About two weeks ago, I was telling my Latin I CP class what we would be doing for the day: activity X, then Y, then Z, and so on. I don’t remember exactly what happened – maybe I had forgotten to print something out for an activity, or the Internet was spotty, or any number of things – but I realized that one of the activities wasn’t going to work out. So I said this to my students, and what I heard in response was, “Yay!” and “Oh… darn” and all sorts of other really disheartening things.
Talk about a reality check.
The rest of the conversation kind of went like this:
Me: “Hey y’all, you know you’re being rude and disrespectful when you say things like that.”
Student A: “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to be. But I don’t like that game. It’s boring.”
Student B: “And I don’t like when we do speed dating. It’s too slow.” (I know. It’s speed dating. But I guess the speed for their rotations was too slow?)
Student C: “And I hate quizzes!”
Time out. We had a serious heart-to-heart about expressing dissatisfaction respectfully and constructively, but while we were having this (pretty productive) conversation, all sorts of things were running through my head. “Are they learning anything?” “Do they seriously just hate this class?” “Is there anything they enjoy about being here?”
I second-guess (and third- and fourth-guess, if those things are possible) myself a lot as a teacher. Part of it is being so young and lacking experience, part of it is teaching in a different way than I was taught, and part of it is working in a program with two other teachers where I need to make sure that my students are ready when they go to Latin II, then III, then AP. I constantly ask myself, deservedly or undeservedly, whether my students are going to be ready for their next teacher, whether they enjoy coming to class, whether they tell their friends to take Latin.
So for me, ruminating on these questions I was asking myself in this moment would have not only been easy, it would have been habit. But instead of doing my normal thing (worrying), I did the productive thing, which was to just ask them.
“Hey y’all, what do you like about this class?”
“Quizlet Live!” “Word races!” “Relays!” “The videos!” “The stories!”
Talk about a reality check.
These moments remind me that my anxieties and wildest dreams live on the edges of reality. Not every student is going to love every activity we do, but they are not dreading coming to my class. I truly believe that the majority of my students do enjoy Latin (whatever “Latin” means for them – Quizlet Live, games, grammar) and enjoy the Latin class that we have together every day.
This doesn’t mean I’m ignoring my students’ critiques. If they don’t like X activity, and if I don’t think it’s necessary for our class, we can drop it. If they want speed dating to go faster, I can make it happen. If they love word races, we can do them more often. I always want my classroom to be responsive to my students’ wants, needs, and interests.
And as for my students not learning anything… let me show you something from a recent vocabulary quiz. My Latin I students don’t know anything about conjugating, other than “-nt” is plural and “-t” is singular. They also know some of the perfect tense markers and endings, and they can recognize imperfect tense.
On this quiz, students had to write the word for “She caught sight of.” This is a stage 7 vocab word in CLC. In stage 7, they are still getting a conjugated verb in their vocabulary listings instead of principal parts, which means that for “catches sight of,” they’re seeing “conspicit: conspexit.”
One student had trouble remembering that “she caught sight of” is “conspexit.” So this student wrote the following on their quiz:
For those of you non-Latin people reading, “conspicitavit” is kind of like writing “runned” as the past tense of “run.” If you look at the “c” in this student’s answer, you can see where I started to mark it wrong with my red pen. But I thought about it: “x” is a new perfect tense “sign” these students have just been introduced to. This student has internalized “-avit” as looking like perfect tense, and they’re not wrong. This student is learning the patterns of language, and while they haven’t internalized “x” yet, they do have that “-avit” down.
It might not look like it at first glance, but my students are learning Latin and things about Latin. The more they see and hear verbs like duco, conspico, and dico, the more they will get that “x” down. The more they see and hear Latin, the more they will get Latin. And despite all my worries about whether students are actually learning anything in my class, I end up with reality checks like the one above that let me see that they are, in fact, learning.