Tuesday, February 28, 2006

"I'll have the eggplant parmesan"

A fun and interesting way to hold a meeting of fellow Latin teachers is to schedule a dinner at a local restaurant. I am fortunate to work in an area with 15 other Latin teachers, 4 professors, and 4 retired teachers and professors. Every couple months we send out an e-mail and gather at the appointed time and place. We usually meet at a place someone has been interested in trying but do not limit ourselves to Italian or Greek food. Sometimes there is an agenda, sometimes not. We talk about our successes (and failures), schools, students, families, upcoming plans, suggestions, and ideas. Most everyone brings a handout or something to share. We have been known to organize fieldtrips, kickball tournaments, local certamina, and even trips to Italy. A glass of wine, tangy slices of eggplant, a wedge of cheesecake, pleasant colleagues, and Latin... what better time could there be?

Sunday, February 26, 2006

ACL in Philadelphia

I visited the website of the American Classical League and discovered that the information and registration for the upcoming institute is now available. Of all the professional conferences and conventions I have attended, I have found the annual ACL Institute to be the most beneficial and applicable to Latin teachers in high school, middle school, and (increasingly) elementary school.

The 59th Annual American Classical League Institute and Workshops will be held Friday, June 23-Sunday, June 25, 2006 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The Pre-Institute Workshops actually start on Thursday, June 22, so keep that date in mind when registering. I did not see a deadline but early registration usually assures that you get the housing option you want.

There is no better opportunity for Latin teachers to meet, greet, share, and learn! See you in Philadelphia!

Friday, February 24, 2006

Welcome to My Universe!

Come into my classroom and take a look around! A classroom is like a construction zone... not a tidy place!

Notanda: 1) on the door is a paper mosaic scene from Ben Hur for the Latin Club's entry in the door decorating contest for Homecoming back in October; 2) the trophies on the bookshelf are from our two years of certamen; and 3) the plastic pumpkin on the small column beside the bookshelf contains something sweeter than candy... Latin verbs on strips of paper to be used for random synopses. It has come to be called "the Pumpkin of Doom."

Notanda: 1) the plastic cups contain Roman coins soaking in distilled water (Latin Club project); 2) the teacher's desk is the nerve center for it all!

Notanda: 1) in the corner is the orange poster of Romulus and Remus suckling from the Lupa -- I bought this on my very first trip to Italy in 1982; 2) the white board contains the Classical Literacy list (discussed in a previous post) and announcements about upcoming activities and Latin Club events.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Medice, cura te ipsum!

I have often put in my two cents in the great Latin textbook debate, but this posting is not directly about that. That is a thread all its own and will be addressed much later!

My comments have always been that a teacher teaches the language and not the textbook. No textbook is perfect and each one must be adapted to the teacher's philosophy, abilities, and interests, and the students' abilities and needs. All the while, I have made these adaptations to suit my situations, but remained steady in my forced march through the chapters: 24, 25, 26, etc. Don't make waves... Don't upset the natural order of the universe... Keep passing those mileposts...

Now I find myself in desperate straits. Students from three different middle schools with three different teachers feed into my program. Another teacher teaches the beginning class at my high school... so each year I find my Latin II students in different places in the textbook (sometimes markedly different) and with a wide variety of experiences.

I am very frustrated and WAY BEHIND where I know we should be in the textbook, so much so that this annual collage is beginning to impact in a very negative way my students' readiness for the advanced level classes. Some may end up moving into an Advanced Placement Latin class without ever having translated a word of authentic Latin literature. This is not right.

So... It's time for me to step back from the textbook and take a good look at what needs to be taught and what can be postponed. Rethink... regroup... reorganize! My plans are to teach the language, using my own examples and practice, and use the textbook for reference and as a reader. My biggest concern here is the loss of opportunites for acquiring vocabulary. All I can think is to have lots of practice work and sentences with lots of different words.

I am definitely stepping outside my comfort zone in this endeavor. I will stand in front of the classroom, keep my lip from quivering, and act like this is the most natural thing in the world! I'll keep you informed as we abandon this carriage in the ditch and strike out across the field on our own. Our goal is not the inn, but to fend off the wolves and make it to Rome!

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Compositio Hodierna

Moving to block scheduling has allowed me to try something new this year: I call it Compositio Hodierna (Daily Composition).

