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Latin Teacher at Reagan Receives National Award
You will find Jessie Craft’s teaching website at Magister Craft.
Note: Some of the photos were taken in the days before COVID guidelines called for wearing masks.
By Kim Underwood
Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools
JANUARY 13, 2022 – As a creative way of helping his students at Reagan High learn Latin, Jessie Craft takes them back in time to the early days of Rome.
They spend time online in historic settings he creates with Minecraft, a video game that enables players to build worlds to explore. While listening to stories in Latin written by Craft, students can explore ancient Rome and such places as villages where the Etruscans, the people who preceded the Romans, lived.
In today’s world, it’s an approach that students find engrossing, and it can put them at ease in a way that they might not be if they were simply listening to Craft speaking Latin while standing in front of the class.
“They are born into this,” he said. “They are learning and seeing and making connections.”
Students think it’s a wonderful way to learn. In addition to respecting Craft’s talents as a teacher, they also appreciate him as a person.
“He was an amazing teacher,” said Tyler Grimes, one of the students who has taken Latin with Craft.
Recently, student Jonah Spencer sent Craft a note just to let him know how much he appreciates him.
“Hey! Just wanted to say that I appreciate all you do for the school,” Spencer wrote.
“I never have disliked your class since you always are super cheerful and energetic! You are by far one of my favorite teachers!
“Can’t wait to do more Latin with you in the future years to come! "
Brad Royal is the principal at Reagan.
“Mr. Craft is a truly innovative teacher,” Royal said.
“He has created an engaging atmosphere in his Latin classes where students truly experience the entirety of the language, including historical and cultural perspectives. One would be hard-pressed to find a teacher who is more passionate about their subject matter than Mr. Craft.
“We are blessed to have him as part of our Raider family and beyond proud of him for this very worthy recognition.”
Royal is referring to the Excellence in Teaching Award recently given to Craft by the Society of Classical Studies, one of the oldest and largest classical societies in the United States. The award recognizes the winner not only for what the teacher does in the classroom but also for promoting the classics and for serving the wider community.
Over time, Craft continues to develop his teaching tools, and the $500 award that came with the honor will help him develop even more sophisticated learning environments. He plans to use the money for a gaming program that enables him to create more complex worlds.
Craft’s reach goes well beyond the world of Reagan. With his website and the videos posted on YouTube, students not only in the Americas but also in such European countries as Italy and Germany have been using his teaching tools.
At the moment, total views exceed 780,000 and the number of subscribers is more than 11,000.
“This data deserves its proper context, too,” Craft said. “I started making videos and continue to make videos for my students first. All of those extra views from countries across the globe are merely an added bonus.”
“Having so many viewers from different walks of life help to inform my work as well. These viewers help me to produce better quality, more accurate and more inclusive videos that, ultimately, better serve the multicultural reality of the students in my own classes.”
“My true goals and objectives with the videos I produce and books I have published are to provide my students with supplemental material that will deepen their experience with a foreign language and culture which will hopefully aid them in becoming model global citizens with respect for different cultures and an appreciation of their own.”
Craft joined Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools in 2013 as a Latin teacher at Glenn High. He also taught at Mount Tabor.
Johnny and Misol Rodríguez both teach Spanish at Reagan, and their son takes Latin from Craft.
Asked what Craft’s strengths as a teacher and gifts as a person are, Misol Rodgriguez said, “Strengths –
passion, energy. Gifts as a person – smart, dedicated.”
“Jessie teaches with all his heart, soul and mind! My son has had the privilege of being under his tutelage for all four years. This year, my son, Alonso Rodriguez, is the only AP Latin student and Mr. Craft takes his personal time to guide my son in preparation for a passing AP exam.”
“Nothing but praises for Jessie Craft!”
Johnny Rodriguez said, “Jessie Craft is a sterling teacher.”
Although he may look young, Johnny Rodriguez said, as far as experience and knowledge go, he seems much older.
“His pupils adore him, my senior son being one of them. His colleagues respect him, as he is always professional and dedicated.”
“He is punctual, energetic, witty, amicable, and committed to his job. He knows his subject matter well. He utilizes modern ways to teach ancient knowledge. He brings Latin alive, if it has ever been dead.”
As for his gifts as a person, Johnny Rodriguez said, “A family man, Jessie spends most of his time with Silvia, his wife, and his twin daughters, Vittoria and Julia.”
“He is an athlete. He goes to the gym almost daily. His quotidian meditations rival Marcus Aurelius’s — a sound mind in a sound body.”
“I am fortunate to count Jessie among my friends. I particularly enjoy our conversations about politics, religion, philosophy and mindfulness.”
Craft’s wife, Silvia Tiboni-Craft, is a professor of Italian at Wake Forest University. They met in Italy when he was studying there during his senior year in college at the University of Tennessee.
Their twin daughters, Vittoria and Julia, go to Jefferson Elementary School.
Craft – who grew up in Johnson City, Tenn. – knew early on that wanted to become a teacher one day. He traces that desire to his relationship with his grandfather Dr. Jerry Holt, who, during his career in education, served as a teacher and as a principal.
Craft moved in with his grandfather and grandmother, Betty Holt, when he was young, and, from the beginning, he appreciated the way his grandfather spoke to him.
“He spoke to me like a person,” Craft said.
In Craft’s mind, his grandfather spoke that way because of the work he did. So Craft wanted to become a teacher as a way to treat others in that same respectful way.
“I wanted to teach high school like my grandfather,” he said.
As for what he wanted to teach, he found the world of the Romans quite engaging, and two of his uncles had married Italian-American women. He thought that becoming an Italian teacher would be just the thing.
So that’s what he planned to major in when he headed off to the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. It was an ambitious decision. If his high school had offered Italian, he would have taken it. It didn’t, so he took Spanish in high school and had to learn Italian when he went to college.
When he met his future wife, she was teaching at the university where he was studying. As good fortune would have it, she already planned to come to the United States to work on her doctorate.
When Craft graduated from the University of Tennessee, he found that jobs teaching high school Italian were pretty much nonexistent in the area. He wasn’t interested in leaving the South so he found a job working for a national company based in Concord that provided ingredients for gelato. He would hop on planes and fly to such states as North Dakota and Texas.
After he worked there for a while, his wife encouraged him to follow the path he had always wanted to follow. He chose to do that by heading to the University of North Carolina at Greensboro to earn the necessary credentials to teach Latin and embarked on his current path.
Craft has no desire ever to leave the classroom.
“This is my thing – teaching with my kids,” he said.