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Teachers we admire: John Dotts

January 4, 2019

“Dolor patior tempus classis tredeum. Annos servitutis vide me nemesem.”

This is how John Dotts, a teacher at Santa Fe High School, greets his Latin classes.

The phrase roughly translates to: “Pain, suffering, class time. Thirteen years of incarceration continues. Look at me as your personal jailer.”

Dotts has been teaching for 35 years and has no plans to retire. For 22 of those years, he’s been in Santa Fe, where he currently teaches New Mexico history, world history, U.S. history, government, economics and Latin.

Beyond Santa Fe, Dotts has served as a teacher at all levels of undergraduate Latin, at both Greenhill University in Dallas and Texas Tech University, his alma mater (where he also taught Greek).

In his classes, Dotts teaches more than translation and ancient grammar. He pushes students to explore the deeper meaning beyond the literal meaning of a translated work. At the end of a class, for example, Dotts will often ask students to help place the meaning of an ancient Latin statement into a modern context.

“Dealing with young people, I really enjoy that,” Dotts said. “I like finding out what they think.”

Dotts abhors testing as a make-or-break system for grading students’ academic knowledge and encourages group work over exams. While his classes do include quizzes and the occasional test, Dotts uses those group settings to get students engaged in activities that may otherwise come off as mundane.

For Dotts, it is ideas that are most important, and teaching is his way of working directly with those ideas, past and present.

“I decided a long time ago that ideas were more important than people, and that’s why I wanted to focus on an area where I could focus on ideas,” he said. “People are important, but I think ideas can be more important.”

This is why Dotts has focused his career around the classics and social studies classes. Each field is rife with topics for discussion and personalization, which Dotts works to instill in his students. For Dotts, teaching is about preparing students to think for themselves.

While Dotts enjoys working in a classroom that can sometimes get carried away on tangents, he has developed a rather specific way of getting things back in order.

“I slam clipboards,” he said. “That’s kind of funny, I guess.”

Dotts also is the sponsor for Santa Fe High School’s Sexuality and Gender Acceptance Club. He took over the club three years ago when the previous sponsor left the school.

“I really think that is the new wave of civil rights,” Dotts said.

Dotts is also a strong believer that students can’t work on empty stomachs. As such, he always keeps a closet of his room stocked with premade cracker snack bags for students.

When he isn’t at school, Dotts likes to be outdoors, hiking.

To him, teaching is a passion, not a job.

“If you are learning or teaching without enjoyment, you may be doing it wrong,” Dotts said.

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