April 14th, 2013

One of the great emotional hurdles I’m discovering in a full classroom setting is the anxiety of sufficiency. I don’t mean just whether we’re engaging the material that Latin students ought to know. Though blending culture lessons evenhandedly into the grammar is a distinct challenge, we are not doing too terribly for my first real crack at this. No, my concern–dread, even–is that I’m not delivering it in an interesting enough way that will ensure retention and motivate students to pursue questions they have independently. We start by teaching as we have been taught, and because I learned Latin in college, I have been the recipient of the grand tradition of old, white scholastic privilege that has been handed down through the generations. It is simply assumed, in the standard curriculum, that students will thirst for the knowledge, so that when you dole it out, they will lap it up as pigs at a trough.

This new generation isn’t having any of that.

And why should they? Their weltanschauung, the scenery from their perch in the branches of this crazy tree, is the socioeconomic aftermath of the cataclysm known as the Internet. Communication is no longer limited to one-on-one interactions, but rather they are steeped in a sea of myriad voices, all competing for their attention. And like any tree grown in soil, they draw strength and nutrient from it. It is to them a given, a fact, an intrinsic part of their consciousness. We who have emigrated to this way of living, like the legendary foreigner king of Rome, Tarquin I, must honor their customs and woo them with instruction that speaks to their motivations, dreams, and goals. We must show them through the lens of modernity that ancient Rome, and the words these people produced, are every bit as relevant to them as how Kat was asked to prom by Johnny.We are swimming every bit as much in a sea of Latin as we are in the digital, interconnective mediaverse; it’s my job to show them how to swim better in both.

The key to all of this is that I go into the classroom with unextinguishable zeal and enthusiasm for the language. I don’t know how anyone would sign up to be a teacher who wasn’t driven forward almost against their will to share this passion. (But I see them.) Now I need to cap off that zeal with relevance. Because, frankly, just memorizing declension and verb endings isn’t intrinsically interesting to a broad swath of people. And even going the word-roots route is only so useful; appreciation for the beauty that is the Latin system of verbs and nouns must be cultivated through means other than brute force.

My mother, of all people, dug up a link for me that has a collection of useful Web sites that could be useful in doing so with the resources we now have at our fingertips. It is the rare student who does not have access to the Internet, either through their phone or tablet or PC, and so I post this here for myself as much as you:

50 Fun and Educational Websites Keeping Latin Alive

The blog post itself is three years old, but the list is extraordinarily comprehensive. My goal is to go through these items and incorporate what I can into my curriculum for next year. I want to encourage as much as I can the skill of self-study. Not just because it’s how one truly learns, but also because trying to just beat it into their skulls is a ridiculous amount of work! The sooner I can trick them into doing it for themselves, and to enjoy themselves to boot, the sooner I will retain the energy to develop truly excellent lesson plans ahead of time instead of jumping from fire to fire as I am right now. The graduate work that I am pursuing plays a role in my pedagogical tardiness, but I own my missteps. I know where I can and should do better. I hope to share my efforts in this direction here more frequently!

April 14th, 2013

So I had my last visit with my intervention subject the other day.¬† For our last session together, I brought for her a present of a pack of glittery pencils in various colors. (She chose a pink one. It was a good choice.) She has been a real trooper, with my inconsistent scheduling (thanks to administrative duties incurred as a teacher) and, frankly, my somewhat limited understanding of the task. I know what to do in terms of delivery, and the concept itself is pretty straightforward, but I feel as though I’m walking down a pitch-dark hall, groping my way along one of the walls with my hands and shoulders, unsure of when or where I’ll be able to find a door. Or if I’d even recognize the feel of it. But now I must engage in the Herculean task of writing all this collected data up into a report that is worthy of presentation, and give an oral summary on Wednesday.

In addition, we only have seven weeks of instruction left in the Wake County calendar. I have considerable material to teach before the end of the semester in both classes, and while my pace isn’t terrible, it’s also not as quick as I’d like it to be. This being my first full semester teaching, that’s to be expected, but I feel I owe them something more than my predecessor. But I am at least caught up in terms of entering grades. For that I owe a great and unpayable debt to the inestimable Sidhe, who has both a working brain and far better organizational skills. So together we plowed through the backlog of quizzes I had let fester. I have done much better this semester than last about that, at least; the week before spring break was when I let it get out of hand, and only because I was struck ill by the plague that had been going around. Last fall I was just abysmal about getting quizzes back, on the order of a couple weeks sometimes.