When the students come into the room, there is an English sentence on the board. Their job is to translate this sentence into Latin. I gloss the odd forms or new vocabulary for them. Often the sentence relates to the vocabulary we have been reviewing (particularly on those days on which we have vocabulary quizzes) and/or incorporating the grammar and syntax we have been covering.

I've seen other teachers use similar "focus activities" for their students to begin class. Indeed, this activity was not even my idea. I must give credit to my colleague in a neighboring school who calls them CODs (Compositions of the Day). I have to admit that most of my students balked at the beginning of the year (particularly those who had me the previous year) but they have come around and some even enjoy it! I usually call 2-4 students at a time to the board to write their sentences and then I compare them, emphasing what they get correct, not their mistakes. I have seen definite improvements in their composition skills and nothing beats this type of exercise to pull together all the elements in need of review: vocabulary, grammar, and syntax.

Monday, February 20, 2006

A View from Sounion

Take the chill off winter and imagine yourself in the sailboat...

This is the promontory at Cape Sounion, the very spot where Aegeus, fretfully waiting for the return of his son Theseus, flung himself into the sea when he caught sight of the forgetful black sails. I took this photograph on our trip to Greece in July 2004.

Essential On-line Resources

There are two on-line resources that anyone teaching Latin in the twenty-first century must be aware of. Indeed, how could you be reading a blog and not know about these sites? I am speaking, of course, about the LatinTeach listserv and the rogueclassicism bulletin board and related services.

When I first started teaching Latin in 1987, I was the only Latin teacher in a very large, rural county. The next year I moved to the county where I teach now and am one of eight teachers. Being able to collaborate and cooperate makes all the difference! The same holds true for those teachers who are part of LatinTeach and subscribe to rogueclassicism. There is no reason that a Latin teacher ever has to teach in isolation again.

The LatinTeach listserv is a constant gathering of hundreds of Latin teachers, Classics professors, students, and others who share a love and interest in Latin. Numerous postings and threads provide valuable ideas and assistance and an opportunity to share what works, what doesn't work, and the latest news and best practices in the field. To subscribe, check out the LatinTeach website at http://www.latinteach.com/.

The rogueclassicism bulletin board is a daily update of articles, reports, comments, and other helpful items concerning what's going on in Latin, the Classics, archaeology, etc. around the world. Each Sunday, David Meadows publishes an electronic newsletter and a listing of the Ancient World on Television (AWOTV). You must take a look at all that is available! Point your browser to www.atrium-media.com/rogueclassicism.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Enthusiasm is the Key

About a year and a half ago, one of my students who is a youth correspondent for the "MyLine" section of The Free Lance-Star (Fredericksburg, Virginia) wrote:

Latin? I love Latin!
By Amanda Potter

Arma virumque cano--I sing of arms and a man.
Here are the opening words of Virgil's "Aeneid," written over 2,000 years ago about the glory of Rome's past, present, and future. It embodies pietas: duty to the gods, country and family, in that order.
Known as the dead language, I shudder at the thought, the insult, branded upon my beloved Latin.
How does the supposed "dead language" hold the interest of students for four and five years?
In September, my Latin teacher of three years expressed the importance of enthusiasm. And being in AP, we're held to higher standards.
He described to us an Old Navy commercial. A girl, during a college lecture, jumps up out of her seat proclaiming her love for history. My teacher wants us to do the same.
Latin? I love Latin!
We comply. The enthusiasm spreads.
Roots?! I love roots!
Classical literacy?! I love classical literacy!
It has become unintentional, habit.
This isn't a fa├žade; there is genuine appreciation for the language. We translate Virgil's "Aeneid" rather than the usual fake Latin written for text books.
It's a connection with the past, with Rome.
We can feel the rhythm of the Latin, the dactylic hexameter. Spondees and dactyls sit side by side on the page, line after line, long-long, long-short-short. Virgil was indeed an artist.
Old Navy claims this enthusiasm is due to their clothing.
I know better. Those ads can't fool me.

Date published: 12/7/2004


I am proud of my student for her work and appreciate her comments. Indeed, enthusiasm is the key for success in anything!

Friday, February 17, 2006

A Quick Stop by the Forum

The Roman Forum is one of my favorite places to visit. Pictured here at the base of the Capitoline Hill are the ruins of the Temple of Saturn (left) and the Temple of Concord. I took this photograph in July 2005.

Classical Literacy

One of the activities in my classroom which has made me very proud and provided much satisfaction is the teaching of what I call "classical literacy." One is classically literate when he recognizes and understands those Greek and Latin mottoes, abbreviations, phrases, terms, and Greek and Roman mythological, historical, and literary references and allusions found in everyday, modern English.

