Twice a week, I tutor an incoming 8th grader at Barnes and Noble. I order a large green tea, he tells me he’s “fine” when I ask, and we launch into Lingua Latina, every middle schooler’s dream way to spend a summer morning. He never complains — even when I open the door for it — and his desire to do well is lovely. I hope he doesn’t lose it come September.
We even made a friend. Glenn is retired and he comes to Barnes and Noble every morning. I never noticed him until, as I rounded the corner of the cafe, I saw him talking to my student. My hackles immediately went up (which is not exactly the most sane response to a stranger talking to a middle schooler, but my maternal instincts are strong). Glenn proved kind and engaging, Latin being the magnet it usually is in public.
“I heard you talking over there, and I thought: I know some of those words! I took Latin all through high school and I loved it.” Glenn is quick to divulge the ways in which Latin helped him with vocabulary, writing, etc., but I can see my student’s eyes glossing over. I do not want to squelch this man’s excitement, so I smile and talk about my teaching and love of languages.
Glenn is surprised that I teach Latin, and the next time we meet, he gets up excitedly, a red book in his hand.
“Have you heard of this?” he asks, handing it to me. “After we met, I was thinking about all the Latin I took and I remembered this book.”
It’s a book on Latin in English, a huge list of Latin terms that one could use in everyday speech. I’d never heard of it, I know my coworker would love it, and I thank him for thinking of me.
Many people are surprised that I teach Latin. More are surprised that I enjoy it. I’m not sure I fit the stereotype of Classics enthusiast (at least I hope I don’t), and yet I’m never quite sure how to respond to such shock. Part of me wants to enumerate all the other things I love just to balance it out, but the other part wonders what I could change to seem more of a Classicist.
My coworker and I have been brainstorming the upcoming year: How do we make it fun? How do we make Latin more part of our culture instead of just something students have to do to graduate? How do we collaborate and make our subject more interdisciplinary? Each of us brings unique things to the table, and honestly I am grateful to be able to lean on his knowledge of Roman history and other things I somehow missed during my education.
I sit with my student at Barnes and Noble, and I worry about him losing interest. I make sure to move from thing to thing — translation, vocabulary, grammar, derivatives — because nothing kills joy faster than doing the same thing over and over and over. I wonder if I should make him call me Miss Hawkins instead of Catherine because in the fall he will have no choice, but it feels strange to be in striped shorts and a tank top as “Miss Hawkins.” He never wants to chat afterwards, and I bid him adieu until next time.
“Are you a tutor?” the woman next to me asks as my student hurriedly leaves.
“Yes, we’re working on Latin,” I say.
“You’re good,” she says. “You make it fun.”
I am pleased.
“Thank you, I’m glad. He’s also smart, so that helps.”
I’m a little embarrassed how much this affirmation from a stranger makes me. You would think after tutoring for seven years I would no longer need someone to tell me I can do it. You would think I had arrived.
September will find me teaching Latin and ESL, not teaching English (alas), trying to integrate music, history, and etymology as much as I can, and learning and re-learning my students as a year-older and a summer-wiser.
Now, I am enjoying my twice-weekly tutorings, my days in the sun with my old babysitting charges, visiting with friends, and gearing up for all the fall will require of me.
Today, Glenn asked if I taught full-time.
“Yes,” I said. “September, I’ll be back at it.”
“So no more Barnes and Noble,” he replied.
It wasn’t a question so much as a realization.
[First Photo: Andrew Phillips]