Well, back to the salt mines. This stuff won’t write itself–and the words must flow like a river now.

April 7th, 2013

Sometimes the drive to begin something is just utterly lacking. Dread overcomes me, and I want to find anything else to do than the thing that I must do. Thinking about doing the task consumes me, even though actually  beginning is the one thing that would fix it. Ambition is so easy to the mind, but then the details just overwhelm, and then I get bogged down in all the things I have begun to do. Story of my life, really.

However, I did finish the production of Aristophanes’ Frogs. Finally, Clinton (the sound guy) and I got together and meshed my pristine, carefully-stored video (VHS!) with his audio source, and he melded it together into a DVD. We got 25 copies burned just in time for UMBC’s reunion with my professors in Ancient Studies and other students and supporters, and so I was, nearly 7 years later, able to give the gift of a memory to several of them who were retiring. 6 years, those tapes sat in my possession. But I finally got off my ass and did it.

Now I just need to do that for my current students. They deserve a teacher who can execute and get them feedback in days, not weeks. I must be better.

April 3rd, 2013

Well, the semester is coming rapidly to a head, both in Latin and at NC State. I have discovered over this spring break a prodigious capacity within myself for doing nothing while feeling like I’m working my ass off. Running the Red Queen’s race, they call it. I find myself doing things to buy time, and I am left to wonder, is that all I have ever done? Bought time? And what do I do with this bought time, but try to buy more time?

The art of preparing for the moment ahead of time has always escaped me. I have always gotten along by just showing up. As adulthood overwhelms me, I am learning that it is insufficient to keep just showing up, and yet, I don’t know how to do otherwise. Shitting diamonds is getting more and more difficult. And the consequences of that lack of knowledge are soon going to make themselves apparent.

Only one day remains of my spring break. The Sidhe and I travel north to see family and also for a reunion with UMBC’s Ancient Studies department, many of whom have retired already or are in the process of doing so. I graduated in a flaming wreck when I left, and though I wreaked some horrifically amazing works of scholarship, I also left a crater of smoking rubble there at the end. I only hope that the things I built are what remain more in my professors’ memories, and less my failings. I shall bring with me a record of my final serious project, a digitization of our 2006 performance of Aristophanes’ Frogs. And the news that I am a Latin teacher must also bear some weight. I fear to face them, when it comes down to it, for I am ashamed of who I am. But what can I do? They helped better me, so they deserve some idea of the fruits of their efforts.

I need a doctor.

March 29th, 2013

I marked the general holiday season for my students Wednesday, the last day before spring break. I say general because humanity has been reveling in the equinox for quite a long time, in many guises and traditions. Passover has begun, and Easter approaches, but, too, Nowruz is still a thing. For my students I brought cookies and pop, and after they took their quiz we had a snack and relaxed a bit. We also talked about the Hilaria, the ancient Greek & Roman festival celebrated around the vernal equinox. It’s spring. Why not rejoice in it? We all have our reasons.

Today is a rest day for me. I have many tasks still to undertake, but I am taking this day for myself. The Sidhe is traveling to see her parents, so it’s just us boys–myself and Dalek–and I plan to do a significant amount of nothing. Minecraft beckons, especially potently now that I am playing on a server with a couple of friends. There’s House of Cards on Netflix, which I hear is quite worth my while. I borrowed a book from a fellow teacher, the Silver Warriors (by Michael Moorcock), pursuant to a discussion we had about fantasy writing. It’s been a long time since I’ve done reading for pleasure. But all of these things are only going to be pursued in even temper. No rushing about trying to maximize my fun. That would ruin the whole thing.

Joyous feast days to you all.

March 24th, 2013

When I was in college, Thanksgiving and Spring Break felt more like stays of execution than actual breaks wherein one took time off. Because of my inability to not procrastinate, they became periods when I would frantically rush to catch up on all the backlogged work I had still to complete, or more likely, freeze up in panic and still not get anything useful done while pretending to be enjoying myself with my friends or family or whatever.

Now that I’m teaching, it seems nothing has changed at all.

This week was spent trying to teach while recovering from the plague. (Rather unsuccessfully, I might add. I’ve been coughing up my lungs all week, and the students don’t seem to be getting it.) Two more days remain in class before the end of the quarter and the start of spring break, and I hope to use them to the students’ advantage. I feel sometimes like many of them are trying not to learn–but I cannot believe that is true. Even though the simple fact is that many are not doing their homework. Which only snowballs the difficulty going forward. If you don’t practice a language, you simply cannot learn it effectively. I cannot be bogged down by the students who won’t try. But I must also look at my own practices. Am I providing enough encouragement to dig in? Am I truly offering out a lit candle by which my students might light their own?

