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The Student-Run Newspaper of Townsend Harris High School at Queens College

The Classic

The Student-Run Newspaper of Townsend Harris High School at Queens College

The Classic

Teachers Before Townsend: Mr. Owens’ journey from pursuing law to teaching Latin

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Katherine Lian
Mr. Owens, a classical languages teacher.
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Before becoming a classical languages teacher, Jonathan Owens was on track to becoming a lawyer. 

Still indecisive about his decision to become a lawyer after graduating from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro in 1997, Mr. Owens decided to take a year to reflect and find out what he was really passionate about. “I took a gap year, which I highly recommend. And I got what I will say is the best job I ever had—working at a used bookstore,” he said.

Continuing on his path to becoming a lawyer, he studied for the LSAT on the side, eventually taking the test and getting accepted into law school. Seeing as he was generally ready to fully commit to learning law, he decided to take language classes on the side. Mr. Owens said, “One year I made the mistake of auditing a class. I was sitting there and I was like this is really cool. I’m not going to be a lawyer. I’m [going to] go to school for Ancient Greek history.”

Soon, Mr. Owens found that the only reason he decided on becoming a lawyer was because he didn’t consider any other job options at the time. He decided to change course and study humanities at the University of Chicago where he developed his love for classical languages. He said, “I just wanted to do other stuff. So I had a grant and I applied for a master’s degree in humanities at [the] University of Chicago. This is the best academic school. [It was the] best academic time, this is when I truly turned into the nerd I am now. But I used it to learn Latin and Greek.”

While attending the University of Chicago, Mr. Owens landed a job at their publishing house. This piqued his interest enough to move to New York and find a job at Oxford University Press in midtown, where he worked for two years. “I realized cubicle life is not for me. Going into the office every day, sitting in my cubicle, doing office work. It’s exciting, who doesn’t like books? And then I was like, wow, this is very soul-crushing,” Mr. Owens said.

Deciding to double down, Mr. Owens moved to Philadelphia and later earned his second master’s degree in Latin, Greek, and classical studies from Bryn Mawr College. Motivated by his girlfriend, now wife, who was moving back to New York to find work, Mr. Owens agreed to join the job search. He said, “I was online looking at schools and I saw [THHS]. [I was like] oh, they offer Latin and Greek? Where is that place? There’s no subway nearby, how could I possibly?” 

Mr. Owens went through with the application process to become a teacher at THHS and received an interview for the position. Soon after, he received the job and joined the classical language department in 2006, teaching Latin and Greek. Reflecting on why he decided to take the job, Mr. Owens said, “The other jobs [I could do]… I [would] make the money but I [didn’t] care about [them]. But I actually somehow [cared] about this job. I didn’t think I’d be a teacher but […] it found me, especially after a two-year stint.” 

Junior Puja Biswas in Mr. Owen’s Latin II class, admires his dedication to his students, “He’s a good teacher and makes the class engaging, you can always ask him for help,” she said.

Likewise, Sophomore Sarna Paul said, “He’s a really fun teacher [and] he makes learning latin fun. Those who have him next year will do great.” 

Junior Sanikoy Bryan said, “Mr. Owens is really funny and manages to make teaching Latin somewhat tolerable. He’s a really chill teacher.” 

Senior Kristin Lai, taking Mr Owens’s AP Latin class, said “I enjoy his class. He makes class pretty fun because he jokes around with students and tries to make class interesting for us. I think his class is unique because not a lot of schools offer it so all the material is new to us. It’s interesting to see how Latin influences the English language and romance languages.” 

Similarly, senior Sally Zheng said, “I think his class is always very fun to be in and he puts in a lot of effort to engage all his students. I think he is also a very fair teacher and there’s a good balance between fun and also learning.” 

Spanish teacher Beatriz Ezquerra said, “Mr. Owens is very dedicated, very hardworking. He is very funny [and] it’s very fun to be around him. He’s very humble, I like that about him. We share similar interests, especially cinema, and he really is a great colleague.”

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Katherine Lian
Katherine Lian, Multimedia Chief
Katherine Lian is a senior at Townsend High School who enjoys taking pictures, dancing, and trying new things. Her favorite memory with The Classic was her trip to Albany with her peers.
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