Thoughts on Teaching

The Magic of Teaching

I’m feeling a little bit mushy about teaching lately, although I guess if you were to ask my students, they would say that’s not too different from how I normally feel. I’ve been working on writing the curriculum for the brand new/revamped (long story) version of our upper level CP classes, which will see two classes (Latin 3 and 4 CP) combined into one. It’s our first year of offering 4 CP and I’m really excited to see what the kids can do.

I’m not using Cambridge for these classes, so I’ve been working on figuring out what I will teach. I’ll spare you the boring details, but basically I’ve figured out that I will be teaching with a combination of textbook passages, novellas, and unadapted classical Latin literature. As I’ve been working on this and reimagining what FVR will look like for this class next year, I’ve been doing some deep dives into the ACTFL/ACL proficiency guidelines, thinking about what my students are able to do with Latin.

Some days teaching my CP class is really hard for me. It’s really different from almost any other class at our school, because normally, our rosters get mixed up between semester 1 and semester 2 each year. What this means is that I might be teaching Molly, Jack, and Joel in the same class fall semester, but in the spring, I might have Molly in one class and Jack in another, while Joel now has one of the other 2 Latin teachers and I have a new kid in his place. For the most part, I like this set-up (although I never like “losing” kids, just because I love getting to know them and spend time with them every day), because I get to know a lot of students. But my CP class is different. There is only 1 section of CP at each level, and I have looped up with these kids, meaning that this coming year is the third year straight that I will be teaching this specific group of kids.

When I say it’s hard, I mean that sometimes I really lose confidence in myself as a teacher with this class. The kids are good kids, but when you have the same group of them over and over, they develop a prickliness toward each other (and sometimes toward me). It’s a family in the way that families can be: full of love and understanding, but also messy and chaotic. Many of them also have ADHD, and some just have other things going on in their lives that make school hard for them. It can be really hard for me some days to get them on track because of all these factors combined.

What this means is that a lot of the time, I worry about whether they are learning anything at all. With this class, I have gradually (and toward the end of the year, not gradually at all) moved away from “chartiness” toward a reading comprehension approach that I’m not really ready to call CI. Sometimes when I’m plodding through a class period, I can feel like they don’t know anything, don’t care about Latin, would rather be anywhere else than my classroom doing this thing that I happen to love and care a lot about.

Which brings us to the final exam. The final exam that I wrote for this class this year was entirely reading-based. It had 3 unprepared (sight) passages and 3 prepared passages. The students had a combination of questions to answer about each passage: short answer reading comprehension, short translation in context, vocabulary identification. I wasn’t really worried at all about the prepared passages because we had read them so many times in class in a variety of ways, but those sight passages were keeping me up at night.

When it came time for the final, I was ready to hear the complaints: this exam is so long, it’s so hard, we weren’t prepared, etc. But the most pleasant surprise happened: after the exam, almost everyone felt great about the exam. And when I graded them… wow. They killed the sight passages. I mean they knocked them out of the park.

The title of this post is what I felt at that moment and continue to feel as I think about proficiency levels. There is a real, true magic in shaping a kid’s ability to do something. It’s crazy to me to think that I got these kids two years ago and they knew nothing – I mean nothing – about Latin, and here they are, finishing up Latin II, reading multiple passages at sight and knowing what they are saying. And while I will be the first to say that 90% of that has to do with the kids, I am wholly satisfied by the notion that I got them there. I don’t mean it in a bragging way – it’s just an incredible feeling to know that I was the one who gave them those tools, and together, we’ve gotten to this point.

You know, I think a lot about the fact that there was a time in my life that I didn’t know Latin. It feels weird to think about, but I’m only 27, so I’ve known Latin for less than half my life. I don’t really remember why I decided to take Latin – I do know that my teacher hunted me down and asked me to take it – but I do remember the first day of class (my teacher put the Lord’s prayer on the board in Old English) and my very first day of studying for it, sitting in my mom’s classroom after school, working on flashcards. And here, 12 years later, I am teaching this language that I love to my own students. I got from that point A to point B with the help of a lot of people, but the magic in it all comes down to my teacher, who is still the best teacher I’ve ever had and taught me everything (and I mean everything) that I know about Latin. The magic of going from knowing to not knowing, incapable to capable, unconfident to confident, because of my teacher’s influence, knowledge, and skills – all that worked in small ways, seen and unseen, over the course of three years.

That’s a real gift that we give to our students, the bundle of small miracles that makes up their progress. The magic is watching small miracle (knowing what “aqua” means) after small miracle (we didn’t burn the classroom down today) after small miracle (we breezed through our first indirect statement) being stitched together and knowing that for the most part, it didn’t happen by accident. The magic is knowing that it happened because of us.

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