Thursday, October 08, 2009

Dead Languages Can Be Fun

It seemed like a good idea at the time. Teaching an evening course. Persuading an administrator that dead languages could be fun.

Then they signed up.

So you’re in Roman matron mode once a week: 3/4 vanilla L. L. Bean, one-fourth New Balance. Your hands wave energetically as you write on the board and optimistically conjugate verbs. The pens seldom work. It’s surreal. One cap off, then the next, then the next. You start lining the dead pens up on the desk. And if you can’t write on the board, everything is lost, because a dead language is all in the spelling.

Adult education is different from real school. The community education crowd is diverse. They’re not motivated by grades. There are no grades. Some want to learn language, others admit they just want to “dabble,” and several really enjoy the wild derivative improv. Okay, half haven’t done their homework. Everybody is there for a different reason. And you have to make them want to study or entertain them (not your forte), because they’re there on a voluntary basis - and it’s only once a week.

“That’s fine. Just say ‘Pass’ if you don’t want to answer,“ you say glibly.

It’s like - since you’ve moved back to the Midwest - nobody does any work. Is this possible? You tutored this subject once, and the father seemed to think all could be done in a one-hour session, with the kid doing no work between tutorials.

These are adults, thank God. But what do you do when they swing in and announce they haven’t cracked a book since last week? You GUESS it’s all right.

For a good time, try to explain to a stunned student that, yes, ora can mean “pray!” (imperative singular of oro), “border or boundary” (nominative singular of ora), and “mouths” (nominative or accusative plural of os). Now you understand you don’t WANT to explain this. It came up - in passing.

Have you ever noticed that the less prepared the students are, the more they want to kill time?

Now some of these students are very diligent. You thought you had slowed down enough for everyone, but the concepts of subject-verb-direct object-indirect object-adverbial are completely new to two or three - so you've had to mix everything up. You’ll go in next week and cunningly review two cases - yet also correct homework using all five cases - and imperceptibly move on and introduce a new declension for the others. One- room-schoolhouse, here we come - WILL everyone be caught up next week? - but Laura Ingalls Wilder and Bess Streeter Aldrich, did you have this situation?

They seem to have a nice time and you honestly like them, but it’s clear that your own subject isn’t enough for all of them.

You wish you didn’t find etymology so boring.

They’re just such a nice group.

What do you think? Crossword puzzles maybe? You are now for the first time understanding what a very laid-back teacher friend once said years ago - “We don’t actually care if they learn, do we?”

Well, you sort of do!


Vintage Reading said...

Good luck with that! I taught an evening class many years ago and that 7.00-9.30 slot was a killer - I used to get so tired. Lovely students though. I think the odd moments you get when you make a breakthrough or really connect with the class make it worthwhile.

Mad Housewife said...

Luck is what I need!

Ellen said...

Dear Kath,

Home again and read your letter and now blog. Isabel is not in an adult education class: she's in a regular course, advanced, which non-degree students are permitted to take. She gets credits as do everyone, some towards the BA, some for a Masters and some "just as credits." There are a couple of teachers improving their accreditation.

At any rate, you can see they take the subject seriously and all do the work more or less. There's a midterm, final exam and final grade.

It's a shame -- for even if the people are nice and there for social experience, it's throwing away the time, for you are there to teach your subject not conduct a gossip class. Wheelock is actually very easy too, learning by language reading while it cannot substitute for memorization and study, fun to do.

I've no advice, but do what comes natural to you to do or what you'll be most comfortable doing. I'd be uncomfortable not having enough to cover the time even if I'm being burdened that way. For I'm conscientious and could not be happy in a class unless I was really conveying my subject.


Mad Housewife said...

This is a community education class, taken just for "fun," offered among a ragtag collection of other classes including painting with chocolate, yoga, "journaling," china painting, Spanish, and Reiki. No credit. Just adult ed. So you see my dilemma.

It's great that they're taking it. It's difficult to make the teaching compromises. I have to come up with activities that are basically quizzes but disguised. It's the blasted Montessori method! :)