Category Archives: latin

Latin in the Summertime

IMG_1382Twice 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.

IMG_1357 (1)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]

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Things I’ll Miss

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I spent the last three months in a house with wind chimes. I woke up in the middle of the night to the music of them in the breeze, and there was an eeriness to it. I had to grow accustomed to its sound.

But I did grow accustomed, and soon I will miss the music of wind in glass.

I have never awaited summer with less anticipation.

[She hugs me, tucking her head in like a child, and her face is red. “It’s just hitting me now,” she sobs into my shoulder, “everyone is leaving.” I take her hand and say, “I know this is hard, I know. But you’re going to have a wonderful summer, and next year, the first day of school will be just as exciting and fun as every other first day of school. It’s just hard right now.” And I try to get her to act – to put on the performing persona she does so well in homeroom – but the pictures are proof that hiding pain only works for so long.]

Good evening, my name is Catherine Hawkins, and I am an Upper School Latin teacher.

I hand out awards one after the other. I try to speak slowly because I rush when I want to be done. I pass out two Perfect Scores on the National Latin Exam; I clap for a row of students so long it has to loop around the stage.

I jump into a class photograph – right in the middle – but I do not tear up once the entire evening.

Someone has to hold it together.

And we all know Jim wouldn’t be able to [cough, cough, no-emotion-man].

I have never awaited summer with less anticipation.

[“Magistra, I will spit out my gum every morning at my new school in honor of you.”]

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I packed up my room. It is hideous and you would never imagine such learning and fun and difficult conversations happened here.

I am not even leaving forever – I’ll be back in September – but there is something about this year that was precious to me. Too dear, maybe, in a way that could not be sustained.

Good thing I have a good memory. Good thing they have left me better than the way they found me.

~     ~     ~

The past few months, I have questioned my work in a way I have never done before.

Is it valuable?
Is it challenging enough?
Is it the easy way out?
Is it glorifying to God?

This past week, tear-stained cheeks, awkward middle school goodbyes, and a gift I will proudly hang on my wall prove that this is valuable work I do.

[“Catherine, he’s been working all day to make you something special.”]

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I grew accustomed to saying the same few names over and over in class: Refocus. You need your textbook, not your workbook. Sit down. That’s hilarious, but NEVER DO IT AGAIN.

I grew accustomed to these faces, these voices, these antics that – on my more tired days – were not quite as endearing as they’d hoped.

I grew accustomed to being their Magistra, but now, as many of them move on, I will forever be their Swagistra.

[Photo: Rie H]

Flat Magistra Goes to D.C.

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So I’ve been a little busy chaperoning my 8th graders’ D.C. trip.IMG_3129

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I haven’t been answering my emails.

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I’m loving this spring weather. And eating at a restaurant right next to where Lincoln was shot.

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I have a thousand text messages, but I’m just too busy checking out national monuments to reply.

IMG_3280 IMG_3282My coworker loves showing me around. We’re really bonding.IMG_3147And I’ve been eating super healthy on this trip. I’m determined to come back thinner than ever.

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The kids are getting a little tired of looking at my pigtails that look like piglet-ears from Winnie the Pooh, but I forgot a hairbrush, so they’ll have to do.
IMG_3138I’m Jim’s righthand-man, and he loves posing for pictures with me. I’m the bad-cop in our co-teacher relationship: “You’re out of dress code! Spit out that gum! You’re late for homeroom again! Give me your cell phone!”

IMG_3140All these 8th graders really know how to brighten my day. There isn’t a moment when I’m not wearing the same exact smile on my face this entire trip.

IMG_3158So, if you’re looking for me, I’m a little busy hanging with the coolest almost-high-schoolers ever.

[Fear not – permission was obtained before posting these pictures.]

Scatterings

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I haven’t sat down to write in I don’t know how long. My journal is a picture that seems to say my life is empty and not worth documenting. My blog is a snapshot of nothingness.

We had this idea to do “LoDe” (Local December Writing Month) because we thought there’d be time during the holidays to write that whatever-we’ve-been-meaning-to-write.

Nope.

Two more grad school classes down, and I’m feeling a little closer to the goal. I wrote a unit on The Odyssey because somehow I graduated with a B.A. in English and never once read it in class. I read it on my own sometime in high school, but I’ve gotta say – Classical literature is not really my jam. It’s so verbose. It’s so formulaic.

I’m such a millennial.

I do love the mythology, though. And I love the themes. I’m hoping on this second read-through I’ll be more appreciative of the artistry that went into crafting this epic.

I wrote a unit on it so I’d be better at teaching it because if there’s one thing students pick up on right away, it’s if you love your subject or not.

