|Latina mortua lingua est,
Ut mortua potest esse:
Necavit omnes Romanos,
Atque necat me!
|(Latin is a dead language,|
Dead as it can be:
It killed off all the Romans,
And now it’s killing me!)
The rumors of my death, unfortunately, have not been so greatly exaggerated as one could have wished. As you may recall, I was offered a job about a year ago to teach Latin at a classical school in Concord, North Carolina. This was very odd because, well, several reasons:
- Though I love teaching, I had never taught in a classroom setting, nor had I been trained in any way to do so.
- Though I had decided I wanted to try teaching, Latin was the furthest thing from my mind. I had applied to teach English.
- Of all the positions to offer me, Latin was the least likely. I like languages, but I had never studied any with the diligence that produces proficiency. In other words, I didn’t know what I was talking about.
Nevertheless, the school and I endeavored upon a noble experiment, based in necessity: I needed a job, and I was interested in teaching. They needed a Latin teacher, and they were willing to try me, apparently because I sounded pretty good on paper.
About a month ago, I learned with the finality that the experiment was to be considered a failure. Contracts at our school are offered on an annual basis with no guarantee as to future years. I was not to be offered a new one. In the past year I had, quite remarkably, transformed myself in to a Latin scholar; I had not, however, acquired the art of being a schoolteacher. It was apparent that I was disorganized and lacked people skills.
“People skills” in this case is defined as the ability to look at a classroom of students and know what each one was doing, read on their faces what they were thinking, and keep them all directed to the task at hand. In other words, “people skills” is defined as the art of being a mom. It is a skill I admire greatly and freely confess that I do not have. I don’t want to have it. If I had that ability, I would still seek out every loophole to avoid using it. It involves focusing on many things at once, which is something I simply hate to do.
I suspect the lack of “people skills” was the greater factor in my not being offered a new contract, and the overwhelming proof that it was a good decision – I’m just way too introverted for that kind of thing. In my planning times between classes, when I probably ought to have been grading homework and writing lesson plans, I would retreat into my interior world to recover from the onslaught of classroom management.
But let me say something to “disorganized.” I’m very sensitive to this accusation, because I know I’m naturally sloppy and chaotic and I try very hard to systematize my life. I want very much to be organized. I hate to be told I’m not. But in my defense, I was given the task of teaching over 100 students in 6 grades, 4th through 9th. In addition, 5th grade had students at two different levels, and I (foolishly, but with administration approval) took on the task of attempting to teach at two different levels in a single classroom. 6th grade actually had students at three levels. During the first semester, I had 7th grade for two hour-and-a-half periods. One was Latin, the other, Old Testament Survey. Since no good textbooks were available, I undertook to write the entire Old Testament curriculum myself from scratch. The second semester, I had no 7th grade class, but 8th and 9th in those periods. The 9th grade was (apallingly in my opinion) at the exact same chapter in the textbook as the 8th. But I was expected to teach to the 8th grade, in one period, both Latin II and New Testament Survey, again writing my own curriculum for the Bible class. This is to say that I was teaching (on average) eight curricula, writing the curricula for the subject that I knew, and learning the one I didn’t. On top of this, in the first semester, Valerie and I were going through the (relatively stringent) new membership process at our church and taking a class on how to have a baby. In the second semester, well, we had a baby.
And I’m disorganized. I will admit: I found it difficult to keep an adequately prepared lesson plan book for administration reference; I frequently failed to send out emails to parents entailing the next week’s homework assignments, often because I hadn’t decided what the homework would be; it was hard for me to maintain contact with parents and work out plans of recovery whenever a student began to do poorly, and I often forgot who had been absent and was therefore due to take a missed quiz or test.