When I was a student, I felt very awkward (and even a bit foolish) when someone discovered that I was learning Latin and he would toss out a sine qua non or an illegitimi non carborundum [sic] and I would just have to shrug, not having a clue as to what he meant. I didn't want my own students to have that same feeling of inadequacy, so I began teaching these tid-bits on a daily basis.

The process goes like this:
  • Every class period I introduce two items of classical literacy (There used to be only one a day until we moved to block scheduling and then needed to double up in order to cover the same amount of material). These items can be selected at random or (even better) come from being heard or seen in the recent media. At times, the "Jeopardy" game show can provide the suggestion.
  • All classes and all levels are taught the same items. These items do not repeat during the same school year but may repeat in subsequent years. I have found that after a student has taken Latin with me for four years, he or she has become quite the expert and should be called "classically literate."
  • I keep a running list on the side board in my classroom so that these items can always be seen by my students. I have them keep a complete list with explanations and examples in their notebooks. [Sample of Classical Literacy Items]
  • When we reach twenty items (evey ten class periods), we have a "Classical Literacy Quiz." This is almost always a matching quiz designed to boost confidence in learning and provide a less-stressful (read "easy") quiz grade. Most students perform quite well on this quiz but, surprisingly, some do fail. I attribute the failing grades to those students who do not pay attention in class and/or do not make an attempt to review or study. [Sample Classical Literacy Quiz]
  • At the end of the semester, we have usually accumulated around 80 items. About three days before the semester exam, I offer an "Optional, Extra-Credit, Classical Literacy Test." Every item presented during the semester is included on the test. The format is fill-in-the-blank WITHOUT a word bank. The only thing the student is given is a translation, a request for translation, a description, example, or suggestion. The student is awarded 1/10th of a point for every correct answer for up to +8 points on the semester exam. I round up at every 0.5 points, so a score of a 37 earns +4 points on the exam. Most students earn around +3 or +4 points, but some do earn a +5 or +6, and even a very few a +7 or +8 (there were two students who earned the maximum amount the first semester of 2005-2006, one with a score of 76, the other with a 79! She will always remember that one item she missed which prevented her from getting a perfect score!). [Sample Classical Literacy Test]

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Neptune in Technicolor

As I have been learning the ins and outs of blogging, I've been visiting other sites and discovered that many people include images with their posts. For me, this feature is a must! So, here is my practice post...

This is the Temple of Neptune at Paestum, Italy. I took this photograph in July 2005.

Echoes Between Authors

I always get excited when I come across an echo from one author to another. When I was reading Martial the other day, I found

Verona docti syllabas amat vatis,
Marone felix Mantua est...
te, Liciniane, gloriabitur nostra
nec me tacebit Bilbilis. (Epigrammata I.61, ll. 1-2, 11-12)

and immediately thought of Ovid's

Mantua Vergilio gaudet, Verona Catullo;
Paelignae dicar gloria gentis ego... (Amores III.15, ll. 7-8) .

Also worthy of note... my students always consider it arrogant when a poet boasts of his present or future fame, which brings to mind Horace's

Exegi monumentum aere perennius...
Non omnis moriar multaque pars mei
vitabit Libitinam... (Odes XXX.30, ll. 1, 6-7).

I use this as one of those "teachable moments" when I remind them that the poet's prophetic statements actually came true.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Requiescat in Pace

I just returned from Deborah Mason's funeral (if you have read my earlier postings, you will recall that she was a fellow Latin teacher who passed away last Saturday evening). A colleague from a neighboring school district accompanied me and made the three-hour trek a much more enjoyable experience. We arrived an hour early but were still directed to overflow seating. There was standing room only by the time the service began. There were very many friends and family members, present and past students, some with their parents, and a large number of Latin teachers from around Virginia.

I was looking for the right word to describe Debbie in an earlier entry and the word that was provided during the service was "formidible." That, I think, is the best word to use.

Besides the touching words from her eulogies, there were two moments which stand out in my mind... as we were exiting the church, two girls fell into each other's arms and wept for their lost teacher, when they separated, there was a look in their eyes which seemed to ask each other "It will all be OK, won't it?" The second moment was when the funeral procession passed Altavista High School en route to the cemetery. Out in front of the building was a large sign which read "We'll miss you, Miss Mason!" She will indeed be missed by her family and friends, her students and colleagues at school, the Executive Board and co-chairs of the Virginia Junior Classical League, and Executive Board and members of the Classical Association of Virginia. Latin in Virginia will not be same without her.