We’re singing Veni, Veni in Latin since it’s the last week before break. We talk about the difference between Classical Latin and Ecclesiastical Latin, how Classical Latin is what was spoken during the Roman Empire and Ecclesiastical Latin is what developed during the medieval period and what was (is) used by the Catholic Church. Then, we attempt to sing, with a little processional thrown in for good measure.

There’s such a disconnect between middle school and high school when it comes to singing; my high schoolers look like I’m asking them to chop their arms off when really all I want is a little melody. I always show this video because I love the harmonies and the beautiful vowels and the hilarious way the men contort their faces to make these beautiful vowels.

We finished up our voice lessons for the semester. Two of my voice students sang in the recital, and all six of them sang in the Christmas concerts. I told them I’d better see them open their mouths on the high notes. We still have some “fig-leaf” positions to address, but overall, I was pleased.

My ivy plant still hasn’t died.

I’ve consumed a decent number of cookies this week.

I’ve attended two Christmas concerts and one middle school play in four days.

I realized – last night, in the middle of the Upper School Christmas concert – that I was so out of it, I didn’t even KNOW I hadn’t bought Christmas presents. Wait. I’m supposed to be doing this. Or at least, I’m supposed to be upset that I’m not yet doing this.

I have three Christmas gifts.

I have a lot more people.

Phone calls with distant friends and letters from Philly and an island in Maine help to hide the fact that we’re far away and spread thin.

I ran into my dear friend I haven’t seen since July, and suddenly her baby is five months old and the most beautiful baby I’ve ever seen. Suddenly, time has passed and I haven’t changed much but look at this little human. 

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Every day in December, I have kept my promise to read the Advent devotional from the local seminary. Haven’t missed a day, and that’s rare around these parts. Granted, they’re short. One step at a time.

I’m still working on my dad’s sweater. Yep. The same one I started last fall. It’s like I can’t finish a project in under a year. In my defense, it is a sweater that will fit my dad, not an infant. And it is hunter green covered in cables.

So, that’s what’s been going on in my neck of the woods. As friends busy about applying for grad school, raising babies, settling into newlywed life, teaching various subjects, I find myself orbiting my little sector, hoping soon to slow down enough to create what I feel bubbling.

When I Was Your Age…

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In principio erat Verbum, et Verbum erat apud Deum, et Deus erat Verbum.

I had the idea to translate the beginning of John because it’s been a long week of testing. I knew that with mornings crammed full of tests the afternoon classes would be, well, slightly less productive. With the hopes of trucking through more of Lingua Latina dashed against the rocks of middle school boredom, I decided to try something totally new.

So I copied John I from the Vulgate. I introduced the ideas of Bible translations, the “language of the common people,” and I tried to make translating a few verses fun.

“Magistra, we already memorized this,” someone says unenthusiastically.

Shoot.

So I think on my feet.

“I know that,” I say, even though I don’t. “That’s why we’ll be doing a literal translation.”

[Cue a lesson on the ACTUAL definition of literal not the colloquial one; “I was literally floored” is almost never an acceptable sentence.]

I walk them through the first sentence, we pick it apart, we talk about what a literal translation would look like:

In beginning was Word, and Word was with God, and God was Word.

They like this, this hideous English that I’m finally allowing them to use. No longer will I demand: “But make it good English!” No longer will I say, “Listen, I know there is no sentence subject in the Latin, but there has to be one in English…”

They were finally free.

And free they were, as they concocted sentence after sentence. We filled the board at the end of class, and we talked about what the translators would have had to do to manipulate the language.

What was more important? To make it as much like Latin as possible? Or to make it mean as close to the same thing in English?

We talked about Greek and Hebrew and how translations get tainted the further away you get from the original.

And as I stood in front of the class, I was transported to a little room. I was sixteen again, and we were discovering Bible translating and the Vulgate for the first time. It was a much smaller class than I was now teaching, but I remember how it felt, that first picking apart of language.

This time it was language that mattered.

This time it wasn’t about Sextus falling into the ditch.

This time, it was about the Word.

And granted, I knew the New Testament wasn’t originally written in Latin. That didn’t make my translation of it any less cool.

It also made me wonder what moments my students will remember.

John I on the board?

My inability to keep a straight face when one of them is hilarious?

The first time they could verbalize what an ablative of agent was and how it differed from an ablative of means?

There are days when I feel defeated. There was a day this week when a loving eighth grader said to me:

“Magistra, I think teaching is aging you.”

Wow.

She went on to say how young I had seemed last summer when she saw me (shopping at the mall, making unwise but beautiful purchases).

Well, I thought, of course I looked younger! I was tan! And free! And reading books by the shelf-loads! And most importantly, I wasn’t getting up at 5:45 every morning!

But instead, I just smiled and promised to wear more makeup the next day.

Teaching might be aging me, but we translated John 1:1-11, and it was beautiful.

[P.S. Did anyone notice what one of the students deemed worthy of homework?]

