Category Archives: glorious life of teaching

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 #44: Technology Edition

Image 6I’m loving my technology these days.

Music. I’ve said this before, but really, I would be nowhere music-wise without friends. And now in my second year of teaching, my students are just as good at making recommendations. One of my tenth graders asked if we could follow each other on Spotify (totally awesome way to get music fo’ free!) and this may be one of the best music decisions I’ve made so far.

Recently I was talking about music and what I like and why I like it. I admitted that I don’t choose to listen to Christian music very often. As I was talking, I felt like I was a freshman in college again, apologizing that I didn’t like most Christian music I heard. It just wasn’t very good (this is my opinion, of course). I kept tripping over my words because I hate it when people think I’m a) less of a Christian, or b) a snob. I like to think my music taste doesn’t make me less of a Christian, and I do not want to be a snob. It’s unattractive in pretty much everyone.

And what do I find on my student’s playlist?

A Christian artist who isn’t bad – who’s actually quite good. Someone I’d choose to listen to and I wouldn’t feel like I were betraying good music.

Listen on.

Also, Nick Drake. Another student-prompted discovery. They teach me something new every day.

Instagram. Okay, the cat’s out of the bag: I have an iPhone. Yes, the woman who rejoiced over her outdated technology and her inability to check email on the go is now the not-so-proud-but-it-is-what-it-is owner of an iPhone.

(What happened? It’s called “one night I got a text, opened my phone [yes, opened, because it was a flip-phone] and the entire screen was sideways and white and I lost all my contacts and the iPhone was cheaper than another flip.”)

One of the perks of an iPhone is Instagram. Okay, okay, yes I made fun of my dad when he got an account. Yes I would say, “What, you gonna insta that?” every time he took out his phone for a garden picture. And yes, I hate the filtered lifestyle Instagram creates.

What I do like? Pretty pictures.

How many posts have I made?

Three.

Internet. I am so grateful for the internet right now. Not only does it allow me to do this thing called blogging, but it also lets me stay in touch with my globe-trotting brother. The guy’s off in the land of C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkein (and BENEDICT), and even though he’s thousands of miles away, I get to keep up with him via Facebook and texting and twitter. I’m so proud of him, and I a little bit want to be there. A lot bit.

But the internet is the next-best thing.

Happy almost-summer!

P.S. My second chicken class is this Saturday. Supposedly we have five students signed up…I better prep the girls.

Dating in College?!

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“What’s dating like in college?”

My senior girls looked earnestly at me over their lunches. There’s no denying that having five guys in your year at school doesn’t play in your favor.

“Not so great,” I said, and regretted it immediately.

I scolded myself because I knew the door I’d just opened wouldn’t be closed easily. They wanted to know why – their eyes crestfallen, their hopes dashed by one sentence.

I prefaced everything with: “Well, you know things didn’t end well for me, so my opinions are skewed – I’m sure if I married someone I dated in college, I would have a very different view.”

But as I think about it now, hours later, I wonder if this is true. Because even if I had married someone I dated in college, that wouldn’t change the fact that the whole thing was quite awkward and oddly polarizing and much more work than I ever thought it should be.

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I told them I went to a small Christian college.

I told them I loved it there, but that there was a strange social construct around dating. That you don’t date, actually, but you have a boyfriend. That going on dates wasn’t really something you did. You either were in a relationship or you were starkly single.

That some girls could have guy friends, but lots couldn’t.

That I was never once asked out on a date, but somehow found myself “dating” two boys over my four years.

That there was pressure from people immediately.

That I didn’t know any better.

That there is such a thing as a good relationship. And a bad relationship. And somewhere in between.

That even though I praise God for sparing me from a terrible choice, it doesn’t change the fact that I had been wooed (or wooed myself) into thinking it was the right choice.

I told them all this over lunch, in the senior lounge, them leaning across the table.

They’ve been waiting four years to date, college beckoning to them, claiming to be full-to-bursting with attractive, single, emotionally mature young men.

And I said, “The thing is, girls, you’ve been waiting four years to date, but when you get to college, you realize they’re all the same boys.”

They’re all the same boys.

And yes, there are winners. There are awesome young men who know what they want and will treat you well.

But they’re just a few months removed from high school. Just like you.

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When I was sure I’d bruised their hopeful hearts forever, I tried to make things look less bleak. I told them about my dating experience since college – how I’ve been on dates and not felt pressured (Is he the one? Who cares?! I’m in my twenties and I’m figuring out who I am and who I want to be with! It’s a first date, darn it!). I told them it’s been a lot better, that I’ve filled my coffer with story after story – some good, some bad, most hilarious – and that even if their dating lives in college aren’t all they thought they would be, there’s hope.

