Tag 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]

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 #39

Spring. Spring. Spring!
It finally seems to be here after weeks of teasing. Proof? The bluebirds are back, we planted onion sets this past weekend, and I rode with the top down twice in the past week. Dad put the nucs (short for ‘nuclear’) in the hives we lost this winter. It was a tough one, and the bees felt it. But now the new bees are buzzing about, and I can’t wait for more honey.

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TV…
So, this isn’t something I usually put on my list (other than Sherlock of course), but my brother finally convinced me to watch House of Cards. I’m only two episodes in, and stylistically, I’m hooked. I love the direct address to the audience, I love Kevin Spacey’s voice, and Princess Buttercup is even more stunning thirty years later. I’ve heard through the grapevine, however, that things get a little racy. We’ll see if I can handle it. It always makes me wonder what kind of person I would be if I’d ended up in Washington or in some other political arena. I’d probably be some ruthless cutthroat with pork-filled bills.

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Celebrating poetry month…in Latin.
My students, while not in English class, are still not immune to National Poetry Month. For three weeks we’ll be memorizing Latin poetry together, and I tried to sell it by using my 105-year-old great-grandmother as an example:

“You know what? My great-grandmother is 105, and sometimes she doesn’t remember who I am. You know what she does remember? What she learned in third grade.”

That got their attention. Yes, Gramma can recite poems and songs she sang as a child. So I told them I was giving them the gift of poetry for when they’re old.

They laughed, because none of us is getting old, please.

One of the poems we’re memorizing is Ecce gratum (See, welcome). Written sometime between the 11th and 13th centuries, it is one of 245 poems in the Carmina Burana. Feel free to memorize it yourself in honor of spring and poetry month!

Ecce gratum
et optatum
Vēr reducit gaudia.
Pupuratum
floret pratum.
Sōl serenat omnia.
Iamiam cedant tristia!
Aestās redit,
nunc recedit
Hiemis saevitia.

 

Iam liquescit
et decrescit
grando, nix et cetera.
Bruma fugit,
et iam sugit
Ver Aestatis ubera.
Illi mens est misera,
quī nec vivit,
nec lascivit
sub Aestatis dextera.

 

Gloriantur
et laetantur
in melle dulcedinis
quī conantur,
ut utantur
praemio Cupidinis.
Simus iussu Cypridis
glorantes et
laetantes
pares esse Paridis.

 

See – welcome
and longed-for
Spring brings back joys.
Purple
flowers the field.
The sun clears everything.
Now let sadness recede.
Summer returns
and retreats
the savagery of Winter.

 

Already melts
and vanishes
hail, snow and the rest.
Winter flies,
and now rises
Spring, the heart of Summer.
His mind is miserable
Who neither lives
nor loves
under the right hand of Summer.

 

May they exult
and be joyous
in the honey of sweetness
who try
to make use of the gift of Cupid.
Let us be by the order of Cypris
exultant and
joyous
to be on par with Paris.

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?

~     ~     ~

“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 #34

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In February, I woke up every morning thinking: Maybe it’s warmer today.

In March, I wake up every morning not believing that it will ever. be. spring. again.

[This place exists, right now as I sit in a snow flurry. It’s called Capri. And it’s way warmer.]

Dad planted some seeds Sunday and we have plans for flowers this weekend. There’s the skeleton of a greenhouse in the backyard, but it’s crooked because it’s sitting on top of a foot of snow.

I got a phone call asking if I’d teach the chicken class again this spring. I was shocked because a class of two doesn’t sound like a success to me, but why not? I had fun, and I liked showing off our “big red barn” of a chicken house. It’ll give me a reason to keep wanting to have chickens because there’s something about a long winter that removes every desire to keep having them. By May I plan to have a new brood of chicks, anyway, so that’ll be another addition to show whoever might sign up. Last year, we ended up talking about writing as much as we talked about chickens – seems the same kinds of people are interested in the same kinds of things.

I am 3/4 of the way done with my second grad school class and I’m close to rejoicing.

This is a song I loved my junior year of college. Justin McRoberts came to our school and for months I made fun of his silly poster that hung in the dining hall: eyes down, shaggy hair, he looked like the quintessential too-serious musician. We went to his coffee-house-style concert and my opinion completely changed. He made us laugh. He joked about being Mexican and Irish and how short he was. I love this song because it is despair and hope all rolled into one.

The excitement of my grammar school Latin students to see my Italy and Greece slide show is overwhelming. Of course, I’m not dumb, and I know that at least part of them is just excited to get out of some translating. But still. I’m terrible with technology so all I can do now is cross my fingers and hope the slide show works…

Read A Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp if you need some encouragement in gratitude. Her style can be a little distracting at times, but it’s beautiful and thought-provoking.

Good Things #33: Things I Missed While Traveling

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Bleary eyed and happy, I went back to work Tuesday. My whirlwind trip to Italy and Greece is over. We swept into school like celebrities, bombarded with hugs and questions and a plea for pictures.

The trip will get its own posts (they’re brewing as I type), but for today, here are some things I missed while I was away:

1. My bed. Yep, that’s right. I missed my bed with its cozy corner, soft fluffy blankets, and the pillow that seems like it was made just for me. Hotels apparently don’t know what I like.

