Monday, February 22, 2016

I don't care if my students major in Latin.

Well, that's an overstatement. I'd love them to read Vergil. I'd love them to laugh with Ovid and at Cicero. deo volente one day perhaps I'll get an email about how moved they were by a section in the Iliad or their grief in reading a Greek tragedy. I'd very much like to seduce them into loving Latin literature with me, but in Latin I and II it's not really on my mind.

Therefore, I'm not actually aiming right now for my kids to all take Latin in college and get perfect scores on the NLE or similar. I am sure this is a controversial opinion. Of course, you say, I should aim for all my kids to achieve the highest possible goals. My counterpoint would be that academic success is not the world's highest possible goal. There, I said it.

My school is not in a wealthy, college-going district. Many students will end up at a 2 or 4 year college, but in a lot of families it's not the expectation. In the class of 2014, 28% went on to four-year colleges. 33% went to two-year institutions. 29% went to employment, and 10% to the military. We don't see a ton of parent involvement. Our whole school is on a free lunch grant. We have a 26% IEP rate, many of which have emotional elements. We don't have enough teachers, and thus few electives so some students who take Latin are just there because they need a class and heard it's not miserable. We don't even offer AP Latin or the NLE right now. For a significant chunk of them, it's a revolutionary enough goal to just pass and even enjoy one class besides art / gym / music. 

For these students in particular, you might argue, teachers ought to have high academic expectations to pull them up and out of their current socioeconomic spheres. It's not that I don't have high expectations; it's that my expectations for this group can't be ONLY about academics. If they are, I'm doing a grave disservice to a large proportion of my students.

So, what IS my goal for my students?

I want them to experience the joy of learning because you're interested. I want them to experience the feeling of asking a question and hearing a teacher say, "You know, that's a good question! We're going to have to think about it. Do you have any ideas?" I want them to read something and feel proud that they can read it. I want them to read something and not even have to be proud that they can read it, because it's just their skill. It's not a big deal. They can read Latin. Good for them. I want them to feel the exhilaration of being confused, then suddenly GETTING IT. I want them to think about how other people live. I want them to know that English is not the one true language. I want them to leave a class smiling because they feel good about their progress that day, not because they're glad to get out. I want them to know I'm proud of them when they try even if they get it wrong. I want them to see me smile and laugh in joy when I hear them get it right, or even almost right, or wrong but in a way that shows me they thought about it.

I think on the whole all teachers who aren't totally burned out share many of these reasons, even if they haven't articulated them.

So I guess my goal for my students is for them to get something out of learning Latin. Whatever it is, it's great, so long as it helps them grow. My personal goal is to build a space where learning is rewarding in itself. Allow me to paraphrase.
"Learning is patient, learning is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Learning does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres."*
* 1 Corinthians 13:4-7New International Version (NIV). Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Accessed at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=1+Corinthians+13:4-7 on Feb. 19, 2016.

I'm not a Bible person generally, but I think you can see what I'm saying. Right now we're definitely not there yet. I'm still keeping a record of wrongs (gradebook) and I get angry pretty often. I'm working on it.

I think this is a topic we need to spend more time thinking about both individually and as a profession. Please do share your ideas. What are your goals? If they're different from mine, why? How?

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