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A True TA Classic: Sally Cody Has Taught the Classics to Trojans for 43 Years

Sally Cody interviewed for her role as a classics instructor at Thornton Academy the Thursday before Labor Day in 1977. She was hired on the spot, and began her journey at TA just a few days later. She had recently completed a master of arts in teaching Latin and classical humanities at UMASS Amherst and was on the lookout for her first job. “I ended up at TA by the seat of my pants!” Previously, she changed her major from math to classical languages, earning her undergraduate degree at Kenyon College—a member of only the third class of women to attend the previously all-male school.

A chance phone call from Thornton’s then Headmaster, Jim Jortberg, “changed the trajectory” of her life. A few hours after his call Cody was in a rental car and on her way from Amherst, Massachusetts to Saco. She accepted the position and began her time at TA a few days later. After more than four decades, she still loves it. “Some people say, ‘you’ve taught the same thing for so many years, how can you stand it?’ It’s an old language, but there is always something new to discover.”

 

yearbook photo of sally cody from 1976

Nathaniel Koonce is Cody’s teammate in teaching the classics at TA. Together, they offer a full complement of Latin and Greek courses. Koonce attributes much of their success to Cody’s constant concern for her students, and ability to make them feel comfortable and supported. “Through her advocacy, we have added Latin courses at the honors and AP level, and opened [the classics] up to a much larger and more appreciative audience than it has in many American schools. She’s also the best colleague a teacher could hope for—she’s as kind and patient as she is knowledgeable and wise."

More than once, Cody’s students have “swept the podium” in the Classical Association of New England (CANE) student writing contest, including last year when they won first, second, and third prize for the state of Maine. “I don’t think I’ve ever taught poetry or prose the same way twice,” remarked Cody. She bases her instruction on who she has in the class, attuning her instruction to the individual interests and needs of each student. “Once they put pen to paper, I really get to know them...they write really wonderful stuff.” 

Cody’s involvement in the lives of TA students has taken on different forms. She’s served as an advisor for the Classics Club, and even as the assistant girls track coach! However, she’s likely most known for her role announcing the name of each senior as they cross the stage and receive their diploma—the last time they will hear their name spoken while a student at the school. Cody approaches this task with her “classic” care and attention, beginning the work of learning the correct pronunciation of each name a month before graduation. 

She was asked to serve as faculty reader at commencement just after completing breast cancer radiation treatment. “I wanted to do something way out of my comfort zone...I do not like microphones and am still not totally comfortable, but I do it. It just takes work.” She enlists the help of her students, and reaches out to faculty and individual graduates for additional clarification. “It means a lot to have your name pronounced correctly. I won’t wing a name—I get it right so that students have the experience of being known.”

4 teachers at graduation

When asked about the best part of her time at Thornton, Cody immediately replies,“TA really is a home away from home.” She reminisces about her dear friends in the faculty and staff, and so many beloved students. “I once counted the number of staff I taught and it came to around 15. I couldn’t have scared them away from education if they came back to TA to teach!” Her words of wisdom are the same now as they were when she first began teaching at TA, and even before as a student tackling the classics for the first time. “You can’t give up; persistence is key. You can’t let the little things get you down or throw you off course. Keep going. Keep trying. There is always something more to learn.”