First week of school…..

First week of school……… done. But it was a doozy.
The first thing to say is that the kids are great. Let me give a little background to those who haven’t read my blog or my posts on listservs: I work in a small private Catholic school. I have taught only Latin there for the last 4 years, but this year I am teaching only one Latin class, a second year class, and two first year Spanish classes. I also changed rooms. All these developments are to my liking. So far so good.
But the first week, filled with meetings, moving, etc. was very tough on me. That had to do with, in large part, having to move my stuff to the new room with little help and start the year with the room not quite set up, incl. no computer. I wouldn’t mind the last but we have to report attendance via computer (makes it more official) and not having one makes it even more disruptive to the teaching process (not that that concerns anyone).
Entering the week the students came back pretty tired, I nevertheless found myself energized by the little darlings. They respond well and seem eager. Not to wax too negative, the Spanish textbook is the opposite of the Latin one: so busy in its presentation the students as well as the teacher cannot figure out what to teach/learn on any one page. Then the students have a fill-in-the-blank workbook which I hope to ignore. Since I’m on a negative streak in this paragraph (I promise to get off it), I will mention the 400 pound gorilla or 800 pound elephant in the room: the fact that now I am answerable to my students’ next year’s teachers. They are both entirely focused on grammar. My decision, so far, has been to create a separate grammar strand that will prepare them to do all the worksheets, exercises. presentations, etc. next year without it interfering with their acquisition.
As far as acquisition is concerned, the Latin students are already well on their way. I go very slow, so the teacher next year is galloping along in the second book, which she feels should have been finished last year (the CLC textbook is designed so that the first book is for first semester first year, the second book for second semester, etc., although many North American teachers don’t get into the second book until part way through the second semester). For this reason, I am galloping through Book II, too. We are doing a story a day, which amounts to about 40 days worth of work, leaving roughly another month and a half to consolidate, do the grammar stuff, etc. Again, for those of you who do not know me, the words of a Japanese/Chinese h.s. teacher at the last SWCOLT conference echo well: teaching grammar is useless. However, I love grammar and I love teaching it. It is a waste of time as far as acquisition is concerned, but lots of kids enjoy it and do well at it, at least the way I present it.
The question remains, do I plunge through the book daily or do I prorate the pace so that the grammar strand, activities designed to strengthen acquisition, and ancillary activites are integrated with the acquisition process. That acquisition process is facilitated by my reading a story out loud along as the students follow along, then retelling it while they again follow along but takes notes from my retell. After that, they draw the story in story board form from which we will do more retells. At the same time, I will augment vocabulary and retells with picture files. At least that’s my plan thus far.
For Spanish, we are starting with geography, good in so many ways as a starter, esp for Spanish. I am desparately trying to come up with a story line as engaging as the story in the Latin textbook. I am going to the library to look for stories in Spanish I might use. However, b/c my Spanish is so much more fluent (in the basic sense of the word) than my Latin, I find it easier to ad lib and “punt” when talking to the students. So far I’ve kept them engaged.
Speaking of engagement, my students from last year who have the new teacher are reporting back. They recognize her emphasis on grammar but also her teaching skills. She really is good and already has had one Latin club meeting! My only hope is to make this my last year. I am looking to teach one more semester after this to become vested but may just forgo that extra retirement money just to get out of the interminable and pointless curriculum maps, goals and objectives, formulaic lesson plans, syllabi, standardized tests, and so on and on and on, not to mention the dreaded language lab. Exactly what do you do in a language lab that facilitates acquisition? Anyone?

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