And You Wonder Why I'm Still Working

Originally posted on December 5, 2018, by Dr. Laurie Duesing, Upper School Latin III teacher

I am seasoned teacher. My first instructional position was teaching English in a high school in California’s Central Valley. For the following thirty years (and several more), I was a full-time member of a community college Humanities Division, teaching composition, literature and creative writing. After finishing my PhD, I did a postdoc teaching year at UC Davis. When I moved to Louisville in 2006, I enrolled in the Classical Languages Program at U of L, pursuing an avid interest in studying Latin. In my 2nd year at U of L, I began tutoring Latin in the Reach Program. Shortly thereafter, I was hired to teach a single Latin class at Louisville Classical Academy at its former Highway 42 campus. Eventually, U of L hired me to teach Beginning Latin on a part-time basis, which I did for seven years.

Now, I am again teaching at Louisville Classical Academy. Why? It isn’t money. I have the good fortune to be a recipient of the benefits of the State Teachers Retirement System of California. Admittedly, part of the impetus was the decimation of the Classical Languages Program at U of L. (That program now consists of one faculty member who teaches all the remaining Latin and Greek offerings.) I subsequently contacted Mrs. Proietti and asked to come back as an instructor at the Academy, should there be a class that I might teach. I remain honored and grateful that I am again a staff member.

Here’s why. . . I have never been in another educational setting whose mission I so completely upheld. Louisville Classical Academy’s embrace of “enduring literature and the timeless tools of Latin” speaks not only to my mind, but also to my heart. Its goal of cultivating “intelligent habits of mind” has been my chief purpose in all my teaching over the years. I’ve seen such goals touted by other schools in which I’ve taught. The difference is that it is not vacuous empty rhetoric here: The Academy, as an institution, means it and does it.

There are other perks that stoke my enthusiasm for my work at the Academy. My fellow-instructors have been universally collegial and supportive. Their dedication, intelligence, and impressive competence make me proud to be a faculty member. For example, Dr. Reed offered to guest lecture in my Advanced Literature class about her experiences in Nigeria. (We were reading a Nigerian novel, Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe.) She arrived with props, videos, and engaging commentary which illuminated the novel for the class and the teacher. Recently, I had the opportunity to substitute for Ms. Fairhurst in her Latin class, and her lesson plan was stunningly thorough and exciting. Consequently, I plan to adopt at least two teaching techniques in use with her students. Furthermore, Mrs. Proietti has always been available to me (and helpful) if I have a query or concern about my teaching duties or my students.

While the academic support system at the Academy is imposing, there are other ‘nitty-gritty’ factors which facilitate my ability to do my job. There are supplies! The Xerox machine works! When I taught at U of L in the Modern and Classical Languages Department, the Xerox machine was outdated and quirky. I never counted on it being operative; thus, before my classes, I would swing by the UPS store on Broadway to duplicate my handouts. (Even if the U of L Xerox machine might be in working condition, there might not be a paper supply.) The first day I taught at U of L, I asked the administrative assistant for chalk. Looking dismayed, she went to the supply cabinet and handed me a bunch of white pebbles. (That was the chalk supply!) After that, I carried my own chalk and magic markers to class.  

Furthermore, Bridget Kolb has been the most ideal secretary/ administrative assistant/go-to person I’ve encountered in my professional life. She taught me the ins-and-outs of our Xerox machine and rescued me when I botched efforts at duplication. One day (just one day) when the Xerox machine was inoperative, Mrs. Kolb asked me if I had handouts to duplicate.  I did, but told her I could write the material on classroom’s whiteboard. She took my handouts, went to other campus, duplicated my assignments and worksheets and delivered them to my classroom! A couple weeks ago one of the bathroom stalls in the women’s room was locked from the inside. After I mentioned this to Mrs. Kolb, she, with scissors in hand, strode into the bathroom and jimmied the lock free. (At U of L, on the 3rd floor there was one uni-sex bathroom for an entire wing of faculty offices. For some bizarre reason this bathroom became locked from the inside with a dead-bolt. It was three days before it was opened and available for use.)

There have been other benefits. Dr. Reed walked into my classroom and delivered an Academy I.D. card to me. I was slightly short of astonished, remembering that I had tried to secure an I.D. at U of L –but was foiled twice by the fact that the camera was out of film. I taught there seven years with no I.D. One last tribute: a little over year ago during Academy’s winter break, I had a hip-joint replacement. Two weeks later, I was completely ambulatory but not allowed to drive for another three days. Dr. Proietti drove by my home, picked me up and delivered me to the Academy for those three days. I certainly could have arranged other transportation but remain grateful for the chauffeuring (and the engaging conversation in the jeep).

When imagining the duties of a teacher, I believe most people (and concerned parents) think about the competence of a teacher and the ability to convey knowledge to the students. But there is so much more than goes into a teacher’s ability to deliver “the educational goods.” In every educational setting I’ve been in, I’ve worked with good students—sometimes exceptional students. But never in any other setting have I had the boon of such consistently cooperative, capable and energetic students. I have worked under fine administrators, in buildings that were well maintained, with supportive colleagues, and worthy students—but never all four at once. I have all of that here at the Academy, and I consider myself most fortunate.

