What are the odds that Mrs. N, who will be in charge of the Latin Family at Now Former School until the Next Teacher is able to arrive, “just happened” to study Latin in high school and is eager to relearn it? When I found out about that, any lingering bits of bittersweet or regret vanished completely (and, to be honest, there weren’t many to begin with). Of course there were a few sad faces in those last days, once everything was Officially Official, but there weren’t many. “I realized something important,” I told them. “You all think you need me, but you really don’t; you’re independent and capable, and you are the Latin Family … and you always will be, and we will always be part of each other.” No tears, no regrets, and friends pointed out, when I arrived at the Thursday evening church service, that I looked happier and more relaxed than I had in ages.
A joyful new beginning will do that for you! And these past few days have definitely been a joyful new beginning for me and for the expanded Latin Family in District Q and District Y. There were even fewer technical issues with logging in on the first day for the District Y students than for District Q on Wednesday. The online platform worked smoothly both days, and with the rapid log-in process, we were able to do a “traditional” first-day Latin Family activity in a whole new way. In the “traditional” approach, my face-to-face students got sticky notes on which they recorded things they know, think they know, and wonder about Latin, the Romans, and the cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum. Then they organized the sticky notes onto little posters that hung around the classroom … but of course the stick notes would quickly become unstuck, and no matter how many times I explained that you put one thought per note (I even put an example in the directions), inevitably somebody (or many somebodies) would put everything they thought of on one note.
We just used the virtual whiteboard, and we all wrote (or typed) on it together. Somebody in a District Y class even drew Mount Vesuvius in full eruption. And even through the microphone and the purely online interactions, you could feel the joy and the learning and the formation of community.
Of course it helps that, other than the Latin I students, everybody (but me) has known everybody for a while. But while that partly accounts for the quick formation of community, it doesn’t account for the palpable joy or the learning.
The Dog was pretty joyful, too, to have me sitting on the sofa as I worked. He slept joyfully next to me on the sofa for a while, then moved to the floor for another joyful nap. For him, having someone around all day is a joyful beginning, too.
The District Q group started its day today with a little Google Form survey in which I asked, as I always do, for 3 words or phrases that describe you and for their favorite and least favorite parts of prior Latin classes, of other academic subjects, and of other forms of learning. And then we followed an old Latin Family tradition called the Cumulative Vocabulary Review Task. With a list of Tres Columnae Project core vocabulary, they formed pairs, and each pair chose three or more important-seeming words, four or more words they know well, two or more words to focus on, and some “interesting Latin-English connections.” It’s hard to put the words inside the shapes on our virtual graphic organizer, so we made additional pages of the Google Drive document and edited it collaboratively. And then, when we were done, I just set the document sharing properties to view-only, and we had a permanent record of our initial vocabulary impressions.
One of the District Y classes will be doing something similar when they meet today. The beginners, who don’t have any Latin vocabulary yet, will follow a different Latin Family tradition. There’s a document full of Latin words and pictures to represent them, and they’ll see if they can figure out what the words mean from the pictures. We’ll match word to meaning on a separate document, then use the microphones to practice pronouncing the words, and then we’ll get a PDF handout called “Litterae Latinae et Sonitūs” that summarizes what we’ve discovered about pronunciation. The next time we see each other, we’ll jump into Tres Columnae Lectio I; the intermediate and advanced students, depending on the results of their Cumulative Vocabulary Review, will either look at the “Introductions” of the characters as we know them at the end of Lectio XIV or the “Summaries” which introduce the characters as we know them by the end of Lectio XXVI. And then we’ll start creating our own characters and stories and situations and interactions, and the upper-level groups will retell stories from the authentic Latin literature that we’ll start reading when they’re ready.
I’m not sure I can find words for my gratitude … or for my own sense of joy at this joyful beginning. Yesterday was Labyrinth Walk Day, of course, and I was talking with a friend before we started. “I rediscovered something really important,” I told him. “I rediscovered that I still love the part of teaching that has to do with presenting information and content. And I hadn’t loved that in such a long time!” It’s not the most important part of a teacher’s job in this age of ubiquitous, hyper-abundant information, but it still is part of the job. So I’m glad that I’ve been able to find joy in it again.
It’s hard when you can’t find the joy! It’s hard to build a joyful community when your inner joy meter is close to empty! As my meter starts to rise again, I’m seeing that clearly … and I wonder what other new joyful discoveries await in the days to come.