[Random Thoughts on the First Week of School]

I think I would like teaching a whole lot more if I could wear yoga pants.

It would be easier to get up in the morning if:

1. I saw the sun.

2. I smelled coffee.

3. This jumped on my bed:

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Or this:puff

I still don’t like Starbucks pumpkin spice lattes. I keep trying every fall, but I just don’t.

Taking grad school classes reminds me what it’s like to be a student. And reminds me that most of my students probably didn’t do the reading.

Colored pens make grading a little more bearable.

My ivy plant survived the first weekend in the classroom. So far so good.

The last swim of the summer happened Saturday. The water swept me through the mouth of the river and a thunderstorm rolled in. We watched the lightning touch down, and I tried not to be too sad about the end of summer.

I finally got different colored expo markers.

My students keep asking me questions about dating.

[Walking the line between teacher/mentor/friend is TOUGH.]

I tried not to drink caffeinated coffee in the morning. I regretted it. So did my students.

I’m getting to the point where I know ahead of time what my students will struggle with. I say something: “So, this is dative of possession. You just have to switch the nominative subject to dative and the accusative direct object to nominative and habet to est. Got it?” No, they don’t got it, obviously, and a class period and a half later, we’re starting to make a little progress.

I go to sleep thinking about how to have a better class. I dream about answering grammar questions.

I leave small group early because I’m that old.

Year three is off to a good start. Still looking for a used couch so my room can feel more like an English classroom, so keep an eye out.

Here’s to fall and apples and cinnamon and hot tea.

Good Things #23

Mulligans. I am extremely thankful for mulligans. No, I don’t mean these in strictly the golf-sense, as I have no intention of taking up golf. I’m thinking of two things at the moment:

1. Knitting. I take so many redos in knitting it’s ridiculous. I started a scarf for a friend – I found a pattern on ravelry.com (another good thing, just wait for it!), and I was so excited. And then I looked at it. And it was terrible. I ripped it all out and started over, this time with the same pattern but larger needles. Maybe I’m a tight knitter? I’ve always thought one’s knitting style might be a disturbing look at one’s psyche…stressed? anxious? uptight? So, I’m grateful for knitting mulligans because the new scarf is looking much better.

2. Teaching. I am so grateful that my students give me redos. We’re working on passive and active sentences in Latin, and there was one class where I thought I was explaining it well, but I saw the look in their eyes. I couldn’t seem to reword my explanations; I was too tongue-tied to unravel it. But the next day? We started over, went step by step, slowed it down, and worked it out. They’re ready for their test and I’m proud to say they can define the functions of the subject in both active and passive sentences. Ablative of agent, anyone? I’m grateful for teaching mulligans.

Music. If you were one of my students, I might make you listen to this while taking a test. It’s interesting – I would be totally distracted if a teacher played this while I took a test BUT THEY LOVE IT. It’s weird. Maybe it makes them feel smart? I probably should be playing Bach (isn’t Baroque the music for geniuses?). Oh well. Vivaldi’s not bad.

Swiss visitors. Monday night I got a surprise phone call – my friend who’s been living in Switzerland for the past year and half was calling to see if I wanted to go for a walk. Of course I dropped everything to walk with her and our good friend in the dark. We took the new puppy to the graveyard (ignoring, of course, the “No Dogs” sign) and talked about all manner of things. Soon she’ll be returning to L’Abri and all that I found there, but for now she’s stateside and it’s lovely.

Good Things #22

Latin. I’ve only been teaching Latin for a year and half, but let me tell you, there are some pretty crazy things I’ve been learning. We had an event at school where parents and potential-parents of students could learn about classical education and what the heck are you doing over there, anyway? So for twenty minutes, I gave a “Welcome to Latin” class to adults – because let’s face it, lots of people wonder…

Here’s the thing: you should see how uncomfortable grown, successful adults become when asked to read a sentence in a language they don’t know.

I started by talking about SATs and the benefits of learning Latin for vocabulary and how Latin helps you learn other languages.

Here, look at our textbook. It’s so cool – it’s all Latin! Even my third graders start right here, page one (or seven, technically). Go ahead, read the first sentence.

Cricket.

I had to volunteer the only parent I recognized in the room. Let me say that the sentence was anything but complicated:

Roma in Italiā est.

(Oh my gosh I can’t believe I figured out how to include macrons in a blogpost!)

What do you think it means?

Yep, Rome is in Italy.

But you should’ve seen the trepidation in their eyes, the slowness in their speech. They looked up at me when they encountered a new word, and they were even less inclined to take a risk than their nine-year-old child.

I was struck tonight by our inhibitions.

We spend so much time trying to hide things that we stunt ourselves. Or, maybe I should say, I do. Or I did. Or I still do, but I’m getting better.

