Seniors’ Choice: Ben Davis High School’s Beloved Latin Teacher

Each year, seniors in Wayne Township vote to name the teachers who have had the greatest impact on their lives as students. Those teachers receive what’s known as the MSD of Wayne Township Seniors’ Choice Award during a ceremony sponsored by the Wayne Township Education Foundation.

As you might expect, many Wayne teachers have received this recognition multiple times. But only one – Ben Davis High School Latin teacher Bill Gilmartin – has received it 30 different times.

Mr. Gilmartin modestly claims that is only because he has “been around a little longer” than many of the other teachers in Wayne Township. But it’s clear from what others say about him that he is one of the most beloved teachers in the district.

“It is difficult to put into words what Bill Gilmartin has meant to students,” said Ben Davis High School Principal Sandi Squire. “He continually builds strong relationships, runs a positive classroom with humor and love, and pushes students to be their very best. He is instrumental to our culture at Ben Davis.”

As seniors considered this award, they were asked to reflect on why they chose the teachers they voted for. Some of the comments regarding Mr. Gilmartin:

“Such a fun and caring teacher.”

“Your class will forever be my favorite class I’ve ever had.”

“There is no one more worthy of an award than Mr. Gilmartin.”

We asked Mr. Gilmartin himself to reflect on his experiences teaching at Ben Davis, and on being a 30-time recipient of the Seniors’ Choice Award.

When did you start teaching at Ben Davis? Have you ever taught elsewhere?
I began teaching Latin and Etymology at BD in fall, 1979. Prior to that (1975 through 1978) I taught Latin grades seven through 12 in Moorhead, Minnesota. But my very first teaching experience was at the University of Michigan. As a Teaching Fellow in the Classical Studies Ph.D. program I had the opportunity to teach a number of undergraduate Latin classes. This is where my love of teaching began.

What are the most rewarding aspects of your work?
A few things come immediately to mind. First is being able to share my love of Latin and language with students, and see them respond with a like curiosity, interest, and desire to learn more. I live for their questions. Second is having the privilege to be part of my students’ lives, and learning that I may for some have made a positive difference. And third, the fact that I am continually learning from my students.

What have you found to be the greatest challenges in helping high school students learn over the years? How has that changed over time, if at all?
Wayne Township has undergone significant demographic changes since my arrival in 1979, and each of these changes has brought new challenges. For students adolescence itself is challenging enough–always has been, always will be. But the social and economic and political upheavals of these last twenty plus years have placed additional strains on our township families, and students cannot help but bring this additional stress to the classroom. My biggest challenge is finding ways to understand their challenges.

As much as I’d love each of my students to graduate a Latin scholar, I realize they may have very different priorities, and in the future declensions, conjugations, etc. will have little more relevance than quadratic formulas. But . . . “Children may not remember what you said to them, but they’ll always remember how you made them feel.” I think that says it all.

What does it mean to you to be the first teacher to have received our Seniors’ Choice Award 30 times?
The Seniors’ Choice Award means a lot to me. But we know there are so many Wayne teachers that make a difference in students’ lives every day. I just happen to have been around a little longer.

The Wayne Township Education Foundation (WTEF) provides community leadership to enrich, engage, and stimulate teaching and learning in the Metropolitan School District of Wayne Township. WTEF accomplishes this by supporting school programs and resources, while recognizing excellence among students and staff. To learn more about WTEF, call 317-988-7966, visit, or follow us on Facebook or Twitter @WayneTwpEdFound.