I did not go into detail (trying to keep some boundaries), but I wish I could’ve told them how dating in college seems to be more about who you think you’re supposed to be instead of who you are. At least it was that way for me. I might have told them that I’m happier than ever, and regardless of what my future dating brings, I know I am a better person for giving it a try.

They’re sure to at least have good tales to tell me when they visit in the summer.

I should’ve told them to start a blog about it.

 

[Dating for Dummies photo: ZacVTA]

[Czech Couple photo: Ard Hesselink]

[Seville Couple photo: BMP]

After the Burning [Guest Post]

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I’m honored to share Hannah’s story. I met Hannah when she started dating my childhood friend, David, and I even got to be part of their wedding last summer. I resonate with a lot of what Hannah has to say about expectations. You can read more of her writing at her blog, hannahlynnmell.com.

 

When David and I moved to Kansas last summer, I envisioned countless bright scenarios: making our first home together, establishing ourselves in a new arts community, gathering a circle of warm-hearted midwestern friends. We drove the moving truck cross country just three weeks after our July wedding, headed toward David’s first full-time teaching position and a shockingly inexpensive high rise apartment in downtown Wichita.

The low cost of living meant that I could piece together part-time work instead of looking for a full-time teaching job myself. The set-up offered precisely what I’d hoped for: ample time to write. I’d unleash volleys of cunning, heartfelt essays, utilize the glittering Interweb to network with likeminded creative-types, and watch my freelance career begin to unfold.

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You can smell the punch line, can’t you? We make our plans, and the good Lord chuckles. I love writing and revising essays; I don’t love submitting and resubmitting them. After ten minutes on Facebook or Twitter, I’ve had my fill of social networking for the week. It wasn’t that I spent the year in ardent pursuit of my dream but met with disappointment; my ardor dried up by the end of autumn.

Turns out I thrived on the bustle of teaching full-time. Waking early, putting on pretty clothes, riding my bike to school: my old routine suited me far more than staying in my pajamas and plunking away at a computer keyboard. When I found myself brooding at school, singing joyful songs with children snapped me out of it. In my new life I depended on afternoon voice lessons to buoy my spirit – and teaching students via Skype fell far short of teaching them in person.

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As autumn ended and winter set in, I grieved the loss of my Writing Career as though it had actually existed. I knew that I’d continue to write, but I unhanded the illusion that it would make me famous or even pay the bills. Okay, “unhanded” is a graceful but inaccurate verb. God had to pry the illusion from my sweaty, clutching fingers the way I’ve seen parents wrest dangerous objects from their toddlers.

Meanwhile, David’s teaching job dragged him through a disillusionment of his own. I don’t know which made me weep more: watching my husband struggle or letting go of the person I planned to become.

Fast forward to spring. Autumn and winter make a lot more sense when the world begins to blossom. Letting go of the person I planned to become? I’ve begun to recognize the loss as a gain.

Lines of burning grass create pattern on landscape at dusk

In the tall grass prairies of Kansas, spring is a time of burning. Native Americans started the tradition of setting fire to the old grass in order to instigate the rapid growth of new grass. Viktor Frankl wrote, “What is to give light must endure burning.” In prairie terms, we could slightly revise that: What is to give life must endure burning. As I survey the charred landscape of our time here in Kansas, I see fertile soil and green shoots. New dreams arise from the ashes of my surrender. David and I make plans to return to Massachusetts. I begin to outline a novel.

Catherine asked me to write about living the in-between. As she astutely observes, “We’re all there in one way or another.” David and I have experienced the in-between in full force this year, but I can’t remember a season of my life that didn’t feel like a transition. Like a baffled student, I return to the same lesson again and again. I’ll say it confidently now, with the windows open and the lilacs in blossom: the new life quickening within me will feed next year’s flames. When the grasses fade to yellow and the cold sets in, I’ll weep and question and eventually let go. I can’t tell you next year’s particulars, but I’m learning to love the pattern.

Hannah writes, Skypes voice lessons, and teaches yoga in Wichita, Kansas. She met Catherine through her husband David, one of Catherine’s childhood friends. Her blog lives at hannahlynnmell.com.

[Photo: James Nedresky at Flint Hills Images]

Good Things #36: Time

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A few months ago, I was on the highway. It was a Wednesday afternoon, and we were speeding on our way to one of my favorite port towns. My friend was driving, and I was trying to describe how to get to the used bookstore I’d wandered into the spring before. I knew there was no way we would find it again.

I told him I’d blogged that morning, and he said,

“Why did you already write your ‘good things’ post? You never know what the afternoon will bring.”

I laughed because he can be a romantic of sorts, and if I were always waiting for the next great thing, I’d never write a lick.

But I’ve been coming back to that moment recently, as the March sun promises warmth but the air has yet to comply.

~     ~     ~

Some people are good at living life as one big adventure. I have a friend who seems to jump from opportunity to opportunity, uprooting her life in America for two years in Switzerland and learning how to be in community while longing for that very thing. Of course she grapples with the normal dissatisfaction that seems to mark our generation, but she has a way of rising to the occasion.

