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!

Catholicity · Community in the Latin Classroom · Vocabulary

Prayers: Community, Vocabulary, and Some Ideas for Non-Religious Schools

I want to start this post out by stating two things: 1) I work at a Catholic school, and 2) I am not Catholic. This blog isn’t the place for me to hash out my personal religious beliefs, but I do want to make clear the setting in which I work and my place in it.

Anyway! Despite not being Catholic, I haven’t had a very difficult time working at a Catholic school. True, I did study (because I am a crazy person) for my first ever mass by watching YouTube videos, and I also was a little out of the loop on some of the prayers: Hail Mary, the Memorare, etc. But I love going to work every day, and at least at my school, I don’t particularly feel out of place as a non-Catholic.

One of the requirements of our classes – so much so that it is the first or second item on the sheet for our formal observations – is that we start each class with prayer. We also pray as a school once during second period (morning announcements) and at the end of the day (afternoon announcements). I’ve always thought it would be cool to watch the security cameras during announcements, since you are supposed to stop if you are in the hall during prayer. I like the idea of everyone stopping at the same time to do something together.

But I’m getting off track. We start each class with prayer. In my history class, I lead it, and we switch between Hail Mary and Our Father (the Lord’s prayer). In Latin, until we get to second semester with our aedile election project (to be explained in a future post), I also lead. Here’s how that looks:

  • Discipuli/amici, quis preces habet? Students/friends (depending on my feeling toward them that day :P), who has intentions? (Read about intentions here if you’re unfamiliar, as I was, but the way it’s used in our school is essentially “who are you praying for today?”)
  • Students raise their hands and name their preces. From the very first time we do them, I echo whatever they say in Latin. After a week or so, they have a vocabulary built up to say these in Latin.
  • Then we make the Sign of the Cross (in nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti) and recite a prayer in Latin together. For Latin I in the fall, this is either Ave Maria or Gloria Patri. We close with the Sign of the Cross again.

One of the reasons I love that we start with prayer is that it builds community in our classroom. Students hear each other’s prayers – and they are really actually listening. I think they all understand that this time is intended to be a sacred, solemn time, so (most of them) cut out any goofing off. Some students pray for the same thing every day, and their classmates all know their daily intentions. This is not an uncommon occurrence in my class:

  • Me: amici, quis preces habet?
  • Student: quattuor res. Oh, and John isn’t here today, so John’s mater.

This leads me to a more selfish reason that I love starting with prayer: it is a pretty low-stress way for us to build vocabulary. We have a sort of core prayer vocabulary that the students end up acquiring: mater, pater, familia, amicus/a, certamen, athletae, fabula, examen, res, morbus, etc. They also get number practice in, and it’s sometimes an interesting exercise in translating to Latin (“Ms. B., how do you say wildfire in Latin?”). They also hear a lot of vocabulary before we see it in Cambridge: res, quis, etc. It’s pretty cool to watch students see quis in the textbook for the first time and hear “We know this word! Quis preces habet!”

Obviously, for a non-religious school, this short activity (it takes maybe 3 minutes at most) isn’t directly transferable. But there are some ways to adapt it or incorporate mindfulness using Latin into non-religious classrooms. Here are a few ideas:

  • I worked with a teacher once who had a “Let it Go” (Frozen-themed) box, where students wrote anything that was weighing on their mind and threw it in the box, symbolically “letting it go.”
  • You could let students write what’s on their mind on a sticky note and place it in a dedicated place in the room, anonymously or not. Padlet is the same idea, but digital.
  • You could ask students “What’s on your mind?” (maybe Quid est in vestris/nostris animis? off the top of my head) and have them volunteer the same way ours do, although this might be getting close to looking too much like a religious practice.
  • And then there’s always the classic journaling.

I think it’s important that these things don’t necessarily have to be in Latin. Like I said above, what I love most about this is the community-building. Requiring it to be in Latin might cause anxiety. The other issue you may run into, especially if you do anonymous “intentions,” is a student writing something either inappropriate or alarming. It’s a risk you’d have to weigh, certainly.

Let me know if you have questions about this practice, wherever your classroom falls on the religious or non-religious spectrum.