Sunday, February 07, 2016

Erotion's Parents

The other day in Latin III, my students asked a question that made me realize something about Martial's poem V.34 about the death of Erotion. The parents of this very young slave are dead.
Hanc tibi, Fronto pater, genetrix Flaccilla, puellam
     oscula commendo deliciasque meas,
parvola ne nigras horrescat Erotion umbras
     oraque Tartarei prodigiosa canis.
Impletura fuit sextae modo frigora brumae,             5
     vixisset totidem ni minus illa dies.
Inter tam veteres ludat lasciva patronos
     et nomen blaeso garriat ore meum.
Mollia non rigidus caespes tegat ossa nec illi,
     terra, gravis fueris: non fuit illa tibi.                    10
In line 1, there has been mention of the chiasmus that exists in Fronto pater, genetrix Flacilla and how this reflection of word order suggests that the mother and father are facing each other, perhaps consoling each other in their grief. I generally like this suggestion and agree with it, even using this phrase as an excellent example of the poetic device and how it works. What is more interesting to me, though, is the placement of Hanc and puellam at the beginning and ending of the line, completely surrounding her huddled parents. To me this arrangement illustrates that Erotion exists in a world outside her parents. If her parents were alive, wouldn't "this girl" be more comfortable and loved by the placement between her father and mother?

When reading the poem, we do not learn by the persona, presumably Martial, that Erotion has died until the third line. He sets up the image of a sweet girl by mentioning her oscula and delicias until line 3, a jarring revelation when we realize that she, quite young (parvola) will be shuddering at the "dark shadows" which will be surrounding her, quite literally. Notice the arrangement of nigras...umbras physically around the shuddering girl (horrescat Erotion). The whole image is reinforced in line 4 with the realization that she will have to make her way past Cerberus (Tartarei...canis).

Therefore, if Martial is entrusting the care of Erotion to her parents (tibi...commendo, lines 1-2) before she her soul makes the journey to the Underworld, it only logically follows that Fronto and Flacilla are already there, waiting to receive her on the other side.

I think I overlooked this interesting point in the past because I was so eager to get to Martial's "gotcha" at the end of the poem and show my students the poet's poignant conclusion:

Mollia non rigidus caespes tegat ossa nec illi,
     terra, gravis fueris: non fuit illa tibi.                    10
"Do not let rough sod cover her gentle bones, earth, nor lie heavy upon her; she was not heavy upon you."

Saturday, September 13, 2014

And away we go...

I have sat down this Saturday afternoon after our first five-day school week of the year. To put it succinctly, I am exhausted. It always takes a few days to get back into the routine of a busy, teaching schedule, but this year, things are piling up more quickly than in the past. Going into school early and staying late is seeming to do little to alleviate the burden and adds to feeling drained, but I press on. Is it a function of age? Maybe. Is it a function of fitness? Probably. It is a problem, though? No. I will spend most of my weekend wrapping up things from last week and getting things ready for the next.

From time to time I reflect upon what I am doing and decide that I like it, it all still makes sense, and I convince myself that I am still making a difference; I think I matter in my school. I assume that I matter in my professional community; but I know I still matter in my classroom. That space in which I spend eight, ten, or sometimes more hours of my day is still a fun and interesting place for me. My students seem to like the lessons, they learn and grow, and some even choose to come back for more fun and learning after school. So I continue.

This weekend I will spend a large portion of my time on the necessary academic matters: planning lessons, grading papers, and producing materials. I will also spend a good portion of my time on extra-curricular activities: an active Latin Club, with its activities, fund raisers, convention, and certamen teams. Reluctantly though, I find myself spending more and more of my time trying to meet the requirements of the school, district, and state administrations in trying to prove that I am an effective teacher and that my students are actually progressing. This proof comes in the form of specified assessments, now moving into the realm of common and shared tests and exams, the collection of data in each child in a variety of modes, and the creation of artifacts to illustrated quickly and easily to all who care to look the meaning of it all. This is what makes me tired. All else I do out of love and because I have to meet my own expectations.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Fratres Sororesque

Last night orientation for freshmen and other new students was held at my school. This is always a positive, warm and fuzzy evening where everyone meets and greets full of anticipation for new experiences. The new students are excited, and more than a little nervous, about coming to a new school, in this, the "big high school."

