Thursday, June 29, 2006

Classic(al) Superman

My family and I took in a matinee of the latest Superman movie today (Superman Returns) and we thoroughly enjoyed it. I could not help but pick up on the obvious and less-than-obvious classical references and allusions in the film (keep reading -- I promise not to divulge anything important to the story of the film):
  1. Lex Luthor, haughtily revealing his latest plot, explains that Prometheus stole fire from the gods and gave it to man, thus providing our first technology.
  2. Lex continues to explain that the Romans conquered the world by building roads.
  3. When the massive globe atop the Daily Planet totters and falls, Superman races to the rescue and catches it, striking a wonderful Hercules pose.
  4. Superman falls to Earth from the heavens and reminds me of the fall of Hephaestus.
  5. Not exactly classical, the the film absolutely drips with Christian symbolism and references.

Even if you're not into sci-fi flicks, you may like this film. Check out the reviews and go see it!

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

It never rains in Italy in the summertime...

I had taken eight trips to Italy during what everyone would consider "the summer months" and had never experienced any rain. So, wise guy that I am, I always told my students that they never had to worry about umbrellas or ponchos when they packed for the trip. Leave it to Iuppiter Pluvius to prove me wrong on our trip in 2005! It was a summer cooler than normal and we experienced periods of heavy rain a couple of days during our trip. The key was to stay positive and remind the students how fortunate they were not to have to experience Italy in all its dusty and sweaty glory. I also enjoyed seeing wildflowers blooming in the Forum in July and Italy dressed in an uncharacteristic green instead of its usual golden brown.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Taking Stock of the School Year

I have just completed my 19th year of teaching and, to be sure, it was the hardest one to date. I attribute this difficulty to several changes: 1) our school system started alternating-day block scheduling this year and we had to pick up an extra class (upping our total from 5 to 6); 2) this was my first year serving as department chair (and there were not a few unusual difficulties); and 3) this was the 2nd year for our new school and the "first-year" excitement and enthusiasm is gone and we have settled into the system as another cog in the machine.

Even before the end of the school year I began to think and plan for next year. Every job should have a "summer break" to allow employees and (indeed) management the time to reflect on what is working and what isn't and what can and should be changed. This is my task for the summer and I'll start now...

What is working? I have many students who are successful in and excited about their study of Latin. They can pick up a passage of Latin, from Ecce Romani, if they are in Latin II, or from Martial, Catullus, Ovid, and Horace, if they are from Latin III through AP, and read it, translate it, and understand it. What is more, there are some who even enjoy it! Furthermore, I have students who are busy preparing projects and cramming for certamen for the upcoming National Junior Classical League convention in the end of July. They don't have to do this, but they go out of their way and pay lots of money for the opportunity to do so. Finally, I have two very dear students who just graduated and are planning to study Latin and the classics in college and they are planning to become Latin teachers! While I can't claim credit for their desire to become Latin teachers (they came to our new school with their minds already made up), I can rest comfortably that I did not dissuade them in their ambition during their last two years in high school. A few other new graduates also tell me that they will continue taking Latin in college just for the fun of it. Do I hear angels singing?

What is not working? I have some students on the other end of the spectrum who hate Latin, really dislike me, and ended the year with very low averages or even failed the class. These are students who tell me (as do their parents) that Latin is their only low grade and that their Latin grade was bringing down their GPA. Now, I learned many years ago that there is no way to have or make everyone satisfied or happy and I will not even attempt it, but this always leaves me pondering what I could do better or how I can help my students out. I do know that I could do a much better job grading papers and getting them back to the students. I could be more proactive and contact parents sooner or more frequently when a student is struggling or even sinking.

What can and should be changed? The biggest thing here is staying organized, staying on top of all the paperwork and administrivia that comes my way. All too often the end of the day comes (after make up work, Latin Club, certamen practice, etc.) and I gather up all the things that need to be done and shove them in my bag to be carted home. Sometimes I pull these items out at home and give them some attention and sometimes these items, having never seen the light of the lamp, simply enjoy the ride back to school. In either case, I take the precious time, if any is available, to reshuffle the papers and get them back into their requisite piles. This has got to stop. I found that forcing myself to stay even later after school (until 5 p.m. or more) to handle these papers gave me the opportunity to handle them, file them, or discharge them without having to sift and sort. Likewise, using this time to grade papers and them into the class folders for the next day makes grading more efficient and convenient. I can them make my way home and enjoy my family without the thoughts of all this pulp and ink hanging over my head. Ask any teacher, he or she certainly knows what Damocles felt! This fall I will certainly continue this practice of addressing work at work and taking time for myself at home. I will not be naive to believe that I will never do work at home anymore, but I can definitely lighten the load and be reasonable in the understanding of what I can actually accomplish at home in the evening.

What else can and should be changed? I will make the effort to have those students who need extra help stay after school and receive the help they need. I have always waited until they initiate the call for help, but some wait until the problem has become a crisis or don't even ask at all. Since we now have block scheduling (90 minute classes every other day) and I have more of a clue how this set up works, I am considering breaking up the time in class and and differentiating activities in such a way that those who need reteaching or more practice can receive it from me in a special help group and those who wish and need to excel can have the opportunity to work on special projects or assignments before we reconvene for new material, checking activities, or otherwise moving ahead. I can set aside time after school to set up tutoring sessions for those who desire them. I can seek out volunteers from my advanced students to help teach, reteach, review, and practice.

Now comes the task of making it all happen. I will revisit these thoughts as the summer comes to a close and the new school year starts ramping up. Now is the luscious time for thought, reflection, tinkering, and trashing. Send in the clowns!