Knights in Conversation: Foreign Language Teachers


Danielle Brennan, Arts Editor

Upper School (US) French Teacher and World Languages Department Head James Sennette, US Russian Teacher Joshua Walker, and US Latin Teacher Walter Young are known for their vivacious conversation and tight-knit collegiality. The Vanguard sat down with the trio to discuss everything from their friendship to swimming trips to Latin vocabulary.


How long have you been teaching at the US?

Mr. Sennette: This my 17th year teaching and my third year at BB&N.

Dr. Young: It is my seventh year at BB&N and my 20th year teaching.

Mr. Walker: It’s probably my 17th or 18th year teaching but 11th at BB&N.


How has your friendship developed since you began teaching?

Dr. Young: I think there’s always a friendship and collegiality that occurs when people are united in the same type of work and, of course, the three of us really love languages. And so to have the opportunity to work with each other, exploring something that we feel very strongly about, creates connections and forges friendships.

Mr. Sennette: I shared an inner door with Dr. Young the last two years. He was my closest ally because I didn’t know what was going on. I didn’t know BB&N and how things worked. So, it was a lot of me saying “I need help,” and “What is this thing?” We kind of had an open-door policy, and that forged a friendship between us and allowed me to not only have someone I can lean
on for collegial work but also for anytime we wanted to chat about anything.

Dr. Young: I think there are a perplexing number of acronyms at BB&N. We speak as though we’re sort of like the 1980s computer programmers for Bell Laboratories.

Mr. Walker: Yeah, when I first saw it, I thought Slotnick was a program, not a person.

Dr. Young: You know when I first arrived, it was Biv, SSP [Senior Spring Project], S&R [Sex & Relationships], Slotnick. I thought [Slotnick] might have been like, “serving liberally our tea.” I thought that the GOA [Global Online Academy] was the GSA—the Gay Straight Alliance. So, my first year here, I wondered why the Gay Straight Alliance had such a stranglehold on the curricular development.

Mr. Walker: Another one of my roles here is on the new-faculty cohort. I got to know both Mr. Sennette and Dr. Young because when they came, they were part of that cohort. It’s sort of like advisory for new teachers.


What do you talk about most? What does your time together go to?

Mr. Walker: Well, my family doesn’t have a car. And recently Dr. Young has moved into a similar area to myself and my family—Watertown. We have a rhythm going where [on] Thursday mornings, we drive my daughter to daycare. For example, we met this morning at 7:25 a.m., drove Clementine to childcare, and then came to our morning meeting. And so, this morning, I think we were talking about whatever Clementine was doing.

Dr. Young: Her recalcitrance to get in the car and equal recalcitrance to leave.

Mr. Walker: She didn’t want to leave the car because last time Dr. Young let her drive for a little bit.

Dr. Young: That was my mistake. When we’re at school, there’s a lot of school to talk about. Especially these last two years, everyone has had to reimagine how to even do school.

Mr. Sennette: I essentially had six months of normal school at BB&N. We’d just randomly chat without masks. That has impeded the normal conversations we would have.

Dr. Young: When there are moments of world crisis, that tends to dominate everyone’s conversation. It’s just this dull, tedious mantra that clouds our lives during these moments of crisis.

Mr. Walker: We’ve got to have other exciting moments, too.

Dr. Young: Well, I don’t like sports, so we don’t talk about that.

Mr. Walker: We talk about how you don’t like sports.

Dr. Young: Yes, so that eclipses many of our conversations.


What’s your favorite moment or memory together?

Mr. Sennette: I love this group named Pink Martini. And they sing in all sorts of languages. They have a song [in English] called “Clementine,” and [Mr. Walker’s] daughter’s name is Clementine. I said, “You have to listen to this song. It is the most beautiful song.” I just was so happy to share that song with him. And he said there’s not many other songs with a name Clementine in it.

Mr. Walker: My wife can go for about 60 seconds of that song before a downburst of tears. So, it’s very, very, very touching.

Dr. Young: I’m childless.

Mr. Walker: I mean, my daughter wouldn’t leave your car this morning.

Dr. Young: That’s true.

Mr. Walker: She calls Dr. Young ‘Dalter’ because she can’t pronounce W’s yet. So, we were talking about the Delta variant, and she thought we were talking about Walter [Dr. Young]. Her hopes were dashed when she found out it was just some boring Greek letter. I believe you had a second story, Mr. Sennette.

Mr. Sennette: This was when I randomly saw you out and about at dinner. It’s almost like how strange it is for students to see teachers in the wild. Seeing a colleague that you don’t expect in the wild. It’s like, “Well, look, I know this person.” Anyway, it was very wonderful to see Dr. Young in a non-school environment.

Mr. Walker: One thing that [Dr. Young and I] got into a lot this last summer was driving out and open-water swimming in Crystal Lake in Newton and also Walden Pond. And it took my daughter a while before she was comfortable going in the water. But eventually she got really into it, and we had a great day. Oh, and [English Teacher Zoe] Balaconis swung by, too, with her daughter. There was a young Balaconis.

Dr. Young: I think my memory will be the very, very many times that our heaters [in our classrooms] stopped working. We would open our communal door and look at each other, and there’d be disappointment that there was no heat wafting from my room and vice versa.


Do you have favorite words from your colleague’s languages?

Dr. Young: There’s actually a French [expression]: the romance of the mud [Nostalgie de la Boue]. [It’s] when you’ve gone through hard times and those are way past you, and you look back on those fondly. Sort of like our frozen groans [through] a shared door.

Mr. Sennette: I only know two. Salve [which means hello in Latin], and I can say hello and goodbye in Russian.

Mr. Walker: I think I find the word ‘civic’ interesting. [It shows] the Latin [idea of] something from the city being good and [something] not from the city being bad. It was so clearly labeled [for Romans]. This is funny since we’re more used to having
a balanced appreciation of where anybody is from. [But] the Romans were like, “Rome is good.” And my favorite word in French is lait [milk] because I’m allergic to it. So, any time I’m in France, I’m so terrified by the name of milk. It’s just a constant fear.


Who has the best vocabulary in any of the languages they speak?

Mr. Walker: I would say in terms of ability to use loquatiousness [in English] in faculty meetings, that would definitely be Dr. Young. And my other favorite thing is the rhetorical devices [he uses], like “But friends, should we not consider that?” That’s definitely some Cicero or something.

Dr. Young: Oh, I don’t anaphora, do I? I would never do such a thing.

Mr. Sennette: You may have [used] it this morning.

Dr. Young: As much as we love language, we don’t know each other’s language, which I always think is interesting about the language department. In a science department, everyone has had some experience with physics or biology or chemistry or something. But what’s really interesting about our discussions is that we are talking about how to teach something which we ourselves do not.