Thursday, May 31, 2012

Summer Latin Institute - Day 1 minus 11

At a certain point in the summer of 1982, my tummy began to hurt. That's when I realized that I somatize stress in my stomach. The source of my stress? The CUNY Summer Latin Institute. Phonology. Morphology. Syntax. Grammar. Vocabulary. Flash cards. Drills. Daily verb synopses. Daily quizzes! Weekly exams. A lot of pressure for the perfectionistic or pathologically people-pleasing (I tend to think I am more the latter than the former).

Now I am preparing to teach in the 2012 Latin Institute—the fulfillment of a thirty-year dream—and, lo and behold, my tummy is starting to hurt again. And the program hasn't even started yet!

I taught ancient Greek in the CUNY Language Reading Program in 1987, and Latin in 1988 and 2005, and second-year Latin at the University of South Carolina in the fall of 2011. I have always thought that I used pedagogical methods inspired by the CUNY Latin/Greek Institute: emphasis on syntax; daily synopses; daily quizzes; and of course, encouraging students to use flash cards religiously to memorize vocabulary and morphology (endings of noun declensions, verb conjugations, etc).

Now that I am preparing to teach at the Latin Institute, however, I realize there is much more to the Institute methodology than I was ever aware from my experience as a student. The program is team taught, with the students divided into groups for morning drills, based on the previous night's homework. Of course all the groups are reviewing the same homework assignment. More than that, however, they are responding to the same questions about the same nouns, adjectives, verbs, and clauses in each and every sentence. The level of coordination among the faculty members is part of what makes the Institute work the way it does, what makes it seem to the students like some inscrutable combination of Hogwarts and boot camp.

Indeed, there is more to it than a tightly scripted drill process. There is a very specific approach to how questions are asked and how we steer students toward answers that are correct and correctly formulated. It's mechanical, it's robotic, and as inhuman as it may sound, it allows students to attain a level of understanding of the language that I do not think they could obtain in any other classroom in the United States, no matter how skilled the teacher, because much of the benefit of the Institute lies in the group dynamics, not only among students, but among teachers, and between students and teachers.

Of course there are many more secrets to reveal, but just as I am learning not to get mired in a Latin sentence as an Institute teacher, I am striving not to get mired in my blog posts.

More soon...

Note: The opinions expressed in this blog entry are those of the blogger, and do not represent the opinions of the CUNY Latin/Greek Institute, its students, faculty, or administration.