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Writing, traveling, dog parenting: The life of Classics teacher Cameron Paterson

Cameron PatersonCameron Paterson grew up in Big Sky country and then went global. His family had a ranch in Montana, and he spent summers on his grandfather’s 1000-acre ranch in Luna, New Mexico. By the age of six he was competing in rodeos where, on horseback, he would chase a piglet, catch it, flip it on it’s back, and tie its feet together. Ranch life is hard work, so young Cameron turned to Greek mythology to escape from the rigors of the day. “I’d read myths at the end of a brutal work day, using them as an escape. It’s very personal for me, and I think these myths can be a refuge for students who are going through something difficult. They give the mind something to focus on, and they give pleasure. It takes away the difficulty for a few moments…that’s the true value.”

After graduating from high school early, Cameron knew he wasn’t quite ready for college. For two years, he worked as a cook, driving all over Montana and South Dakota. When he felt he was ready, he dove in. Given his history with Greek mythology and his desire to do something so distinctly different than his experience on his family’s ranches, he chose Classics. Cameron studied philosophy and classics for his undergraduate degrees, and then earned his masters in Greek and Latin, followed by an MFA in creative writing. He nearly finished a PhD before deciding that he had been in school long enough.

At Priory, Cameron teaches three Latin classes and one Greek. “As a Latin teacher, I treat it as a living language. We speak Latin in class, and in my advanced classes I’ll teach primarily in Latin. Kids seem to like it as a way to vary the class, as it offers a different way to engage with the language,” he said. Why should students study Latin? He offers traditional reasons: it offers mental discipline because it’s difficult and requires daily attention. Then he opens up about what he sees are the real benefits. It allows students to grasp the narrative of western civilization, because “American culture is unthinkable without Roman culture.” He delves further into this link. “Unlike the Greeks, Roman poets were the first western authors to engage deeply with emotional life, or the subjective side of our experience. Roman poets have so much to teach kids who are coming to different emotions sometimes for the first time. It gives them a language for something that might be hard to talk about, and it’s the best way to understand the self.”

Before coming to Priory, Cameron taught in a private school just south of Atlanta for five years. Although he enjoyed his experience there, he was sold on Priory after one visit. “I was overwhelmed by the kindness of all the people I met on my campus visit,” he said. “And in my previous jobs I was the only Latin/Greek teacher. Here there are five others, so the possibility of collaboration is exciting.” Inclusivity is important to Cameron. At the Georgia school, there was a Sadie Hawkins dance where girls were responsible for asking boys to attend. Every year there were boys who weren’t asked. “I threw a party for them where I’d rent giant boxing gloves and we’d climb up on the roof and have boxing matches with each other while the dance was going on below. The kids loved it. They got to duke it out with their teacher!”

Mr. Paterson shows off his favorite longboard.

Cameron helps others outside of school, too, by putting his MFA in creative writing to use by teaching writing workshops in homeless shelters. For seven years, he has visited people struggling with homelessness, most of them women, helping them share their stories. “I show them how powerful narrative is. If you can tell your story you can revise the story of your life and gain power over some pretty awful stuff.” (For an example of how powerful these narratives can be, check out Couldn’t Keep it to Myself: Wally Lamb and the Women of York Correctional Institution.)

He writes for himself, too; several of his poems have been published in small journals. His Latin and Greek only reinforce his work as a creative writer. “I was told that in order to be able to write well you have to be able to translate, you have to know different languages.” He shrugs off common misconceptions about inspiration striking. “You just have to sit at the desk and write,” he said. “You have to stick to a schedule or you won’t write.”

His regular schedule also includes running six days a week, which really benefits Ted, the Rottweiler he rescued from a dog fighting ring. At 140 pounds, “Ted will destroy my apartment if I don’t run with him.” Ted frequently pulls Cameron across the road in his excitement to meet other dogs and people. “He’s a big baby,” Cameron said, “And he’s only two, so he still has a lot of puppy in him.” Cameron also has Keats (yes, named after that Keats), a beagle-Jack Russell terrior mix. “He’s moody and introspective, hence the name,” he laughed.

Cameron enjoys playing indoor soccer and freestyle soccer, and he’s Priory’s new Ultimate coach. He has always traveled with his dogs (and his dogs have always been rescues), road tripping across the country. “I’ve seen every continental state and every national park. We camp in the car, sleeping in the back and hiking during the day.” Cameron also likes to fly fish, which takes him to different places. Each year he returns to Montana, visiting Glacier National Park with his brother who is a professor of wildlife biology and who offers summer courses in the park. Glacier is Cameron’s favorite park. “It’s so raw and undeveloped…you can stand on top of a mountain and not see another person or hear a car or a plane. That experience of silence is so rare, and I’ve experienced it most powerfully there. I believe it’s going to disappear in our lifetime,” he said. He also enjoys single-speed mountain biking and long boarding, sometimes harnessing Ted and Keats to the board to pull him along.

