quo contendimus? VI

salvēte, amīcī et sodālēs! Today, if all goes well, we’ll wrap up the themes of last week’s posts about Differentiated Instruction and lay the foundation for what’s to come this week. I really appreciate the emails that several lectōrēs fidēlissimī have sent recently, and I want to make sure I thank you all publicly as well as privately for those. It’s especially nice to hear from so many young and relatively new teachers! As many of you know, I was part of the APA/ACL Joint Task Force that worked for the last few years to develop a set of Standards for Latin Teacher Preparation. One of our primary goals was to provide a document that would help new teachers, as well as those who train, mentor, hire, and support them. I hope we accomplished that goal, but I’m also glad to be directly involved in conversations with young Latin teachers.

In some places, early August is “back to school” time; in others, summer stretches on for weeks; in still others, school has been in session for quite a while. Either way, as I think about schools and the people who work in them, I realize how different the world of schools today is from the one that welcomed a brand new teacher named me almost two decades ago. In a lot of ways, despite the economic woes that persist as I write this, it’s a significantly brighter and better world for young teachers, and especially for young Latin teachers.

  • For the first time in a very long time, we have a professional consensus about what young teachers should know and be able to do. Of course, we still need to do a lot of work to make sure that we can provide this body of knowledge, skills, and understandings to all new teachers … but at least we have a general agreement about what it is!
  • The amount of support for new teachers has increased exponentially. I remember very well a crisis I had in mid-October of 1992; I desperately needed some help, validation, and specific guidance. Fortunately I was able to make a (long-distance) phone call and get the help I needed! But what if I hadn’t had that phone number? Or what if the person had been unavailable? My counterparts today can reach hundreds of colleagues online, instantaneously, for free.
  • When I was a new teacher, “materials” were a textbook (which arrived about 36 hours before the students did), a workbook (which the district had not purchased), and a teacher’s manual. Now, in addition to those items, most textbooks have online resources (some free, some by subscription), and some even have their own online communities. And of course there are the many listservs, blogs, and free online tools of every kind. I hope that the Tres Columnae Project and this blog will be among those helpful tools for some new teachers, too!
  • When I was a new teacher, many schools and districts still saw new teachers, in general, as an expendable commodity. It was expected and accepted that attrition would be high; after all, there was an endless supply of new applicants every year. That’s no longer true. Of course, attrition of new teachers is still high, but it’s much more of a concern at every level. Lots of places that offered no support, or perfunctory assistance at best, to new teachers two decades ago now have formal induction programs and ongoing mentoring.
  • Young teachers today are generationally different from my counterparts in the early 1990’s. I really admire Generation Y and the oldest of the post-Millennials! They’re a lot clearer about what they want and more assertive about what they need than we were. They’re also a lot more conversant with technology. And of course, like new teachers throughout the ages, they’re generationally closer to their students than we veterans are now. That can certainly be a mixed blessing, but it definitely helps new teachers understand where their students are coming from and what they need.

Of course, new teachers also need support and guidance. When I went through my state’s training program for mentor teachers several years ago, we talked about the Conscious Competence Learning Model and its four stages:

  1. Unconscious Incompetence – you don’t even know that you don’t know what you’re doing! (Most new teachers are here unless school has already started.)
  2. Conscious Incompetence – you know that you don’t know, but you don’t know what to do about it! (That’s where I was during that plaintive phone call in October 1992.)
  3. Conscious Competence – with effort, you can get the job done! (That’s where we hope our new teachers will be pretty soon … otherwise, they tend to get frustrated and go do something else.)
  4. Unconscious Competence – expert performance without conscious effort. (That’s where many veteran teachers are … but the problem is that we can become stale without realizing it.)

As I reflected on the stages, I realized that they also apply to our learners, and I realized that we probably need to make sure our learners know about the stages! I think a lot of learning difficulties and problems – and a lot of decisions to flee from Latin classes to “something easier” – come when students have reached Stage 2 and think it will be permanent. Schools, in general, aren’t very good at normalizing mistakes and struggles, especially in this age of high-stakes testing; we tend to want to skip right to Stage 4. Of course, if you think about learning in general – and learning skills in particular – you realize that steps can’t be skipped. When a baby is learning to walk, for example, everyone would be happy to avoid the falls, bruises, and screams … but very few babies go directly from crawling one day to running the next.

And yet it’s certainly possible for a wise parent or teacher to help a learner shorten the frustrating time of Steps 2 and 3. One goal of the Tres Columnae Project, and of differentiated instruction in general, is to help teachers help students do this.

  • With carefully chosen activities, we find the right level for each learner to reduce frustration as much as possible.
  • With immediate feedback, we reduce our learners’ worries about wrong answers. No one sees you make them publicly, and rather than causing embarrassment, they just lead you to another explanation and, eventually, to a right answer.
  • This pattern of success builds learners’ self-confidence, and the ongoing opportunities for self-reflection help you become more confident as a learner in general.
  • And of course the Tres Columnae materials are designed to give teachers lots of good information about their students’ progress without a lot of grading time! We want to save teachers’ time so they can spend it on more important things … like planning great lessons for their students or working with them one-on-one if they need an extra boost.

quid respondētis, amīcī?

Tune in next time, when we’ll begin a new series of posts that builds on these themes. intereā, grātiās maximās omnibus iam legentibus et respondentibus.

Published in: on August 2, 2010 at 4:29 pm  Leave a Comment  
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