I was surprised at the number of siblings of current and former students I will be teaching this year. For a couple of families, I will be teaching three of their children, and in three of those classes I will have siblings in the same room! I can only imagine the conversations around the dinner table on some nights: "Mr. Keith, blah blah blah, and then he blah blah blahed! We all blah blah blahed and rolled our eyes!"

In my 26 year career, I have, of course, taught numerous siblings and, indeed, whole families. This past year marked the end of a family of five! A mom of a graduated senior from last year remarked last night, "And now you've got me for eight more years!" Her daughter was entering into Latin II and her youngest was waiting in the back of the room. Bring 'em on!

For those families where I teach multiple children, it becomes a source of confirmation that I must be doing something right if they continue to loan me their children for the school year and their entire high school careers.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Good Endings Come from Good Beginnings

We had our first meeting of Latin Club officers yesterday, a full week before the start of school on September 3. We met at the local Starbucks after the first teacher workday. All members were present and more than enthusiastic for the beginning of another school year!

While we had already done some pre-planning in the spring, yesterday's meeting provided an opportunity to review the schedule of activities through the end of September and to begin to flesh out some details. We plan to hit the ground running, so to speak, at Freshman Orientation tomorrow night and embark on a busy and fun combination of academic, entertaining, and social events.

So why is this important? Why did seven Latin students come to meet with their Latin teacher when summer is still calling their name (and summer assignments linger over their heads)? The answer is simple. The enthusiasm and commitment shown by these student leaders transfer to the classroom. Experiences in Latin Club add to experiences in Latin. Not only is Latin Club an outlet for fun and social interaction, but it provides well-rounded opportunity for students to grow and interact. The camaraderie alone is invaluable!

Organizing and supervising an active Latin Club is one of the best investments of time and attention a teacher can make for the promotion of the study of Latin. Students take a look a what we do, and how much fun and success we have while doing it, and say, "Hey! I want to be a part of that!"

It looks like it's going to be a great year!

Sunday, March 03, 2013

The Blather in Blogging

I wandered back to my blog today after an extended hiatus... of seventeen months! This IS something I am interested in pursuing, but finding the time gets in the way of following through, and then the whole notion slips from your mind until you reawaken.

I am very disappointed in the practice of others making generic, non-specific comments only to advertise their own sites. I am betting that most of this is even done robotically with very little input from the writer other than the original ad. No problem though; just another bother for the modern world.

Anyhow, I have lots to say concerning being a Latin teacher in the modern world. More later.

The NJCL's Century Club

The 2012-2013 Riverbend HS Latin Club has received the Century Club Award from the National Junior Classical League for having over one-hundred members! We have 116, to be exact!

Sunday, August 28, 2011

A Calming Rattle

On August 23, 2011, at 1:51 p.m., a very rare thing happened. There was a rumble, a small rattle, and then the earth shook for what seemed like 30 seconds. A 5.8 magnitude earthquake, the strongest in Virginia since 1897, was felt from Georgia to Canada. This was such a thrilling, exciting, and frightening event because "we don't get earthquakes like this on the East Coast." The epicenter was located about thirty miles to the southwest near a very small town named Mineral in Louisa County. I understand that folks in California and elsewhere around the planet are laughing at us for our reactions, but we can deal with that.

It was the day before students were to report for school, and I was sitting at my desk and working on a Powerpoint presentation when things began to rumble. At first I (and others) thought that students were running down the hall, an activity that sometimes happens during inclement weather and the cross country team needs to practice (this didn't make sense since it was a bright, sunny day outside). When the rumble continued and worsened, I realized that this was actually an earthquake. Wow! So that's what one feels like! I counted it as an experience.

