This point in time seems to be a turning point. A big part of it is how things are working out at work. This year the teacher I urged to apply and whom I urged on the administration did take the job. She is well-known to the school since she used to work there and was happy to come back. I recruited her b/c I knew her to be a dynamic teacher. However, I figured she, like most Latin teachers, taught a grammar/translation course. That turned out to not be the half of it.
While students expressed disappointment at not having me as their Latin teacher, and a number of them dropped Latin III and even a few dropped Latin II, I encouraged them to recognize her qualities as a teacher and to accept that there are different ways of teaching a language. Most of them acknowledged that she is a good teacher. That was a couple of weeks after school started.
Now, six weeks into the year, I am getting a lot of feedback that confirms my suspicion that she is a pure grammar/translation teacher. One extremely bright and competent girl told me the first week in September that she had dropped, saying, “It just wasn’t you, Mr. Barrett.” Cute, but still disturbing that the teacher could lose such a motivated student. Still, personality matters and perhaps the girl was more dependent on my “unique” style of teaching than I had thought. But then, yesterday, I got more feedback. Two students in second year told me they haven’t read ANY stories in CLC! That is the book, stories. The teacher told me at the beginning of the year that she would be switching to Ecce Romani b/c it correlated with higher test scores on the National Latin Exam, but Ecce is stories, too. How does she expect to use it?
The answer is translation. Many Latin teachers use translation as a means to teach the language. I don’t know if anyone has ever devised an explanation for how that works….. I know that in the 19th century they believed in something called mental faculties, which could be developed by efforts like studying Latin grammar and translating. At any rate, the method is not nearly as terminal as many might believe; thousands of teachers still use it.
What bothers me is not that the teacher teaches a lot of grammar but that the students don’t read the stories as part of the class; if they read them, it’s entirely on their own. To what end? I can tell you that from the teacher’s own mouth: high test scores and esp AP scores.
Two other students, who came out of that same little group of highly motivated, bright, conscientious students decided at the end of last year to do independent study with me, before we knew a new teacher would be taking the classes. They’re part of what I called The Latin Mafia: high performing students who nevertheless maintain a balanced perspective and a sense of humor. They are getting feedback from those of that group who remained with the new teacher and even one of them is saying he wishes he still had me as a teacher.
It is so hard to convince the “rigor” people that these students are not just lazy and irresponsible, desiring only fun and high grades with no work. That’s how they explain their own failures as teachers, failing to notice that these students perform very well in other classes; they just don’t tolerate bullshit well. Recently a very sweet teacher, when I confronted her with my sadness that so many of the struggling students would be sunk by this teacher when I had worked so hard to bring them along, just shrugged her shoulders and mumbled something like, “Well, that’s what happens if you can’t keep up.”
Did I tell you how much I despise that attitude?
So, by the end of the year, we’ll have an interesting comparison between her second year and my second year Latin. I hope to find out just who is in that third year as this year progresses and interview them surreptitiously at the end of the year. The second year students I will also interview as much as possible and then report to the blog here.
The question? How much Latin got read that year?