I wonder what it would look like to live this way – with always the thought that “the next good thing” was just around the corner. Time has been a constant enemy of mine. I remember one night when I was eight years old, and my parents had my aunt and uncle and grandparents over. They were all in the kitchen, long after supper had ended, and we were supposed to be in bed. I don’t know what I wanted – probably just to feel like a grown-up and talk with them – but I came down the stairs. I heard my father, a touch of concern in his voice, say,

“Well, look at Catherine. She’s eight years old. Before I know it, she’ll be heading to college, and how in the world are we supposed to pay for that?”

I stopped on the cold blue tiles in the hallway. I was only eight years old, but there were the next ten years of my life, just the process of waiting for college and how in the word were we supposed to pay for that?

I couldn’t wait to study in college, but I also never wanted it to come.

[My mom’s friend sitting on the rug with me, not making eye contact, talking in her rushed-fashion about growing up and maturity and childhood. “Don’t try to be an adult sooner than you have to. I had to, I didn’t have a choice, but you don’t do it.” I looked at her and didn’t understand a thing she was saying. I just wanted to know what she and my mom talked about over tea at the island. It wasn’t my fault I could understand what they spelled to each other over our heads.]

Story after story of a young girl, and I travelled with her through childhood to adulthood, watching her blossom into a woman. And always that sadness when I came to the last page of the last book – for months Rilla of Ingleside sat untouched on my shelf because I couldn’t bear the thought of saying goodbye to Anne forever.

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These days, time is a different sort of enemy. When work feels long and I can’t imagine answering, “Magistra, what does quis/quae/quod mean?” one. more time., I tick the clock away until the doors open and I’m free.

But when the weekend’s here, I grasp after those same moments. Sundays are too short, no matter how good they are.

As spring approaches, and I think about ending my second year of teaching, it makes me sad that I countdown the days, hours, minutes till the end. Before you know it, you’ll be dead. 

Where does this voice come from?

The truth is, I love teaching, so why do I always long for something else even when I’m doing something that brings me joy?

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“You never know what the afternoon will bring,” he said that day in the car, and I am reminded of the Swedish proverb I tacked to my wall senior year of college:

The afternoon knows what the morning never suspected.

I put it on my wall as a type of foreboding, a warning of change and its suddenness and my lack of control.

Now, I’m trying see it as potential. Like the day that stretches in front of you just before you swing your legs over the edge of the bed. Like the friendship just before you shake hands for the first time. Like that first smell of strong coffee just before you sip.

To be expecting the next good thing in the afternoon, but to enjoy the good thing that’s right here now.

I don’t know what the afternoon will bring, but I’m trying to rest in time instead of wrestle it.

Good Things #31: Rome, Among Other Things

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Italy and Greece. Last night, anticipating a snow day and enjoying a glass of red wine, I skyped with a friend from L’Abri. It’s been five or six months since we’ve seen each other, but  we never considered Skype (probably because I never think of the easy solution to problems), and it was strange to see his face on my computer screen. We were talking because – in joy and excitement – I had messaged him that I would be in Italy and Greece in a few weeks and he should hop on over. Studying in France makes European travel so much easier than living across the pond.

“What?” he said. “You’re just telling me this now?”

I didn’t tell him that I haven’t really been telling anybody. I’ve been holding it close, partly afraid that it isn’t true and partly because I feel I don’t deserve another foray to Europe after my wonderful trip this summer.

My mind has been wrapped up with each new thing that comes, and it’s only now that I’ve been able to think about it.

“I don’t live dates,” I told him, as though this made perfect sense.

“Ummm…?” he said.

I laughed to pause long enough to figure out what I meant.

“I live Mondays and Tuesdays, not January 20th and 21st. So it snuck up on my so fast and now it’s not even two weeks away.”

romeHow is this possible, this trip to Rome and Athens? One of the perks of being a teacher is you get to chaperone school trips. And yes, I mean “get to” because I can’t wait to explore this part of the world, even with students in tow. Maybe, especially with students? There’s a brightness in learning eyes that I love.

I’ll try to take pictures, but I’m terrible at that and I get distracted by everything going on around me.

I’ll try to eat the yummiest foods and buy the prettiest gift for my sister. I’ll try to read Quo Vadis (upon suggestion) to prepare me, but this probably won’t happen. I’ll be swept up on an airplane and whisked across the water.

Airplanes make the world geographically smaller. Skype does the same thing, only from the comfort of your own bed.

Music. Another Joe Purdy song, “Diamond State.” I love his voice. It’s about ice and cold and longing for summer. There are a lot of pauses in this live recording, so find it on Spotify if you want a clear listen.

