Meet our Head of Languages, Rob Griffiths

Published August 7, 2020. Tags:  Exceptional Teachers  Our Team

From The Hobson:

In a new story each issue, we spotlight a teacher at a local school, whom the school community believes goes that extra mile. Kirsty Cameron spoke to Rob Griffiths, Head of Faculty, Languages, at St Cuthbert’s College.

Latin and classics teacher Rob Griffiths may be a familiar face to those beyond the St Cuth’s community. When the news broke in February that the Ministry of Education was recommending Latin be dropped from the NCEA curriculum, Griffiths lead the roar of “absit!” (an emphatic no!), from both his perspective as a passionate teacher of the subject, and as president of the New Zealand Association of Classical Teachers (NZACT).

“This goes against the grain of everything that is happening internationally,” he says of the move to scotch Latin, the only subject the ministry’s review has recommended dropping altogether. “In the UK alone, more than 1000 non-selective state schools offer Latin. Yet critics would say it’s a private school thing, that it’s an elitist subject. But the evidence shows it’s not.”

The crime, as Griffiths sees it, is that more young people don’t have the opportunity to study Latin at a young age. “Not enough students have the opportunity to do it.”

So, why should any child study Latin? It’s a question Griffiths is well versed in answering. “When I hear that Latin’s a waste of time, I say to parents that just as you go to the gym for your physical body and strength, Latin does exactly that, but for the mind. It’s a mental workout. Latin trains the brain – it’s essentially a code, and it builds such transferable skills: patterns, logic, close reading, analysis.

“I tell parents that any job your daughter does in the future, she will be drawing on those skills. Latin and maths skills do have a lot in common – it’s about decoding.” (The founder of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg, attributes his success in coding and logic to have studied Latin.)

Rob Griffiths in classroom with senior students

Submissions to the ministry on the proposed NCEA changes – NZACT garnered support for the retention of Latin from top universities and institutions globally – have been pushed out to an extended deadline of July 20. “We just wanted a two-way conversation about this. I sent them questions well before lockdown.

Shortly before the end of Term 2, Griffiths and NZACT representatives did finally get to sit down with the ministry to put their case. It was a three-hour meeting, and to date, the extent of consultation with the teachers.

Gladiatorial battles with the ministry aside, Griffiths absolutely loves teaching. He knew from the age of seven that he wanted to be a teacher and he’s never wavered. Developing a passion for Latin and Classics – the study of ancient Greece and Rome – was a happy surprise at King’s College, where it was compulsory for third formers. “I was captivated by it, by the stories.” He took Latin for all of high school, adding classics in Year 12, and went on to study further.

Griffiths joined the teaching staff of EGGS as a Latin and Classics teacher, before moving to St Cuth’s in 2013 (where he also transferred his skills in an unrelated field – at EGGS and now St Cuth’s, he’s manager of the premier netball team).

Away from school, Latin is part of the fabric of his life – his fiancée, Bianka, is a lawyer, a profession redolent with Latin terms, and his sister, Elizabeth, jokes that as a doctor, she wishes she’d studied Latin. He credits Bianka and his parents, Donna and Peter, for a lot of support and being very understanding about school commitments.

Lockdown was spent teaching from his Meadowbank home – Griffiths marvels at the technology that allowed online learning with a few mouse clicks. “We had meet-your-pet day, dress-up day. We managed to have the amusing, fun part of online learning with a surprising amount of productivity. But nothing replaces the face to face interaction in the classroom.”

And while he gets to work teaching subjects he’s passionate about, it’s the students who he says are the reward.

“They are so engaged and interested in learning. I am lucky to teach at this school, but the highlight of my career is the students themselves.” Many of his pupils are with Griffiths on a five-year journey, as they take his subjects from Year 9.

“They open their minds to a whole new world and over that time I get to know them as people, not just students. Once they leave, many of them will keep in touch. Getting an email or a message gives you such a buzz.

“The workload’s intense, but I love my life.”

This article published with permission from The Hobson.