"A-mo, a-mas, a-mat, ama-mus, ama-tis, a-mant. "Ami-cus, ami-ci, ami-co, ami-cum, ami-co, ami-ce." The steady, attentive repetition of first-year Latin students conjugating and declining their verbs and nouns as enthusiastically as did any legion Caesar ever marched into Gaul are familiar sounds in the classroom of David Cornish.
A seventh- and eight-grade Latin and ancient-history teacher at Dexter School , an independent, nonprofit elementary school for boys in a suburb of Boston, he embodies and transmits the ideals of Dexter's single-sentence statement of purpose:
"The school attempts to provide experiences which will help each boy during his formative years to develop not only mental and physical skills, but desirable social, moral, and spiritual attitudes, habits, appreciations and ideals, to the end that he may make positive contributions as a member of society."
In what must be a classic example of modest understatement, the matter-of-factness with which Mr. Cornish pursues these traditional values in no way hides the fact that he loves what he is doing and communicates the "grand perspective" of passing on Western civilization's most important tenets to his students.
In re-creating the characters and ideas from Greco-Roman history and mythology, he undertakes one of the most difficult challenges facing a teacher -- helping students understand the nobility and stature of a bygone age.
He is highly conscious of his responsibility as a role model for the boys at Dexter, and integrity and gentlemanly conduct are inseparable qualities that have accompanied his lesson plans for the six years he has taught there.
"Because the Greeks and Romans were very organized in their thinking and writing, it is imperative that I give my students a critical sense of organization. These are skills I want them to have for their secondary and college preparation. I guess this is why I rely on expository writing more than creative writing in my lesson plans," he says.
Obviously dealing with students of high intellectual caliber, he commits himself to carrying all of them, especially in moments when they have difficulty recognizing the progress they are making. "I will look for ways to structure success in assignments, essays, or tests without compromising necessary standards of excellence," he says.
Driving the school bus, participating and helping to coach in sporting events , and taking field trips that use the resources of the Greater Boston area are just some of the nonacademic ways Mr. Cornish see himself as helping to develop the complete boy.
A graduate of Dexter himself, he has a deep and abiding loyalty in his whole relationship to the school and its students. This loyalty feeds his desire to help students maintain the high academic standards expected of them. That they do, that they accept this role he plays in their life, attests to the values he inspires.