New dress. I bought a new dress at the mall, and I don’t regret it even a little. It’s simple and chic and I bought it for a YMCA event I’m volunteering at this Friday night. We’re opening our theatre with a performance by a world-renowned opera singer, and in order for me to go, I had to volunteer ($125 tickets, anyone?). I can’t wait to feel slightly glamorous and very volunteery in this new Ann Taylor Loft dress.

[I can even teach in it on those days when I need a little up-lifting. Here’s to versatility!]

Half-truths. In that same Skype conversation, my friend asked me what prompted my last post. He was kind, and I could tell he thought it was a little – how do you say? – angsty, so I told him about watching my middle and high school students, these girls who are so fragile and unsure of who they are. I told him I hate knowing what lies ahead of them (or, maybe for some, what they’ve already been through) and also knowing there is nothing I can do to save them.

[I looked them in the eye once, when they were freaking out about something – clothes or a movie or something a boy had said, I can’t remember – and I said It gets better. Whatever you’re going through right now, I can tell you, it gets better. Because there is no doubt in my mind that what I’m living now is better than (and a product of) those tough years, figuring things out.]

I even told him that I’d recently read through one of my journals from 8th and 9th grades, and that this horror added itself to the mix.

But I didn’t tell him the whole truth. I didn’t tell him the seeds of other things that fed into that letter.

I think that’s okay. This blog thing is kind of strange, anyway, this baring of thoughts and soul online.

Half-truths are the way to go, I think. I’m just trusting that he (and you) won’t feel slighted.

I want to share my thoughts and life, but some things are better left in those journals I’m always talking about. Maybe I’d tell more over coffee or curled up on the couch, but even then, I remember we can only know others so deeply. There’s always a curtain, a half-truth, an incomplete truth.

I like to think this is part of the beauty of human connection. It keeps me guessing. It keeps me interested in other people.

It keeps me wholly known by God and no one else.

[Coliseum photo: Marcel Germain.]

The Teaching Student? Or the Learning Teacher?

I was a terrible student. I say this with endearment to my younger self and all her strivings, but really, it’s true. I wasn’t bad in some of the traditional ways – I never complained about workload and I was (almost) always interested in material. As I write this, I’m wondering what my past teachers thought of me at the time. Wondering. I don’t exactly want to know.

What’s brought this to mind is this:

Teaching has shown me what a bad student is.

I’m taking a grad school course on teaching strategies. We meet one weekend a month and talk classroom management, attention, relationship, and how-tos, and these three and six-hour classes have taught me something about myself. I am not a natural student. I hate sitting in those awful chairs and not talking for so long (shocked?!). I try my darnedest to read the textbooks because really, they’re pretty interesting, and I love that I can walk into my classroom the next day and implement what I’ve learned, but it’s not so easy to put down Percy Jackson or Christian Wiman’s My Bright Abyss.

In high school and college, I doodled. I sang songs in my head (yes, I admit it). I talked a lot and in my defense, it was often on topic, but I was more concerned with getting people to laugh because I was dying inside. And my behind was numb. I wrote out my week’s schedule because even THAT was better than listening sometimes, which is so strange to me now. I had absolutely wonderful teachers for the most part. They were engaging, passionate about their subjects, and always encouraging. (Of course, I am omitting those few teachers who stood out like sore thumbs and made me raging mad. Those are in a different category.)

So what is it about being a student that makes me so utterly different from who I want to be?

I had a music professor in college who used to laugh and say, “Students are the only consumers who are glad not to get what they pay for.”

And we would smile with embarrassment and recognition because it was true.

I have just spent the last two days writing a poetry unit for eighth grade. I wrote an integrative paper and a unit introduction (which doesn’t exist in the real world, but it does in grad school). I have had roughly three months to complete these assignments, and while I have been subconsciously thinking about them all along and I did write a lesson or two last month, I couldn’t wrap my mind around such gargantuan work before it was crunch time.

Friday night I will be sitting in my last weekend of this class, wondering what my family is eating for dinner, what my cool friends are doing while I lamely discuss the ethics of teaching and the future of education. I say lamely because I’m embarrassed by how interesting I find these topics. It’s the Friday night discussing of them that makes them a little less cool…

I will be tempted to lean over and whisper a joke to my friend because we have the same sense of humor and we are hi-larious.

I will be tempted to do this while the teacher is talking.

But then I will remember: Standing in front of a classroom of 9th and 10th graders, frustrated at their lack of attention, their inability to engage with me or the material, and their OBSESSION WITH JUSTIN BIEBER.

I will remember these things, and I will refrain from whispering. I hope my professor acknowledges my amazing self-restraint and gives me a gold star.

Because, really? I do want what I paid for. I want to be good at what I do and (even) to be good at learning it. Being a student again gives me both compassion for my current Latiners and for my current teachers – a very strange place to be, indeed.

[Photo: UGL_UIUC]

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]