Alumnus returns to teach classical languages

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With the start of the new school year comes new classes, a temporary sense of elevated motivation, and new additions to the staff at Townsend Harris High School. This year, Latin teacher Christopher Amanna has joined the Classics department.

A THHS alumnus, Mr. Amanna graduated in 2006 and once served as a Managing Editor and Editor-in-Chief of The Classic. He has experience teaching for a year at Williamsburg Charter High School and for five years at Maspeth High School. Teaching in Williamsburg, which was located in a very different environment in which most students lived under tough circumstances, allowed him to understand and embrace what each student brings to the classroom. He began his career as a Latin teacher at Maspeth, where he experienced working with students with learning disabilities and developed techniques to benefit his students, both with and without special needs. He hopes to introduce what he has acquired from his prior teaching experiences at THHS.

Mr. Amanna initially found interest in Latin during his school years in THHS. He was inspired by the enthusiasm Mr. Hagerty, his first Latin teacher, showed for the subject. “He presented Latin as a puzzle and it was one that I was eager to solve,” Mr. Amanna recalled.

Mr. Hagerty recounts that Mr. Amanna as a student was hardworking and enjoyed learning the subject. “To see him continue with it to pursue it in college to become a teacher is just really exciting,” he stated.

Mr. Amanna takes a special interest in etymology and the evolution of language. He wants to encourage his students to draw connections, both between the Latin and English languages and between the modern world and classical civilizations. “One of the first things I tell my students is that Latin and Ancient Greek aren’t dead—they’re immortal,” Mr. Amanna states. “They live under assumed identities and affect our lives in ways we don’t even realize.”

Much of Mr. Amanna’s decision to return and teach at THHS stems from his respect for the strong sense of community and purpose the school fosters. He shares that he is once again reminded of the motivation and focus Harrisites exhibit, this time experiencing it through the lens of a teacher. He is also getting used to viewing his former teachers as colleagues, stating, “[Although] they have all been nothing but welcoming to me… in the back of my mind I can’t help but wonder if they still see me as a pimply, ponytailed 16-year-old.”

Mr. Amanna encourages his students to feel free to make mistakes, saying  “I’m not ignorant of the intense pressure being placed upon you. I was literally sitting in your seat 15 years ago. But you’re never going to truly learn or grow as a human if all you care about is your GPA and getting into a good college.” He encourages his students and the school community as a whole to make the most of learning opportunities and not be bound by perfectionism. In fact, he has found himself telling students to stop writing everything down and just listen and be present for a moment. “The best students are intellectually curious, open to criticism, and willing to fall flat on their faces. If you make yourself vulnerable and allow yourself to learn from your mistakes, I promise you that the good grades will follow.”