Monday, June 18, 2018

Calling for a Culling

Hello! My name is Mark, and I am hoarder of classroom materials.

I finished the annual task of packing up and cleaning out my classroom today. For the very first time I chose to leave the posters on the walls, if for no other reason than I did not want to spend the extra time to take them down.


Everything but the furniture must be hauled out by the teachers so that the floors can be cleaned, stripped, and waxed. Fortunately the custodians handle the task of moving the desks, shelves, filing cabinet, and closet on (wheels). All of this is accomplished by a couple weeks before the start of school, and then we haul everything back in and set things back in order.

After I moved my last cart of books and boxes, I noticed that I have much more than a small amount of stuff squirreled away. Take a look:




Yes. Count them. Six cubbies, three cabinets, and spillage out into the floor. All filled with boxes of books, files, desk accessories, decor, toys, arts and crafts supplies, etc. Looking closer will reveal sets and backgrounds from at least two homecoming floats. All of this useful and important in its own time and place, but a pain to pack and move when the building is dark and silent.

I had planned to spend a part of this year to set it all out and then to find it a better home or send it into the trashcan. The goal was reduce my stash to fewer cubbies... but it somehow grew to more! I now admit that I do have a problem. I had set out a special shelf this year marked with a sign reading GRATIS. The idea was place items free for the taking by any student, visitor, or teacher. This process began with good intentions, but as the work and activities grew, the environment withdrew into the background. Sometimes there were piles and stacks to navigate, but never did it stand in the way of our missions.

Something's gotta give, though. I will make it a priority to sift through all these items and keep only which contributes directly to the teaching of six Latin classes or the running of an active Latin Club. After all, having too much stuff can stand in the way of effective use of fewer, higher-quality items. It is time to sift, cull, trash, and give away things that are no longer making the cut. I have gather these items for 31 years. It is time to apply the notion that less is more.

Monday, June 11, 2018

Greener Grasses


I just returned home from a farewell dinner for two Latin colleagues leaving our school system at the end of the week. Each one is departing for pastures expected to have greener grass, albeit decidedly different flavors.

My first colleague will be leaving her high school program after fourteen years. She taught all levels of Latin, including Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate, an occasional middle school class, and a fairly active Latin Club and certamen teams. She became department chair and the odd combination of classes and duties began to compound and overwhelm her. She has a husband and two young children. She has opted to leave these burdens behind and will replace them with what will surely be a two-hour commute each way. She will have a lighter teaching load and enjoy higher pay.

My second colleague will be leaving behind his middle school position after only three years of teaching, admittedly not even enough time to get really get his teaching chops established. He has wrangled middle-schoolers in Latin I, Latin IA, Latin IB, Latin II, and Introduction to World Languages. These combinations of classes, including the nature of these young students, has also worn on him. He will be leaving teaching behind for new and different opportunities. He looks forward to greater freedom, less grief, and more chances to explore and grow.

To lose a fourteen-year veteran is a real loss... loss of experience, continuity, and institutional memory; yet losing a three-year beginning is just as frustrating. The departure of new teachers is a very real problem and threatens our profession. Good Latin teacher are difficult to find in the first place, but then to lose them too soon compounds the problem. Each one has made his and her own decision, and I do not begrudge them their choices at all. Indeed, there may even be a little bit of envy.

