Thursday, March 22, 2018

Times when I Feel like a Failure as a CI Latin Teacher

In writing this blog, my intention has never been to brag about what my students are able to do in my classroom vs. others or to make any folks feel like they are bad teachers (the whole "compare and despair" scenario) on account of what I write here or post on Twitter. My goal has always been to share my successes and what has worked for me in the classroom based upon the concepts of Comprehensible Input with the hopes that others will find success with this too. Allow me an excursus here to discuss those times when I feel like an absolute failure as a Latin teacher...and how i get out of feeling like one:

The National Latin Exam - Last week, a number of my students took the National Latin Exam (NLE). I do not require my students to take the NLE, so it is purely voluntary. Nor do I make it a cornerstone of my curriculum, as I do not prep my students for it. If students want to prep for it, then they can do it on their own. Anyhow, when those students who took the NLE came back to class, the first thing they said to me was "Wow, there was so much grammar on it that I did not know."

I hate hearing students say that about their NLE experience. Even though they took the exam in good faith and understood what to expect, I cannot help at first feel like I somehow failed my students, because I did not teach them explicit grammar. I hate feeling like that, because if you read my post on reasons for rejecting a grammar syllabus, you know my views on the topic. After having a pity party for a bit, I have to remind myself of the following regarding the NLE:
  1. First off, the NLE is a CONTEST (as I have heard Sherwin Little, executive director of the American Classical League, himself say MANY times). It is not a prescribed curriculum, nor is it an accurate indicator of my students' acquisition of Latin.
  2. Secondly, results on the NLE do not demonstrate student proficiency with the language (and was never meant to) but rather student performance. 
So before you write me off as a NLE-basher, I do think that NLE has tremendous value as a contest. Student awards on the NLE are great publicity for one's Latin program, and there is something very communal as a teacher about the NLE, since it is something which most Latin teachers offer to their students. I will say that in my beginning years as a Latin teacher 20 years ago, I lived and died for the NLE. I can remember having my students practice the NLE for the week prior to its administration. We went over it so many times that I felt like I had cracked its code, e.g., "The first question will either be an ablative or accusative of time construction, the relative clause question will probably be either be ___________, the culture question about the Roman hills will either be about the Palatine or Capitoline hills." Over the years, my feelings have changed, and much of it has nothing to do with me becoming a CI teacher.

My students comparing themselves with students at other schools - I hate it when my students sometimes hear from students from other schools what they are learning in traditional textbooks, because they will usually come to me, saying, "How come you haven't taught us cases and things like subjunctives?" My response is always, "I have. You do know cases and subjunctives. You have been reading them and using them, but I just haven't told you about them." Now to me, that is absolutely correct, but to them, it sounds like I am trying to cover my @$$. Undoubtedly, I will question myself, saying "Am I a bad teacher, because I am not teaching my students as I was taught? Do my students think this of me?" Then I remind myself of what my students are able to do that I could NEVER have done when I was learning Latin under a traditional textbook. They are MILES ahead of me where I wa at their stage of learning Latin in terms of reading, writing, speaking, and communicating in Latin itself. Whenever I do a drawing dictation, Freeze Frame activity, or a free write in Latin with my students and I see how easily they are able to accomplish it since these skills are both embedded and supported in a communicative CI curriculum, I always say to them, "You have no idea of just what you are able to accomplish. The majority of college students taking Latin cannot do this. I NEVER did anything like this when I was learning Latin!"

So i write this post to say that all of us at times struggle with feeling inferior as teachers, but that there are so many things which are going right in our classrooms.


  1. I struggle with this daily as Latin I and II are untexted while III and IV finish out Cambridge. I always tell my I and II students about the Latin teacher who told me that it was impossible for my students to write in Latin because he couldn't write in Latin.

    1. I once was the biggest opponent of any type of active Latin (spoken, written, etc.) and was a huge advocate of grammar-translation since that is how I learned Latin, and I excelled in this way of learning. I would venture that most Latin teachers and college professors feel this way too, because since grammar-translation appealed to them, this is the type of student who should take Latin.