Requiescat in pace!

Monday, February 13, 2006

Ah... A Serendipitous Snow Day!

The Great Blizzard of 2006 left 8" of the white stuff in the Fredericksburg area, enough to close schools in our county for the day and require a one hour late opening on Tuesday. I can hear those of you who regularly get snow laughing out there... 8" is usually our average for the whole winter, so we are not as prepared as other locales.

Anyhow, the arrival of a snow day is a gift of the gods. Suddenly things are not as important as they were the day before and we are allowed more time to sleep, more time to spend with family, and more time to get those things done around that house that seem to fall behind when that same house is occupied by a teacher.

Lest you think that I spent the day as a total slouch, I was able to take care of planning and even organized my desk a bit. Will I be a better teacher for this? That remains to be seen.

The moral of the story here is that teachers should take the time to enjoy life when extra time is given. The job can be all-consuming if you allow it be. For most teachers, teaching is your life... but it should not be your whole life.

In Memoriam: Deborah J. Mason

I learned by e-mail last evening that Debbie Mason has passed away. She taught Latin at Altavista High School in Campbell County, VA, located about three hours to the southwest of Fredericksburg.

Debbie was very active in the Classical Association of Virginia, serving as secretary (for as long as I can remember) and, most recently, as a co-chair of the Virginia Junior Classical League. She will be sorely missed by her students, colleagues, and members of those organizations. It will be strange to attend those activities without her there. I am sure that she will always be there in spirit!

I remember Debbie Mason as a strong and sensible individual who was a definite presence wherever she went. I can still hear her "Sybil's cry" to call a meeting to order and have heard her say on more than one occasion, "Darn it, this is the South! You would think they could make some sweet tea!"

My thoughts and prayers are with her family and friends in this time of sadness.


I have been teaching Latin for the past 19 years. I graduated magna cum laude from Mary Washington College (now the University of Mary Washington) in Fredericksburg, VA, in 1987 with a B.A. degree in Classics: Latin Concentration, with an endorsement in education. I spent one year teaching at Fauquier High School in Warrenton, VA, before moving to the brand-new Chancellor High School in Spotsylvania County, where I worked for the next 16 years. When Riverbend High School, Spotsylvania County's newest high school, opened in 2004, I made the move there in order to give myself a new and fresh start. I viewed that move as an opportunity to hit the "restart button" on my career, but I find myself returning to my old ways and techniques (that is a subject for a later posting).

I have taught Latin on all levels: Latin I, Latin II, Latin III, Latin IV, Latin V, AP Vergil, and AP Latin Literature, including Catullus, Ovid, and Horace. I have not taught Latin I for quite a long time (perhaps 12 years now?) and remain ambivalent as to whether I miss it or not. I enjoy teaching the advanced levels where I get to share the joys of authentic Latin literature with my students. After all, that is the true purpose of learning Latin -- being able to read, translate, understand, discuss, and enjoy Latin literature in the original language. I prefer the works of Vergil, Ovid, Martial, Pliny the Younger, and Cicero, but have interest in them all.

During my career I have sponsored a very active and fun Latin Club and JCL chapter. I will discuss specific activities at a later time but we do attend our state convention every year and I have had students attend the national convention on occasion. I also sponsor certamen and have competed in this activity since 1989, hosting our own tournament annually since 1990. Professionally, I am a member of the American Classical League, the Classical Association of the Middle West and South, the Classical Association of Virginia, the Foreign Language Association of Virginia, and the founding member of the Fredericksburg Area Latin Teachers' Association. I was "president" of FALTA from 1990-2000, and have served as the editor of the CAV website since 1996. I was also editor of the FLAVA website from 1998-2005. I call the position "website editor" because "webmaster" sounds so pretentious. This school year I became the chair of the World Languages Department at RHS... and this has certainly been a learning experience!

Posting on a blog is something that will take a little getting used to... I feel a bit like Pliny the Younger who wrote his letters with an eye toward publication. What a vain and arrogant thing this could be!

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Let's Get Started

This is my very first venture into blogging. It may take me a while to get up to speed but I'm looking forward to discovering the potential for communication in this medium.

The announcement of a day off from school tomorrow due to this weekend's snow storm affords me the time and opportunity to figure out how all this works. Incipiamus...