all.
Judging by the honors his students routinely earn - gold medals for the National Latin Exam and state championship titles at the National Junior Classical League's Certamen competition, a Knowledge Bowl-type event - Munday is pretty good at his work, too.
"I've always had a soft spot in my heart for kids, and I love to play with words," said Munday, 44, of Lindenwold. "I love my job."
Munday didn't start out hoping to become a Latin instructor. The Minnesota native, who moved to Malvern as a teenager, was a philosophy student at Temple University one summer when he saw a flyer challenging students to learn to read an ancient language in a few weeks.
On a whim, he signed up for Latin lessons.
"I didn't think Plato sounded like a 19th-century Englishman, which was what the translations I was reading made him sound like," Munday said.
He proved to be a natural and soon could do his own translations.
"I thought it was so easy and fun," he said of mastering the language.
Munday continued to study Latin and added a dual major in the classics. (He also speaks ancient Greek "and a little French.")
He figured he had three career options: lawyer, minister, or teacher.
"I was too heretical to become a minister and too moral to become a lawyer, so I thought, 'I'll become a teacher,' " Munday said.
After two years in the Willingboro school district, he came to Cherry Hill West in 1994 to revive a Latin program that had been dormant several years. Though by no means universal, the language is not uncommon at area schools where a large percentage of graduates go on to four-year colleges and universities.
West's program exploded. From teaching just a handful of students, Munday soon had more than 130 students in five classes, Latin I to Latin IV Advanced Placement. He added a Latin Club, and his kids began winning state awards.
"It's not just useful for doctors and lawyers and scientists. It's useful if you want to use English well. It's very useful for the SATs," Munday said, adding that learning the ancient language helps students build their English vocabulary.
Some students were attracted to the class for those reasons. Others heard of Munday's reputation as a fun teacher.
On a recent weekday, his classroom was a hive of activity.
Jingly Italian music played softly in the background as students worked on translations and read poetry. At the front of the room, Munday, a tall man with slightly spiky hair and a frequent smile, kept things flowing.
mean? It is
," he told his students.
West's Latin program is not the biggest in the region, and the number of students who take the language is small compared to those enrolled in Spanish, Italian and French classes. But there is something special about the program, administrators and students say.
Munday is a star, said Joseph Meloche, West's principal. "He brings the language alive," he said.
From reenacting scenes from ancient plays alongside his students to encouraging struggling students to stick with it, "he's a teacher that inspires kids to want to take Latin," Meloche said.
Jeremy Silver, now in AP Latin IV, has been with Munday for four years, having switched from Spanish after middle school. He's president of West's National Latin Honor Society, was on three first-place Certamen teams, and recently received a perfect score on the National Latin Exam.
"I've learned much more about English in Mr. Munday's class than I have in any English class," said Silver, 17, who will attend Princeton University in the fall.
When Munday veers off topic even the diversions are edifying, Silver said.
"He's got an entertaining personality, and he can make the subject matter interesting, especially in the upper levels," Silver said. "We translate poetry, and we make connections to other things."
Dave Washick, another senior, says he's not the best student, but he's stuck with Munday because his class is a thrill.
It's not just the corny jokes and games intended to help students with their memorization. When Washick, 18, got to a state competition, he had a revelation:
"I knew more than I thought," he said. "When you see what's around the state, you realize we have a really good Latin program, and that's because of Mr. Munday."
"Kids soak up my energy," said Munday, who emphasizes fun as well as form.
When his students need to leave the room, their hall pass is not a slip of paper, but a long wooden stick topped by lush green leaves, the remnant of a Latin project from years gone by.
"My kids aren't all stars, but they're great kids," Munday said.
As an instructor, "I don't have to compete with native speakers," he said, joking. "Those are all dead."