Saturday, August 28, 2010

Look Up Once in a While

I was recently informed that adorning the facade of the city hall building in downtown Fredericksburg were two caducei. I was so surprised I had to go look for myself, and there they were, each one flanking the sign identifying the building. Having lived in the area for 47 years and having passed this building countless times, I had never noticed these mythological adornments. Next time we mention this object in class, this will be one of the pictures I display.

Why is the city hall decorated with images of Mercury's staff, you may ask? Well, the building used to be the post office! Makes sense to me!

Thursday, August 26, 2010

"... and they are eating snails."

In my brand new, right-out-of-the-package Latin II classes, I have led off early with an exercise having the students translate an English passage into Latin. The passage goes,

"Look! In the picture is a Roman girl named Cornelia. Also in the picture is another girl named Flavia. The girls are sitting under a tree and they are eating snails."

The students are not allowed to use any books, notes, etc. -- just translate the passage in Latin. They, being eager to impress and please, set off with confidence because this is too easy... until they get to the end. Most remember the passage and translate it perfectly through "Flavia." There are occasional errors in adjective-noun agreement or spelling. Believe it or not, "The girls are sitting under the tree" is a little more challenging to translate cold; and then they get to the end. Some openly question whether we have had "snail" before, others think we must have because (certainly) the teacher would never ask them to translate "snails" (without notes!) unless we've talked about it before. Some think they must have forgotten it.

I then asked for four volunteers to put their Latin passages on the board. Some wave their hands frantically, trying to get my attention, so I oblige and send them up. After they have written their works on the board, I go over the English again and THEN talk about the point of the exercise: "This year in Latin II, we are going to build upon what we have learned before. Some things are going to be very simple, because they are second nature, like 'Look! In the picture is a Roman girl named Cornelia.' Other things will need some polishing and review, like '(there) is another girl.' Some things will need to be retaught, like 'under the tree' or 'they are eating' and some things are going to be brand new, like 'snails.'" Almost right away most are relieved that their teacher really didn't expect them to know 'snail' from Latin I. Hey, good illustration there of what we are going to do in Latin!

The interesting creations for "they are eating snails"?

edent escargoti

cenant snailos

appetizent snaili

and the best,

edunt (drawing of a snail)

Monday, August 09, 2010

Outfitting the Classroom

I went into school this morning and began work on recreating my classroom. At the end of every school year we are required to pack everything up and move it out. This is a good thing because it requires that I sort through the flotsam that accumulates during the year, and it allows the custodians to clean, wax the floors, and make any necessary repairs.

The first order of business is to find the proper placement for the teacher's desk, the large table in the room, the students' desks, the shelves, filing cabinet, etc. Every year I call upon my inner sense of feng shui and try to find an arrangement that works. I think I have come up with a workable plan... for the moment!

While unpacking, I came across those things I have found indispensable (to me!) for running an organized and effective classroom and I want to pass along my suggestions to any newbies and veterans (in no particular order):