But I will say this: my kids had more than a casual acquaintance with the language. I don’t think I was an ogre or pushed too hard, and I agonized over every child who struggled, but nobody was able to drift along. If they took my class, they learned Latin. About 3/4 of the way through the second semester, I had a conversation with the previous years 9th grade Latin award winner, in which she mentioned that she had really liked her last Latin class: It had been a light year. Mostly they translated stories and had fun with the language. In fact, the entire semester, she said, they had never had to learn any vocabulary. I was… surprised. If I had done that, I might not have been called disorganized.
But my lack of skill in the area of classroom management would probably have been all the more apparent.
At any rate, I have made some interesting discoveries:
- When you are informed that you will soon no longer be employed, and your primary reaction (after an initial disappointment) is relief, it was probably a good decision.
- I think this confirms my original feelings about schooling. I’ve always been a pro-homeschooling kind of guy. Of all the forms of school that I received, homeschooling was far and away my favorite. There are so many aspects of formal schooling at the primary and secondary levels that remind me more of day care and pseudo-parenting than anything else, that the idea has always been a little repugnant to me. Having been a teacher, I can now authoritatively confirm: most of teaching (especially at a primary level) is actually parenting. What does it say when a parent farms out this essential role? The actual conveying of information and skill sets takes far less time than we alot to it because the majority of that time is actually spent working on character. Or rather, perhaps, it isn’t, and so the process of education takes longer.
- Despite how glad I am that I will soon no longer be a schoolteacher, I am finding that
- I really love Latin. I like all languages generally, but I’m finding that Latin is particularly special because of how organized it is. It is truly a model language, and I see all the advantages that can be had from teaching it at an early age.
- Despite my current animosity toward the prospect of being a schoolteacher, I find that I am still immanently concerned with education, particularly the education of children, and not merely my own. There’s a reason I tried teaching: I want desperately for children to learn well, and to learn as soon as they possibly can.
Part of me still wonders if I might have done better as a teacher if the system behind the school were different, that even my classical school just needed to be more classical still and even less Deweyan. But no. What I want is for parents to do the parenting and this cannot be done while the children are spending more than half their waking hours away from either parent. In North Carolina, at least, this means homeschooling. Every institution that calls itself a school must keep attendance records (including a “home school”), and all children must be in school some 180 days per year. Otherwise the DHS swoops down to intervene. This means it would be illegal to institute a school which was run college-style, teaching the information in the 2-3 days necessary per week and sending the child home to do the studying, and email the professor if you have any problems. Even MorningStar’s peculiar little education experiment has always been held across the state line. Any home school consisting of more than two families’ children being taught under one roof is actually considered a private school and subject to state oversight.
It is, however, possible to form co-ops, and teach individual classes as a sort of collective tutoring supplement, which is something I’ve considered. I’ve had a few parents contact me about Latin tutoring, and I’ll be doing that over the summer and following as the opportunities come.
But something else has laid hold of me, which I am pursuing. With the classical education movement has come a push to teach Latin beginning in the early elementary years, as a foundational part of the education. The problem with this is that, in the last 100 years, the study of Latin, with it’s formalized grammatical structure, has primarily been the object of High School and college study, and all the major text books are written at that level. There is a huge shortage of Latin textbooks for children. And what is there is terrible. I mean really awful.
So I’ve been thinking about writing a Latin textbook series for grade school children. And by “thinking,” I mean I’ve got two chapters written. Everyone I’ve mentioned this to, particularly parents of small children, have been very supportive of the idea. In fact, they’ve been excited, which has been a little disturbing to me, considering that I’m talking about writing a text book… for a dead language. I have no idea if it will pan out or become profitable, but it seems that from my previous employment I’ve acquired for myself an esoteric new hobby.
Finally, for those of you who are concerned about our financial well being, it may please you to know that my contract entails that I will continue to be paid at the current rate until the end of August. Which is to say that you have every reason to be concerned about our financial well being, but no more reason than you have had for the last year. A teacher’s salary is a pitiable thing indeed. In fact, there is hope: If I get a job during the summer, that means my paychecks will double up!