I poked my head out my classroom door and confirmed with others that what had just happened had been real. After making a few calls on my cell phone (Surprisingly I was able to get through to most of my destinations), I turned on the TV for news and sat back down to work. A short while later the principal came over the intercom and announced that school was to be closed and we had to leave the building. The structure needed to be checked for damages, so this move made sense.

The first day of school was canceled the next day because some buildings, including our own, had suffered light damage, mostly cosmetic, and needed to be reinspected and repaired. Teachers were allowed to report the next day, and since I still had work to do before the students arrived, I took advantage of this opportunity. The only disturbance to my classroom was a sun catcher nick-knack that had fallen out of the window and cracked. It IS a depiction of a Roman ruin after all, so just some character added to the image there. Some books that had been tilted to the right in my bookshelves were now leaning to the left. The most interesting devastation, though, shown in the photograph above, is the toppling of the Golden Bubo on the shelf next my desk. The trinket is the image of owl, the bird sacred to Athena, the goddess of wisdom. The Romans would probably consider this an omen. Imagine it! The representation of wisdom falling on its face the day before the start of school! What to do? How to react? After contemplation, I've decided to take matters into my own hands and stand the statuette back on its foundation. This is an easy enough task, to be sure, but I have noticed that the image of the owl is top-heavy, with a supporting base smaller than it could be. After some contemplation, though, I think this is appropriate. The foundation of wisdom may be small, but the embodiment of wisdom is full and well wrought. How fitting that we are called upon from time to time to pick up our wisdom, dust it off, and put it back into place!

What is the outcome of all this excitement at the beginning of the school year? The normal butterflies experienced by this teacher (who, by the way, is entering his 25th year and still gets opening-day jitters) flitted away. The shaking of the earth, causing a fright to millions on the Eastern seaboard, puts everything into perspective. The ground may move, but the school remains and is safe. Come inside, boys and girls, and let's dust off some of our wisdom.

Sunday, August 07, 2011

Latin? What are you going to do with that?

My daughter Sarah is heading off to college in a couple weeks. She will be a freshman at Randolph-Macon College in Ashland, Virginia, and she has already decided that she wants to major in Latin and, following in her old man's footsteps, become a Latin teacher. She's excited; her mother's excited; and, of course, I'm excited. All too predictable, though, is the reaction of people when she tells them what she plans to study and then what she plans to due after she graduates. Most are surprised, some are confused, and a couple are even amused. She comes to me with stories of recent conversations with both friends and acquaintances who mean well, but just don't know how to react when someone says that they are pursuing the liberal arts. It is almost as if they are disappointed that my daughter isn't going to be contributing member of society who is out to make a million dollars.

I have had a discussion with my daughter that she will need to harden herself to these types of responses and to get her spiel ready and polished. I was also careful to tell her that she does not need to offer apologies to anyone. She is choosing a course of study which appeals to her and will make her a happy and educated individual. After all, she is going to college in order to receive an education, not to prepare for a job.

Colleges should not be seen as expensive vocational centers training the work-force for the 21st century. What present (and future) employers need are individuals who can think, plan, organize, be creative, collaborate, and communicate. Anyone with these abilities can easily be trained by employers to do what is required in any job and to be a contributing member to society. The world cannot benefit from narrowly-educated, close-minded individuals who are merely out to make money.

We, as educators, need to support and encourage students to pursue whatever field they wish after they leave our classrooms. If a students wishes to go on to college and study math, economics, engineering, and the like, so be it. Likewise, if a student wishes to major in art history, English literature, classical music, or Latin, these are completely valid choices as well. Student who go off to get a degree in the liberal arts should not have to defend or explain themselves. One should never have to apologize for her education.