Opening Students' Minds to the Great Conversation

A former teacher, school administrator, and indeed school founder (as well as a periodic contributor to the Journal), Rachel Greb has worked for CLT for the past two years; however, she will shortly be returning to academe proper. As someone who has dealt with students in many capacities, we asked her to sit down with us for this Student Appreciation Week and discuss her experiences in education.

CLT: You’re familiar to us here at the office, of course, but please tell our readers a little about yourself.

RG: I’m celebrating twenty-seven years of marriage to my amazing husband, Jason, this spring. We have five children, a beautiful daughter-in-law, and a sweet granddaughter. I love to read and garden and would rather do just about anything other than going to see a movie in the theater. Fun fact about me? I was in a string quartet in college, and we played for Margaret Thatcher when she visited our campus.

CLT: That does sound fun! How about on the educational side—any current pursuits?

RG: I’m slowly but steadily progressing through a doctoral program in the history of the philosophy of education, based on the Great Books. 

CLT: So what originally inspired you to go into teaching? Was it the same thing that made you decide to return to it?

RG: I never really had aspirations of teaching; I imagined myself in the medical or legal field. Being involved in the launch of a classical Christian school was one of the greatest surprises of my life, and being asked to lead the school as the head of school through the launch phase for four years was another incredible surprise. I took on teaching a couple of classes and found that I was more energized after an hour of intense socratic instruction with my students than I was before I walked in the room. So, I would say teaching found me, and I look forward to that same type of experience when I reenter the classroom this fall.

CLT: That sounds wonderful. What’s your favorite thing about teaching?

RG: I love introducing students to the Great Conversation. Teenagers are just starting to grasp abstract concepts such as justice, ambition, suffering, piety, and courage—just to name a few. This awareness in a student’s development is an opportunity to welcome them into the Great Conversation, where they can start to hear some of the most important voices over the last several thousand years who are concerned with these same things. It provides them with a context for these issues that are often right in front of them, and gives them perspective. Contextualizing these ideas helps to act as a counterbalance to what I call “the tyranny of the now.” When we don’t realize, for instance, that injustice has been occurring in almost every human context since Cain and Abel, we are paralyzed and overwhelmed by it—like we’re the first people to notice that life isn’t fair. But when we can contextualize these ideas and gain wisdom from those who have written about it, it helps to clear our thinking and it expands our capacity to understand the moment at hand.

CLT: Tell us a little about your approach to teaching.

RG: I spend a lot of time teaching my students about books and how to read. That may seem strange because I teach older students; but by teaching students “how to read,” what I mean is that there are aspects to pieces of literature that help increase understanding for students, if they learn to recognize them. These would be things like basic landmarks for what constitutes a comedy or tragedy, why certain characters act the way they do, and where to look to find the important question an author is asking or addressing. Students can then use this framework to feel more confident picking up texts on their own, and their understanding of these complex texts can really take leaps and bounds. 

CLT: What got you interested in CLT?

RG: I was first introduced to CLT when I was a school administrator at a classical Christian school, and I remember thinking, “Finally! Something that is a better fit for my students!” And immediately I asked Jeremy if lower grade testing would ever be developed. For several years, while I continued in a couple of different administrative roles at the school, I kept an eye on CLT; I was honored when Jeremy asked me to serve on the Board of Academic Advisors. Then I was at a point a couple of years ago when I really needed to step away from being directly involved in school life as an administrator or teacher, but I really wanted to stay connected to the greater community of the classical school renewal movement. CLT has been the perfect place for me to do that.

CLT: What did you enjoy most about working here?

RG: I have learned so much in the last two years. One thing that attracted me to working at CLT, and which I still love about this organization, is that it is mission-focused. I’m a very mission-oriented person, and only too often I’ve seen what happens when organizations have mission drift.

CLT: Is there any way that you see your profession or your students differently after working with us?

RG: If anything, being at CLT has given me an even greater appreciation for how much is asked of students that receive a classical education—but also how incredibly well they respond to that expectation. 

CLT: Which is what this week is all about, isn’t it? Lastly, any favorite books you’d like to recommend?

RG: Yes! One book I would recommend is The Gift of Fire by Richard Mitchell. He addresses what we think about what it means to be intelligent, and questions whether we’re using it the right way. It’s very funny at times, but poignant. I also recently read Liberal Arts and Community: Feeding the Larger Body by Marion Montgomery. It’s a collection of lectures, which is nice for picking up and reaching bits and pieces rather than straight through. Also, for anyone interested in learning more about classical Christian education specifically, I strongly recommend The Liberal Arts Tradition by Kevin Clark and Ravi Jain. It’s essential reading for classical school leaders and teachers, and I would say even parents of students at classical schools.

CLT: Thanks very much—and thank you for the years you’ve spent working with us. We’ll miss you, and we hope to keep seeing you at events like the Higher Ed Summit!

A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops.

Henry Adams

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Published on 22nd March, 2022.

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