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By ELISE ZWICKY
Posted Jan 04, 2010 @ 05:32 PM
Latin may technically be a dead language, but teacher Marcene Farley brings it to life every day for her students at Pekin Community High School.
"Mrs. Farley is my favorite teacher by far, and one of the few reasons I even took Latin this year," said junior Vanessa Schorr, who's been studying with Farley for three years. "She's very patient, and she's close to each of her students. She makes the Latin class feel like a family."
Farley began teaching Latin at PCHS in 1991, having taught before that for two years at Marshall High School in southern Illinois and five years at New Albany High School in southern Indiana. Ironically, she came to the language a bit reluctantly when she was entering Pekin Community High School as a freshman in 1976.
"I had signed up for German, but the school wanted to place me in a higher-level math class that I knew I would not do well in, so my mom and I struck a deal that if I took the lower-level math, I would agree to take Latin," Farley recalled.
Farley's parents, Merville and Mina Mae Holverson, owned Bloompott Florist in Pekin.
"Mom just knew Latin is the basis of the languages and thought I should take it," she said.
It didn't take long for Farley to realize her mother was right.
"About halfway through my freshman year, the school board had some sort of discussion about discontinuing offering Latin, but I said, 'You can't do that because I want to be a Latin teacher.' It kind of just came out," she said.
After a big community discussion, the board voted to continue offering Latin classes. Farley studied under two Latin teachers - Henrietta Davis and Judy Streid, who remain close friends to this day. She was hired at PCHS when Davis retired, but when Streid retired three years later, she was not replaced, leaving Farley alone to teach Latin students from freshman through senior year.
"I have such a unique perspective on these kids being the only Latin teacher, so I see them come in as squirrelly little freshmen and leave ready to go to college. I see a great maturity develop through those four years," Farley said.
As far as a teaching philosophy, Farley said, "I just want to share my love and respect for the history that Rome provides us."
What she loves most about being in the classroom is that every day is different.
"No matter how well you prepare for a class, you never know what you're going to get or what spin the kids are going to put on an old story," she said. "It keeps you young, vibrant and on your toes."
While some things about teaching Latin have remained constant, Farley has also seen changes in the way students behave.
"There's not necessarily an inherent respect for the teacher today that there was when I started 26 years ago," she said. "You really have to earn the kids' respect. I'm not saying that's wrong. It's just not a given."
Farley noted that respect is a two-way street.
"I try to take kids as they are and give back to them what they give to me," she said.
One of the more challenging issues today that she didn't even imagine 26 years ago is the cell phone.
"If they could keep their hands off their cell phones for 10 minutes to stop texting, I'd be thrilled," she said.
Farley also sponsors the Latin Club, which tries to schedule regular activities and hosts an end-of-the year banquet, and she coaches the junior varsity Scholastic Bowl team. Additionally, she volunteers to take tickets at high school sporting events.
"Mrs. Farley's involvement with her students in a number of extra-curricular events and special class projects connected to Latin makes the classes more interesting for students," observed Principal Mike Davis. "She also spends considerable time making connections for students between Latin and other languages, law, medicine, and the history of Western civilization as the basis for the lives we lead today."
Farley also has been taking students on trips to Italy that are not sponsored by the school every couple of years since she started teaching here. She's taking five students and several adults to Europe this summer.
"The fun in traveling now is watching the kids as they experience Italy and develop the love for it that I have," she said.
Inside and outside of school, Farley is well known for her passion for all things purple and her hobby, which she shares with her husband, Mack, of collecting celebrity autographs and photographs.
"We probably have hundreds of autographs," Farley said. Among her favorites is sex therapist Dr. Ruth Westheimer, whom Farley happened to see while visiting Michelangelo's statue of David in Italy.
"All I had with me was a travel map of Florence for her to sign, and we asked to take her picture as she left the museum," Farley said.
Other memorable autographs in their collection include Nicholas Cage, Lisa Marie Presley, Bo Diddley and about 27 members of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
As for advice in getting celebrity autographs, Farley says simply, "Be courageous. All they can do is tell you no."
Elise Zwicky can be reached at 686-3119 or email@example.com.
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