As I mentioned in my last post, this has not been a good year for me. Besides missing four weeks of teaching due to medical leave and recovery this spring, as well as time out for conferences and the graduations of both my daughter from graduate school and son from college, there were some classes where my personality and that of my students did not match up well, and some students even rejected any enthusiastic attempt to learn and grow. I hope to pursue these dynamics in later posts. I am just about to complete my thirty-first year of teaching. At one point the notion of retirement surfaced and I rejected it because I could not stand the idea of leaving in a negative note, and indeed I had unfinished business. As the year began to wind down and the frustrations that come with formalized testing, certification, and administrative demands, I began to seriously consider retirement at the end of next year. Thirty-two years in any profession is respectable, is it not? I signed my electronic contract thinking that I might wrap things up on my own terms and leave at the end of the 2018-2019 school year. After all, my certification will be due, our curriculum is changing with a requisite alteration of teaching philosophy, and we are getting new textbooks. Sounds like a good time to depart, does it not? Then I made the fateful move... out of curiosity I checked the pay scale, just to see what my final paychecks would look like. I was floored! In only eight more years, my pay was scheduled to increase by more than $18,000! How tempting! How exciting! In order to keep seasoned, experienced teachers, the pay increases significantly up until it freezes at 40 years of service. This put the breaks on any thoughts of retirement for the moment, but I am a bit disappointed in myself because suddenly I am choosing to stay not just because I want to teach, but that I am reaching for the money.

My two colleagues and I have noticed the greener grasses growing in other pastures or even in our own field. Is it really greener though? Does it taste any different or nourish our bodies or souls any better? At the moment, only time will tell.

More about retirement later. 

Sunday, June 10, 2018

All Things Considered


As exam week rolls into view, I find it necessary to take stock of this year which, I must admit, has not been a good one, either for me or for some of my students. I am returning to Marginalia as a means of reviewing, organizing, and analyzing what went right and what went wrong in my classroom and inside my head. I am being purposely vague at the moment; just laying out a general road map of personal discussion. Welcome back to me!

P.S. I will also be editing this blog: making updates, deleting nonsense, and adding commentary. I was surprised to find that I started this twelve years ago, and it has been dormant for much of that time. Perhaps it is time to erupt.

Sunday, February 07, 2016

Erotion's Parents

The other day in Latin III, my students asked a question that made me realize something about Martial's poem V.34 about the death of Erotion. The parents of this very young slave are dead.
Hanc tibi, Fronto pater, genetrix Flaccilla, puellam
     oscula commendo deliciasque meas,
parvola ne nigras horrescat Erotion umbras
     oraque Tartarei prodigiosa canis.
Impletura fuit sextae modo frigora brumae,             5
     vixisset totidem ni minus illa dies.
Inter tam veteres ludat lasciva patronos
     et nomen blaeso garriat ore meum.
Mollia non rigidus caespes tegat ossa nec illi,
     terra, gravis fueris: non fuit illa tibi.                    10
In line 1, there has been mention of the chiasmus that exists in Fronto pater, genetrix Flacilla and how this reflection of word order suggests that the mother and father are facing each other, perhaps consoling each other in their grief. I generally like this suggestion and agree with it, even using this phrase as an excellent example of the poetic device and how it works. What is more interesting to me, though, is the placement of Hanc and puellam at the beginning and ending of the line, completely surrounding her huddled parents. To me this arrangement illustrates that Erotion exists in a world outside her parents. If her parents were alive, wouldn't "this girl" be more comfortable and loved by the placement between her father and mother?

When reading the poem, we do not learn by the persona, presumably Martial, that Erotion has died until the third line. He sets up the image of a sweet girl by mentioning her oscula and delicias until line 3, a jarring revelation when we realize that she, quite young (parvola) will be shuddering at the "dark shadows" which will be surrounding her, quite literally. Notice the arrangement of nigras...umbras physically around the shuddering girl (horrescat Erotion). The whole image is reinforced in line 4 with the realization that she will have to make her way past Cerberus (Tartarei...canis).

Therefore, if Martial is entrusting the care of Erotion to her parents (tibi...commendo, lines 1-2) before she her soul makes the journey to the Underworld, it only logically follows that Fronto and Flacilla are already there, waiting to receive her on the other side.

I think I overlooked this interesting point in the past because I was so eager to get to Martial's "gotcha" at the end of the poem and show my students the poet's poignant conclusion:

Mollia non rigidus caespes tegat ossa nec illi,
     terra, gravis fueris: non fuit illa tibi.                    10
"Do not let rough sod cover her gentle bones, earth, nor lie heavy upon her; she was not heavy upon you."