  • A Good English Language Dictionary with etymological information. Believe it or not, this is the very first thing I purchased for my classroom 23 years ago. I have often referred to my Webster's Collegiate Dictionary when questions of word meaning, origin, usage, or the correct plurals, have come up in class. I often refer students to this necessary reference and even show them how to use it correctly.
  • A Class Set of English-Latin/Latin-English Dictionaries. I use Traupman's lexicon and these have held up admirably. Not only do they come in handy when we are working on translations (both directions), but they are also good for comparing vocabulary items, finding correct principal parts, and teaching the students how to use a dictionary effectively.
  • A Good Latin Grammar. This goes without saying, doesn't it? Actually I have an ancient, tattered paperback version Allen & Greenough's New Latin Grammar that has become almost unusable. It is held together with several rubber bands and I believe some pages are missing. It is definitely time to find another one of these most important references.
  • As Many Maps of the Ancient World/Whole World as you can stand, or have space for. I have a fairly new set of overlapping maps which are mounted on the wall and roll up like a movie screen -- these are often in the unrolled mode. I also have mounted on my walls at least two maps of Italy, three maps of the Roman Empire, and one of the city of Rome. I love maps; I teach maps; and I use maps almost everyday.
  • A Full Change of Clothes. This is not something I use very often, but you never know when you will make a spill, tear or snag an item, break up a fight, or run into any countless situations.
  • A Cozy Sweater or Sweatshirt. This is necessary for those chilly days (usually in the winter) when the air system just isn't up to speed... and this happens enough to make this a nice-to-have item.
  • Paper Towels and Cleanser in a spray bottle. This is useful for general classroom cleaning, but more useful for the students' desks, tables, and floor for food, drinks, doodling, and dirt from a variety of sources. Don't be hesitant to direct the student to the closet so that he can take care of his graffito or latte!
  • Tissues. There is no way to function without them! There are allergies in the fall and the spring and colds (and worse) in the winter. I have found that if I offer extra credit at the beginning of the year for new boxes of tissues decorated by the student in a classical manner, I have more than enough for the school year. Hint: Don't put the box of tissues on your desk -- that way, the students bring the germs right to your nest. Instead, put the box in the front of the room, somewhere near the pencil sharpener.
  • An Extension Cord -- the longer, the better. There will always be that mobile projector, overhead projector, CD player, (insert electronic or electric item of your choice here), whose cord just doesn't reach the nearest plug.
  • Band-Aids. Keeping a supply of these on hand makes for a quick and easy solution to minor problems which always arise, and also cuts down on those lengthy student trips to the nurse's office. In a pinch, tissues and tape will work, and they come with a smile, snicker, or eye-roll!
  • Antiseptic Wipes/Wet Wipes. It is always handy to be able to clean up messes and face other issues such as, "I still have ketchup on my hands, arms, face, knees, etc. from lunch, can I go to the bathroom?"
  • A Good Set of Speakers for the computer, i-pod, CD player. Too often I have found a neat presentation online, only to have the students strain to hear it.
  • Pencils and Paper. I know that the students are supposed to have these items on hand, but it is so much easier to direct them to the store in the front of the room than to argue with a student who knows better but just isn't prepared, for whatever reason. I buy a new pack of pencils at the beginning of the year but add to the supply everyday as I walk down the rows of desks or down the hallway. Also, paper can be had for free when the lockers are cleaned out at the end of the year.
  • Arts and Crafts Supplies. After 23 years, I have quite a collection. My supply of crayons, markers, scissors, glue, ribbon, string, paper, etc., etc., etc., began in what I called (from the hit, children's TV show) "The Barney Bag," which then grew into "The Barney Box," and now exists as "The Barney Cart." Roll it out and let the students get to work!
New for me this year will be one of those dust bins with a handle and a short broom. All too often there will be scraps from crafts, paper, trash, M & M's, etc. on the floor and it needs to be cleaned up. This type of garbage is not the responsibility of the custodian, particularly after a spirited Latin Club meeting or party. Don't get me wrong, though, I stress strongly to my students that it is their responsibility to clean up their messes, but there really is no way to run an active, busy classroom without generating some residue.
Most of the items mentioned on this list are my own possessions, gathered from teaching for over two decades. My suggestions to the rookies out there is to beg, borrow, or buy these (and other items) over time. Most are for convenience, many for effectiveness, and some are absolute necessities.

Sunday, August 01, 2010

The Kalends of August: Time for Reinventing the Wheel

August has arrived, and, since this is so, I must turn my attention to things academic and scholastic. The first teacher work day is Wednesday, August 18th, and the students report on Tuesday, the 24th. Being an orderly and (at times) obsessive-compulsive person, these odd days for starting seem a bit inauspicious.

I want to take a good look at my syllabi (this plural also bothers me a bit... but "syllabuses" just doesn't work for me either) and make sure that what's on the page reflects what and how I want to teach. Many times in the past I have just updated the ones from the year before. It is very easy to just fall into a pattern and not make adjustments because it makes for more work. This bad habit brings to mind the image of an aged professor, being a fixture on campus, showing up for class with his yellowed and scribbled notes he cribbed together twenty-five years earlier. This class may have been interesting and effective a quarter-century before, but now it is old, tired, and a complete bear for the students to sit through. Teachers should/must make adjustments to their material, content, and delivery up to the moment of delivery and (often) moments afterwards.

The changes I will make will be based upon reflection and review of what worked and what didn't from the year before. I plan to take a look at final grades, the material we covered (and did not cover), and, at least for Latin III and above, the potential roster. I won't receive the actual lists until a day or two before the start of class, but I have an idea of who will be in those classes and what things they know and how they know them. Unfortunately, Latin I and, for the most part, Latin II are always unknown entities because most of the students are new. Moreover, I have found that I really can't get a feel for what type of language students I have for Latin I until later in October. Unfortunately, beginning students usually don't begin to show signs of floundering until that later date. I want to be able to catch signs of them struggling before then, though. This I must ponder.