In addition to staying physically active, Cameron keeps his mind active, too. He’s currently working on a translation of Tibullus, a Roman poet who advocated living a simple, country life and who went against the militaristic ethic of Rome. “He’s a beautiful poet with a smooth style, and I’m working on this because I don’t think the translations that have appeared are very good. I hope to get it published,” he said. He gives himself reading projects, re-reading the Illiad or the Odyssey in Greek straight through every year. This fall, he’s reading several books on spiritual theology recommended by Father Cassian. He stays current on contemporary poetry through friends who edit various journals, and he keeps on top of the latest research in foreign language acquisition. “Research on modern languages is useful for those of us who teach Classics,” he said. “When I was a kid, general thinking was that in order to memorize a word we had to write it seven times. Linguists have shown that it’s closer to 70 or 100 times to make it into deep memory.”

To continue welcoming Cameron to the Priory family, contact him at cpaterson@priory.org or ext. 235. Repeat that 70-100 times and you won’t need to reference the Communicator!

“Listen carefully, my son, to the master’s instructions, and attend to them with the ear of your heart.”

Prologue, 1

“This is advice from a father who loves you; welcome it, and faithfully put it into practice.”

Prologue, 1

“First of all, every time you begin a good work, you must pray to him most earnestly to bring it to perfection.”

Prologue, 4

“If you desire true and eternal life, keep your tongue free from vicious talk and your lips from all deceit; turn away from evil and do good; let peace be your quest and aim. (Ps 33[34]:13)”

Prologue, 17

“Clothed then with faith and the performance of good works, let us set out on this way, with the Gospel for our guide, that we may deserve to see him who has called us to his kingdom (1 Thess 2:12).”

Prologue, 21

“If we wish to dwell in the tent of this kingdom, we will never arrive unless we run there by doing good deeds.”

Prologue, 22

“What is not possible to us by nature, let us ask the Lord to supply by the help of his grace.”

Prologue, 41

“Therefore, we intend to establish a school for the Lord’s service.”

Prologue, 45

“The good of all concerned, however, may prompt us to a little strictness in order to amend faults and to safeguard love.”

Prologue, 47

“The reason why we have said all should be called for counsel is that the Lord often reveals what is better to the younger.”

Chapter 3, 3

“Your way of acting should be different from the world’s way; the love of Christ must come before all else.”

Chapter 4, 20-21

“Never give a hollow greeting of peace or turn away when someone needs your love.” –Chapter 4, 25-26

“Bind yourself to no oath lest it prove false, but speak the truth with heart and tongue.”

Chapter 4, 27-28

“Place your hope in God alone.”

Chapter 4, 41

“Respect the elders and love the young.”

Chapter 4, 70-71

“Pray for your enemies out of love for Christ. “

Chapter 4, 72

“If you have a dispute with someone, make peace with him before the sun goes down.”

Chapter 4, 73

“The first step of humility is unhesitating obedience, which comes naturally to those who cherish Christ above all.”

Chapter 5, 1-2

“Speaking and teaching are the master’s task; the disciple is to be silent and listen.”

Chapter 6, 6

“The first step of humility, then, is that a man keeps the fear of God always before his eyes (PS 35[36]:2) and never forgets it.”

Chapter 7, 10

“Let us consider, then, how we ought to behave in the presence of God and his angels, and let us stand to sing the psalms in such a way that our minds are in harmony with our voices.”

Chapter 19, 6-7

“On arising for the Work of God, they will quietly encourage each other, for the sleepy like to make excuses.”

Chapter 22, 8

“Every age and level of understanding should receive appropriate treatment.”

Chapter 30, 1

“Above all, let him be humble. If goods are not available to meet a request, he will offer a kind word in reply, for it is written: A kind word is better than the best gift (Sir 18:17).”

Chapter 31, 13-14

“Let all the rest serve one another in love.”

Chapter 35, 6

“Indeed, nothing is to be preferred to the Work of God.”

Chapter 43, 3

“Idleness is the enemy of the soul. Therefore, the brothers should have specified periods for manual labor as well as for prayerful reading.”

Chapter 48, 1

“The life of a monk ought to be a continuous Lent.”

Chapter 49, 1

“All guests who present themselves are to be welcomed as Christ, for he himself will say: I was a stranger and you welcomed me (Matt 25:35).”

Chapter 53, 1

“Proper honor must be shown to all, especially to those who share our faith (Gal 6:10) and to pilgrims.”

Chapter 53, 2

“(B)ecause wherever we may be, we are in the service of the same Lord and doing battle for the same King.”

Chapter 61, 10

They should each try to be the first to show respect to the other (Rom 12:10).”

Chapter 63, 17

“We wish this rule to be read often in the community, so that none of the brothers can offer the excuse of ignorance.”

Chapter 66, 8

“Trusting in God’s help, he must in love obey.”

Chapter 68, 5

Never to do another what you do not want done to yourself (Tob 4:16).”

Chapter 70, 7

“No one is to pursue what he judges better for himself, but instead, what he judges better for someone else.”

Chapter 72, 7

“Let them prefer nothing whatever to Christ, and may he bring us all together to everlasting life.”

Chapter 72, 11-12

“What page, what passage of the inspired books of the Old and New Testaments is not the truest of guides for human life?”

Chapter 73, 3

“What book of the holy catholic Fathers does not resoundingly summon us along the true way to reach the Creator?”

Chapter 73, 4

 

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Saint Louis Priory School

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