Saturday, September 13, 2014

And away we go...

I have sat down this Saturday afternoon after our first five-day school week of the year. To put it succinctly, I am exhausted. It always takes a few days to get back into the routine of a busy, teaching schedule, but this year, things are piling up more quickly than in the past. Going into school early and staying late is seeming to do little to alleviate the burden and adds to feeling drained, but I press on. Is it a function of age? Maybe. Is it a function of fitness? Probably. It is a problem, though? No. I will spend most of my weekend wrapping up things from last week and getting things ready for the next.

From time to time I reflect upon what I am doing and decide that I like it, it all still makes sense, and I convince myself that I am still making a difference; I think I matter in my school. I assume that I matter in my professional community; but I know I still matter in my classroom. That space in which I spend eight, ten, or sometimes more hours of my day is still a fun and interesting place for me. My students seem to like the lessons, they learn and grow, and some even choose to come back for more fun and learning after school. So I continue.

This weekend I will spend a large portion of my time on the necessary academic matters: planning lessons, grading papers, and producing materials. I will also spend a good portion of my time on extra-curricular activities: an active Latin Club, with its activities, fund raisers, convention, and certamen teams. Reluctantly though, I find myself spending more and more of my time trying to meet the requirements of the school, district, and state administrations in trying to prove that I am an effective teacher and that my students are actually progressing. This proof comes in the form of specified assessments, now moving into the realm of common and shared tests and exams, the collection of data in each child in a variety of modes, and the creation of artifacts to illustrated quickly and easily to all who care to look the meaning of it all. This is what makes me tired. All else I do out of love and because I have to meet my own expectations.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Fratres Sororesque

Last night orientation for freshmen and other new students was held at my school. This is always a positive, warm and fuzzy evening where everyone meets and greets full of anticipation for new experiences. The new students are excited, and more than a little nervous, about coming to a new school, in this, the "big high school."

I was surprised at the number of siblings of current and former students I will be teaching this year. For a couple of families, I will be teaching three of their children, and in three of those classes I will have siblings in the same room! I can only imagine the conversations around the dinner table on some nights: "Mr. Keith, blah blah blah, and then he blah blah blahed! We all blah blah blahed and rolled our eyes!"

In my 26 year career, I have, of course, taught numerous siblings and, indeed, whole families. This past year marked the end of a family of five! A mom of a graduated senior from last year remarked last night, "And now you've got me for eight more years!" Her daughter was entering into Latin II and her youngest was waiting in the back of the room. Bring 'em on!

For those families where I teach multiple children, it becomes a source of confirmation that I must be doing something right if they continue to loan me their children for the school year and their entire high school careers.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Good Endings Come from Good Beginnings

We had our first meeting of Latin Club officers yesterday, a full week before the start of school on September 3. We met at the local Starbucks after the first teacher workday. All members were present and more than enthusiastic for the beginning of another school year!

While we had already done some pre-planning in the spring, yesterday's meeting provided an opportunity to review the schedule of activities through the end of September and to begin to flesh out some details. We plan to hit the ground running, so to speak, at Freshman Orientation tomorrow night and embark on a busy and fun combination of academic, entertaining, and social events.

So why is this important? Why did seven Latin students come to meet with their Latin teacher when summer is still calling their name (and summer assignments linger over their heads)? The answer is simple. The enthusiasm and commitment shown by these student leaders transfer to the classroom. Experiences in Latin Club add to experiences in Latin. Not only is Latin Club an outlet for fun and social interaction, but it provides well-rounded opportunity for students to grow and interact. The camaraderie alone is invaluable!

Organizing and supervising an active Latin Club is one of the best investments of time and attention a teacher can make for the promotion of the study of Latin. Students take a look a what we do, and how much fun and success we have while doing it, and say, "Hey! I want to be a part of that!"

It looks like it's going to be a great year!