Community in the Latin Classroom

Back to School… Again

At our school, students switch teachers after first semester. This is the way it worked at the high school I went to, but we were on a 4×4 block (similar to how colleges work), so you had an entire new slate of classes spring semester. At the school where I work, this isn’t the case. For the most part, with the exception of some 1/2 year electives and other classes, our students have the same classes all year long, but their schedules are rearranged so that they have new teachers.

I’m not 100% sure why this happens – I haven’t really ever asked anyone who would know. What it means on my end is that I keep some of my “old” (fall semester) students and get some “new” students who had another teacher for Latin I during the fall. I should note that I keep my Latin I CP class (CP = generally – but not always – students with learning or attention disorders, learning disabilities, etc.) the entire year.

Our first day of spring semester was Thursday. It’s a little nerve-wracking for me. The first day of school is like the most awkward blind date, at least on my end. I don’t know a lot of the kids, they don’t know me, we’re blinking at each other while we’re waiting for familiarity to set in. It’s even weirder this semester, since we had an early release day Friday for the snow/ice storm, meaning our classes were only 22 minutes long. I get through these days by mentally projecting myself to early March, when I know that I will be comfortable around the kids, they will be comfortable around me, and I won’t need to explain “how” we do anything in my class, since they’ll already know.

But there’s work to be done before getting to that comfort. Most of the ways that I get to know my students are informal. I ask them how they’re doing, I greet them in the hall (a Spanish teacher friend of mine said the only Latin word she knows is salve, since all the Latin students and teachers say it to each other in the hall constantly!), I try to go to their plays and games and shows, and I really try to pay attention to those moments of their lives that happen outside the parameters of “class” and “learning.” (I know, “learning” happens wherever, and “class” is so much more than learning Latin, but I hope you know what I mean here.) In this respect, I do what so many of us teachers do: notice that he looks more tired this week than last week, remember that she has a test tomorrow in math that she really needs a good grade on, and on and on.

But there’s also the formal things that are built into class time. The first of these is our class prayer, the way that we’re required to start class (Catholic school, remember). Another thing is I do is something I’ve been really surprised by called “question on the back” (sorry, no clever name here). When students take mini vocab quizzes (future post on that), I often ask them a question whose answer they should write on the back of their paper. Nothing to be graded, just interesting, and they never have to answer. These questions range from basics like “What’s your favorite ice cream flavor?” to “If you could re-live any moment in your life, what would it be?” I did this for a few quizzes, and on the first quiz that I forgot to do it on, the kids actually said before turning in the quiz: “No question on the back? Come on, Ms. B!”

The other thing I do in the “formal” category of getting to know my students is the student survey, a staple in many classrooms. Mine counts as a homework grade to give students some incentive to do it, and I try to have a mix of academic and personal questions. If you’d like to use it or adapt it, here’s the link (fall and spring versions):

Next year, I’ll probably change the questions asking what the students’ least favorite subjects are, or at least find a way to re-write them. These surveys have been so helpful to me in giving me a peek into my students’ lives outside of school. If I have multiple students, for example, write Adventure Time for their favorite TV show, I might use GIFs or stills from the show for writing exercises or vocabulary Kahoots. Anything to make class interesting!

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