Learning to Grow and Growing to Learn

Originally posted on October 29, 2018, by Kelly Stevenson, Upper School science teacher (Grades 4-12)

grammarscience.jpg

As teachers, we sometimes have to remind ourselves that much learning happens outside the classroom. Because of this, I count myself very lucky to have the opportunity to garden with students at LCA. Through my years here, I have worked with students at both campuses to grow food in raised bed gardens. The benefits of this experience to children are many.

At the most superficial level, it is an excuse to get kids outside and interacting with the natural world. The act of digging in the dirt is not a given for children in our world today, and I think there is immense value in that closeness to the earth. Studies have shown that a close connection with nature in childhood does more to promote conservation ethics as an adult than classroom instruction about conservation. Having first-hand experience with the wonder of nature is the most important factor in wanting to protect that nature.

Many important science lessons can be learned at an intuitive level through trying to make things grow. Students learn about the cycles of nature and the timing of plants’ growth in relation to the seasons. Students experience first hand the life cycles of plants and what “ingredients” are necessary for a good harvest. They have to apply ideas like competition for resources as they avoid overcrowding. Students have also been confronted with the fact that not all insects are helpful as we pull pests off our food AND that not all insects are bad as we encourage spiders and pollinators.  

Students also learn a variety of important lessons specifically when growing food to eat. Many people in our country are completely divorced from the source of their food. Ask many U. S. students what they know about where food comes from, and you are likely to get an argument about Kroger vs. Whole Foods vs. Trader Joe’s. (I actually witnessed this argument in one of my classes this year!) The chance to see where food originates, as well as the work that goes into producing it, is invaluable in making people value good food.

Studies have also shown that having students grow their own food encourages them to make healthier food choices. Through the years of working with students in LCA’s garden, I have seen many students willing to try something just because they grew it. I have heard students say things like, “I don’t like tomatoes, but maybe I will try one of these,”  and “I have never eaten a radish before, but I will give it a try.” I have seen rooms full of students joyfully enjoying fresh salads. I have had parents tell me that their student had never willingly eaten a salad before, and be amazed that that same student came back for seconds of our homegrown salad!

To me, gardening with students is nothing short of magical. I get such joy out of watching students enjoy the opportunity to get dirty and use a hose, and seeing the pleasure and amazement they get from watching food “appear” after all their work. It does my heart good to watch them eat local, organic produce and get pleasure out of the pure taste of good food. I hope I never have to give up this aspect of my work at LCA.

To Lead, To Drive, To Do

Originally posted on September 20, 2018, by Mith Barnes, Grade 4: math; Grade 7: history; Grade 8: foundations: Grades 8-12: art

Students tend to like solid, concrete, specific answers. Or, more accurately, they like to know, solidly, concretely, and specifically what answers I want from them. They rarely get them, however, and that’s a good thing. Take the Latin verb agere. Our students learn this verb early in their Intro Latin, and it throws them. It throws them because it can mean so many things: to lead, to drive, to do, to plow, to pass time, and a hundred other shaded variations. There is simply not a solid, concrete, specific answer to what the verb means that can be plugged in every time. “But how do we know when it means which thing?” they inevitably complain. That’s the beauty of Latin, though. While it demands meticulous attention to every letter and every syllable, at the same time, it defies specificity precisely because so many words in Latin mean so many things. I tell them they need to look at the rest of the sentence, or even the rest of the passage, to determine what the verb agere is doing in this particular sentence. In other words, students need to look at context to find meaning. They need to infer, interpret, choose the best meaning in this instance, and in every instance. If there’s a better reason to teach Latin (or any foreign language), I can’t think of one.

That idea, though, isn’t just vital for teaching languages. It is very much at the heart of how I approach teaching at LCA. History students, for example, want to know precise definitions for the ‘terms and concepts’ we study each week, or exactly what will be on the next quiz, verbatim if possible. I don’t give them that, because while memorization is useful in some contexts, it doesn’t lead to real understanding of a topic. I don’t want my students to be able to recite, by rote, ‘three factors that led to the Civil War,’ or ‘Florence was important to the Renaissance because A, B, and C.’ That isn’t understanding. Like any set of facts crammed into one’s skull for the current test, those will be lost the moment the test is over.

Don’t get me wrong; facts matter. Facts, as we have perhaps never been more aware, matter a great deal. Study of the Civil War will have no meaning whatsoever if you don’t also know when, where, and by whom it was fought. But that’s not enough. There’s a meme floating around the internet that says “Knowledge is knowing Frankenstein wasn’t the monster. Wisdom is understanding that Frankenstein was the monster.”  It’s one thing to know the details of the plot (or the historical moment), but something else altogether to understand what they mean. Facts alone don’t make understanding.

Students must, as with the elusive agere, look at the context to find meaning. Having knowledge on which to draw is crucial to being able to establish that context, but the facts themselves are not understanding. Rather than telling me just the names and dates of battles, I want them to tell me why this battle was fought, why it mattered to the people who fought it, what was important enough to fight for. It’s nowhere near as easy as memorizing key facts they can drill on Quizlet and then plunk them down like prefab houses onto a quiz (and they don’t fail to remind me of that). It takes thought, it takes interpretation, it even demands they take a stand sometimes. It’s not as easy, but they are much more likely to remember that process and that understanding long after many of those memorized facts have been lost to the next set of data. That is also how they can come out of History class knowing not only something about history, but something about what it means to be human, something about what is important enough to fight for, and maybe even something about themselves.