2. Mom’s cooking. Okay, so I was in Italy. The food was good. I had tortellini to die for and enough feta to last most people a lifetime when I was in Greece. (Oh, and all those people were right. The ones I always thought were pretentious when they said, “You haven’t had gelato till you’ve had it in Italy.” I was annoyed because after one lick of nutella gelato con panna I realized they were right and I’d been living a lie). 

That being said…

The first bite of Mama’s homemade chicken pot pie and I was happy to be home. Happy to be an American. It was hot, salty, filled with gravy and homegrown winter squash and there’s nothing better on a cold February night.

3. Music. I didn’t listen to music. I don’t have music on my phone. I didn’t even know what I was missing until I heard a song floating through the streets of Rome and realized I hadn’t heard music in about three days. It was so strange. Maybe it was cleansing to clear my mental music palette. But I’ve got Renee Fleming playing right now because Italy re-invigorated me for classical.

4. My shower and non-travel-size hygiene products. I un-ashamedly missed my Lush shampoo and conditioner. I missed full-size toothpaste and face wash. I missed not being afraid of using the last drop of moisturizer BECAUSE MY FACE WOULD FLAKE OFF. Just kidding. Obviously I could have found a pharmacy before that happened.

5. Gym and Starbucks dates. I missed meeting my sister and cousin every Tuesday for the gym and Starbucks (because who works out without a good reward at the end?). I missed hashing over our teaching lives. I missed the regularity of things.

6. My family. And, there it is, the crown of all things missed. The whole time I was discovering the ruins of Pompeii, the Coliseum, the Oracle of Delphi, I was thinking how much my family would have loved it. Not the huge throngs of people, no, those they could’ve done without, but the history, the richness of humanity’s past, the amazing architecture and ingenuity of such a long-ago time. I missed talking with my mom and playing Jeopardy with my dad. I missed talking about our days and sitting at the table after dinner.

I had an amazing trip. For the first time I saw things I’d only imagined, and they’re real. I came back to school re-energized to teach Latin, and that’s the best reason I can think of to go on this trip.

Stay tuned.

Good Things #30

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[A misshapen collection of thoughts and a longing for summer.]

I am sitting at one of my favorite coffee shops (yes, Dad, typing in public), listening to music I don’t know, drinking an Earl Grey latte, wondering how to make myself stop sneezing.

My 7th graders are writing adaptations of Greek myths for me, and it’s all I can think about. I wish I were as creative as they are. It’s so annoying.

I like this song by Penny and Sparrow:

I like that the sky still has a little light in it, even at 5:06pm.

I like realizing that if I get a B in my grad school class, I won’t die. If it’s between getting enough sleep so I don’t want to scream all day at my students and getting that extra point on a paper, which do you think I’ll choose?

I like daydreaming about sunshine and sand and the ocean. It’s still January, but my skin feels ready for sun.

I like writing poetry in my car. I like that I don’t write it down. That way I’ll never know if it were good or not – it can hang in perfection.

I like that this is the thirtieth time I’ve done this.

I like that it’s Thursday and almost the weekend.

Good Things #24

Percy Jackson. I’ve been teaching Latin for almost a year and a half, and for almost a year and a half, I have heard the name Percy Jackson.

“Magistra, have you read Percy Jackson?”

“That’s just like in Percy Jackson! Except…”

“In Percy Jackson, Ares is evil!”

It was unending. Every time we read a Greek myth or talked about the gods, it came up. Finally, after months of prompting, I have picked up The Lightning Thief. It’s a small dark green hardcover, and I like the way it feels in my hands.

It’s pretty good.

And this from a lady who skipped YA books entirely (I’m kind of regretting this, but there’s still time to make it up). It helps that Percy reminds me of one of my 7th graders, only I’m pretty sure this kid isn’t a demigod or half-blood or anything so unique.

And which teacher has starred in the book so far?

The Latin one, of course. And his hard Greek myth tests and the chanting of Latin declensions and conjugations. No wonder they always bring up the books in class!

The son of Poseidon is about to embark on a terrible mission…glad Riordan wrote a whole series. I hate when you start liking something but then *poof!* they’re done.

Lord Huron. My brother texted me this band the other day and because it was during a prep period and because I’m getting tired of the same old same old, I looked them up on Spotify right away. You might know them from their song “Into the Sun” that’s been on the radio lately. Check them out.

Tech Week. Yes, it’s coming. Starting Monday, we will be in tech week of Aladdin, Jr., and I can’t believe the show’s almost over. It went so much faster than Alice last spring. I want everyone and his brother to come see the show for a few reasons:

1. I can’t believe I’m directing musicals. It’s fun. And hilarious.

2. I absolutely LOVE some of the numbers. “Prince Ali” is awesome – the kids come down these huge stairs and march through the audience and the parents are gonna love it.

3. The kids are so adorable. It’s true. Sometimes I watch their faces and I just start laughing. It’s crazy how much they’re their own little persons already, in those tiny bodies.

4. Because I always want to go out and celebrate after a performance. It’s been that way since high school and I was in Beauty and the Beast and Kiss Me, Kate and whatever else I was in. We’d sing our hearts out then head to the diner and eat pie and french fries. So come to the show and then we can toast to our success with a chocolate milk shake.