Which leads us to the problems that I must address over spring break. Two–or more–months of apartment cleaning, much and more writing to be done for my literacy intervention class, lesson planning galore, grading…and somehow getting my head into the correct space to teach Latin again. I feel ready to give up. I would already have done so if I weren’t on the hook for the education of almost 100 individuals. I now know why teachers burn out. Thanks to our new glorious Republican administration in NC, it’s going to be easier still. But I am not giving up yet.

March 16th, 2013

Well, the crud got me, too. I made it through Wednesday without too much difficulty, though the aches started Weds. evening. But Thursday I was rapidly headed downhill, and by 5pm, it was all I could do to drive home. Even had to bail on a school commitment. I tried so hard not to be That Guy. I wanted to wipe the slate clean, to get a fresh start. But a flake’s a flake, even when he has good reason. To have been handling money for the elderly and children would have been patently irresponsible. But I am still Mr. Flake.

So I made it to school on Friday, and my students experienced some excellent, and even topical, Roman culture! Which is to say, I put in a movie. It helps that it was an early release day, so only hour-long classes and no lunch, but all the same, the day nearly wrecked me. Adding fuel to the fire, I had a deadline for some paperwork to be completed. Fortunately, there’s access from the employee Web site, so I went home, started burning up, and then at 9pm finished my paperwork before settling into an uncomfortable, cough-ridden sleep.

This is where I praise the Sidhe. She took care of me last night, whiny-pants that I was. And she did so like a trooper. I am so very unworthy. She’s out at the store right now getting me more juice, while I stay in bed. Getting up, even with DayQuil, pseudephedrine, and advil on board, is challenging at best, so she put on Star Wars for me and headed out. True love, I tell you :)

March 11th, 2013

When I use a little more of the dwindling supply of medication I have, I am reminded how much less of a functional human I am without them on board regularly. I box myself into corners that aren’t even really corners–but they seem as substantial as the iron bars of a prison cell when I’m in the hole. But medicating is like a drop of soap on greasy water. It just clears the mind, at least the surface, and allows me to get back to doing important things instead of stressing over the trivial.

I had to close off the open-posting policy on my wiki yesterday, making it effectively a glorified content management system rather than a truly open platform. Only registered, whitelisted users may now make changes to the Calefaction Wiki, because of spammers defeating my textchas even when I change them. It’s a point of pride more than anything, but I don’t have time for shenanigans. You win, spammers. Now DIAF.

Crazy ride ahead this week. Fortitude!

March 9th, 2013

Not for me, but for the Sidhe. I am taking care of her today while her body wages war on a sub-microscopic invader. Well, haven’t gone to the doctor yet, so we don’t know if it’s actually the flu. But the symptoms, speed, and severity seem to line up. Thank goodness for weekends. We went to see The Great and Powerful Oz last night on our date, and one word sums it up best: shallow. Alas, it had moments of beauty, but beauty is sometimes only skin deep.

These last couple weeks have been a serious challenge. I am basically working 12-hour days again, as I was at the vet clinic, and even though the physical toll on my body is less, the mental strain is greater. I am solely responsible for what happens in my classroom. Lesson plans, homework, quizzes, tests, classroom discussion: it’s all on me. Then throw into the mix a number of students who aren’t doing the work, and causing trouble for others to boot. Oh, and grad school marches on, meaning that two days of the week I must leave school right on the dot to get to another school in time to carry out a literacy intervention, which I am also responsible for planning and executing.

I have quizzes to grade today, and feedback to give to students on a project that is due Tuesday. (Not all emailed me, so that is one relief.) I also must write up a report for the baseline data of the intervention I am conducting.

I honestly don’t know if I can keep this up. But I must try.

March 4th, 2013

Wow, this last year has been a blaze of…something. Last year this time I was hip-deep in the spring semester, and panicking every other day. Now I’m hip-deep in the spring semester, and panicking every day. Progress, of a sort.

The lesson from Xenophon’s tale, of course–be it true or fabricated–is that even when surrounded by a hundred thousand barbarians howling for your blood, your leaders assassinated, your home a thousand¬† miles away, there remains hope as long as there remains a will.

March forth bravely!