If I walked into an art class right now, I would hardly remember how a piece of charcoal feels in my hand. I’d be embarrassed by my lack of art vocabulary; I’d fear my fellow students’ critiquing eye and vast knowledge.

I’d look up at my teacher with eyes filled with questions, but the biggest one would be:

Can I do this?

That’s what I encounter every day. I’m learning slowly that teaching Latin is so much more than teaching declensions and conjugations, derivatives and study skills.

Really, it’s about answering that question. And hopefully as it gets answered more and more, and each time I’m proven right, my students will be able to stop asking it.

I’d love for the day to come when I don’t need anyone to tell me I can pick up watercolors and paint. I’d love to take a pottery class and create beautiful and useful things. I wish that, in this one lifetime I’ve been given, I could grow enough to stop asking the question.

Maybe someday instead of Can I do this?, I’ll start asking, What will I learn if I try?

What I’m working on right now? Learning to spin wool with a drop spindle (this procedure deserves its very own post). It’s taking longer than I ever expected, and I’m terrible. But I persevere, if only because I want a nice skein of yarn at the end of it.

Tonight, a few unsuspecting parents and I read a whole paragraph in Latin. Not everyone can say that.

[And here’s a song I’ve been loving.]

 

[Photo: Johnny Grim]

[When I Lose It]

I’ve been whirlwinding it the past few weeks, as school’s started, small group’s back up and running, and the farmers’ market goes strong for two more weeks. My graduate class started, too (can you say Friday night classes and all day Saturday classes are a breed unto themselves? filled with falling-asleep-behinds and the intense urge to run). The theatre company I work for is eagerly awaiting auditions in two weeks, and we have a production meeting tonight.

Sometimes I think I don’t need God. And then things like this happen:

I forgot something Monday.

I forgot SOMEONE Monday.

And I wanted to curl up and die.

One of my Latin students from last year transferred to a different school, but she wanted to continue studying Latin.

Of course I’d love to keep working with her! Monday the 16th at 5? Awesome. See you then.

But I didn’t see them then, and I didn’t get the email until the next morning, and I would have rather cleaned the bathroom five times than feel so much shame.

Because I remember one time being forgotten. I was fourteen or fifteen and I was writing a short story cycle with my writing tutor. She was (and continues to be) one of my absolute favorite people, but there was this one time when she forgot me. I sat there waiting but she didn’t come. It wasn’t really a big deal, but I still remember it.

And here I was, ten years later, doing the same thing.

Maybe it isn’t about God, you say. Maybe you just need a flippin’ planner.

Which is true.

But really it comes down to the fact that my head isn’t screwed on straight, and that more often than not comes from my inability to set my eyes where they belong. I read my Bible this morning and felt disconnected and my mind wandered:

Wait, so how much money should I be saving?

Ugh, I really want a doughnut right now.

Did I email that woman about selling pastries at the farmers’ market?

Shoot, I never delivered those candles. Ugh.

~     ~     ~

I sent an email back. I apologized left and right, falling all over myself, saying I would drive to their house and make it up to them.

I haven’t heard back.

What is it about humans that makes us need constant reminders that life is too big for us? I get into the groove of things, I tell my Creator Thanks, man, see you Sunday, and things are great for awhile.

Things are still great.

But praise God for not letting us coast for too long. Hopefully that little girl and her mama will forgive me, because Latin and learning are too fun to just throw away because I’m a scatter-brain.

 [If this picture doesn’t say it all…]

You Teach Latin to Third Graders?

I walk into my second third grade class of the day. I still think of these little people as second graders and I’m not sure when that will change. Pass out the textbook, read a paragraph slowly, painstakingly – they are afraid of making mistakes and I can’t wait to show them that I don’t care about mistakes. They can’t pronounce quoque or Latin Asia for the life of them, and they look up at me with big eyes.

We make lists on the board. What part of speech are all these words? Nouns! What part of speech are all these words? Verbs! See? You’ve already learned two parts of speech in Latin, and it’s only our second class!

Finally I tell them to stand up, push their chairs in. One of the smallest ones grins and says,

“We’re going to learn a song!”

And I look at her quizzically.

“How did you know that?!”

“Sally told me!”

And that is the moment I realize: They talk about Latin class.

Oh my gosh. It was a dream come true. Little third graders passing in the halls. They could talk about recess, about Disney princesses, about sleepovers and playdates. But they talk about Latin.

For the rest of the class, I taught them “Hallelu-hallelu-hallelu-hallelujah, Gloria Deo!” and we sang it, all twenty-six of us. We sang it really quietly, crouched down, and then we grew and grew our bodies as we got louder and louder, ending with arms raised, singing “Gloria Deo!”

Glory to God.

At the end, they sat down to the new Latin command they’d learned (“Sedete!”), and as I wheeled my cart full of books out of the room, I heard them softly sing to themselves.

Hallelujah! Gloria Deo!