I like this teacher’s philosophy, which includes wanting “to give his students a vigorous intellectual challenge in a school system that often deprives the most ambitious students of the chance to excel.” (That’s not to say Latin is only for the bright, of course.) I also like the liberal use of movement and games.
By the way, this comes from DDT on line. Wonder if that could be used to kill computer bugs? …. Aaaarrgh.
Hollandale students learn Roman Empire’s language
HOLLANDALE – By most accounts, Latin is dead. A millennium has passed since any country used the language as its native tongue. The Catholic Church stopped requiring priests to conduct Mass in Latin in the 1960s. And while the number of students studying Latin has been growing steadily in recent years, only a fraction of America’s schoolchildren learn the language of the Roman Empire.
To the 10 students in Austin Walker’s Latin class at Hollandale’s Simmons High School, however, the language is very much alive. These young Latin scholars cite a variety of reasons for their interest in a language so many others ignore. But for their teacher, one purpose trumps all others for why Latin is worth learning: the opportunity it provides his students to show off their intelligence.
“That’s what so cool about it,” said Walker, a New Orleans native who started teaching at Simmons last year. “It’s a specific, serious intellectual task that carries with it rewards that everyone has to acknowledge.”
One Tuesday earlier this month, Walker’s Latin students burst into the room and began the work their magister – or teacher – had on the board: declining nouns, conjugating verbs, translating sentences. A hum of work settled in the room as students asked each other for help, then proudly raised their hands to show off their answers to their teacher.
After about 10 minutes of board work, the class gathered in a circle to play a game testing knowledge of the future and imperfect tenses. All students were on alert as the questions bounced around the circle: No one passed a note or tapped out a furtive text message or even stared into space. One student rested his head on his desk briefly but shot back up when it was his turn to play.
The class does not always have this much energy – Walker recalls the cloudy Monday he walked into the room and found his students sluggish and tired.
“I can’t deal with so little interaction when I’m trying to teach something that is so dependent them having their brains engaged,” Walker said.
So he instructed the class to stand up and get in a line. They spent the next 20 minutes marching around the school, practicing their vocabulary words. When they returned to the classroom after their tour of the elementary school, football field and parking lot, they were ready to work.
“I wouldn’t ever want Latin to be considered torture,” Walker said.
Judging from his students’ descriptions of the class, Walker has succeeded in making Latin enjoyable rather than torturous.
“It’s fun,” said Bianca Johnson, who said she wanted to take Latin so she could be familiar with the terms doctors use. “Mr. Walker knows how to explain things so it’s easy to understand.”
Her classmate Kayla Patterson agreed.
“It’s fun,” she echoed. “(Latin) is unique and different. All the other languages were derived from it.”
Walker’s goals for the class extend beyond making Latin enjoyable for his students to study. He wants to give his students a vigorous intellectual challenge in a school system that often deprives the most ambitious students of the chance to excel.
“There are bright students in every district,” Walker said. “In critical needs districts … the ones who are being least served are the brightest because all the resources are being funneled to getting everyone to a minimal level.
“It’s the really, really smart ones who don’t get the chance to show that they’re smart … If you don’t use your brain, how can you make anything of it?”
And several of Walker’s students clearly relish the chance Latin class gives them to demonstrate their smarts.
“It’s a rare case for many schools and people to speak Latin,” said Horace Willis, highlighting the fact that Walker’s is the sole Latin class at Simmons and one of a very small handful in the Delta as a whole.
“I feel good, I feel smart.”
Johnson boasted about the class’ heavy workload.
“If you don’t study, you’re dead in the water,” she said with a proud smile on her face.
Walker hopes his students’ pride in their work will extend beyond the walls of his classroom. He plans for his students to take the National Latin Exam, a test that more than 100,000 classics students across the country take every year in the hopes of earning a prestigious “perfect paper” certificate or a gold or silver medal.
When his students perform well on the National Latin Exam – he says “when,” not “if” – Walker looks forward to presenting them with their medals in front of the entire school, encouraging the kind of admiration usually reserved for athletes who have won a big game.
“It gives the students a chance, if they get an award like this, to receive it in front of the school and to receive everyone’s adulation,” Walker said. “Because far too often it’s just the athletes who get this.”
Though the National Latin Exam, which is administered in March, is still several months off, Walker said he’s already seeing signs that his Latin students are inspiring awe in others not enrolled in the class.
When students in his English and learning strategies classes see Latin words and sentences left on his dry erase boards after Latin class, they ask Walker what they mean.
“I get to tell them it’s Latin and maybe explain a little about it,” Walker said. “It’s like hieroglyphics … I don’t doubt that it impresses other students. Others can see the Latin language. They see how weird and exotic it is. That’s what lends the admiration in my students.”