Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Guest Blog Post: Community

Our friend and colleague Keith Toda is gracing our blog today with his thoughts on community as it concerns Latin teachers--specifically Latin teachers who use spoken Latin in our classes.  I am excited to share this with you and the only alterations I have made is to link a few sites to certain words for clarification.


A few weeks ago, on Evan's last night with me in Atlanta, I asked him where he would like to go for dinner. His response: wherever you and other Latin speakers go to eat and to hang out speaking Latin. My response: Umm...I don't know of a place like that, because we Latin speakers in Atlanta do not get together to do this (at least, not that I know of). In fact, I admitted to him that when he, Miriam, Rachel and I were conversing in Latin the night before, that was actually the first time since Rusticatio 2011 where I had actually spoken Latin in a conversation (so roughly 6 months). He was actually quite shocked and kept prodding me that I needed to do something about it and that I should organize a regular Latin conversation night of some kind. Honestly, I wanted to ask him why he was taking such an interest in something like this, but I ended up changing the conversation very quickly because I felt like I was being grilled.
It was not until after Evan left and as I began to process everything from that weekend that I understood what he was trying to tell me: how do you expect to improve your own Latin speaking skills if you do not have a community which will help you to achieve this? How will others do the same? And how can you introduce newcomers to speaking Latin if there is no true Latin speaking community in your area? 
I understand how correct he is in this, but the reality is that life in general does not always allow for this, as we all have our own commitments (job, family, personal). But Evan is right, and the keyword is community; what we do not need is a Latin-speaking group but a Latin speaking community: a group of Latin speakers simply converses, but a community of Latin speakers is interested in the improvement of others' abilities and is committed to working towards that end for each other. In a group, a speaker is simply a participant, but in a community, a person is a member. In a group, speakers focus only on themselves, but in a community, people are interested in ever expanding the boundaries to include new members.
In many ways, we as teachers strive to create a community in our classrooms. And in a world language classroom, I think that this is vitally important for us to create an environment where students feel safe and that they are a valued part of the whole. Trust needs to be established, as we are asking them to learn and then to produce a skill, and if students are not on board with what we are doing, then it is all for naught. We must do everything we can to lower their affective filters by creating a safety net environment. I love Nancy Llewellyn's opening Rusticatio talk where, holding a small circular bathmat, she tells participants, "See this spot?" and then throwing it on the floor, she says,  "I will never put you on it. Let me put myself on it." I love Evan's techniques slowly, say it again, three times, pull me through, mumble, etc. because they add to the safety net environment by allowing students to tell you, the teacher, that they are not understanding something in a totally non-threatening way. One of the mantras which I always tell my students is that "If you are not understanding something which I am saying in Latin, then that is my fault, not yours."
Right now, the model which we have set up for the classroom is a teacher-student modality, but what would a classroom community look like if it also included student-student, where students were helping (and even teaching!) each other based on the same kind of communal understanding? One of my goals for this summer is to think about how to achieve this.
Anyhow, yesterday I took Evan's advice and hosted a Prandium Latinum at my house. Six Latin teachers from my district showed up, and quite honestly, more wanted to attend but had other commitments due to the holiday weekend. I really had a good time, and what I liked most was simply enjoying each other's company purely Latine. All of us (except one) are Rusticatio alumns, so I think that we all had been craving Latin conversation of some kind (speaking Latin to students in a classroom as a teacher is NOT the same at all as conversing in Latin). In fact, we are already planning our next gathering for March and hopefully, this will become a monthly meetup and more folks will attend.
Right now, we are group of Latin speakers; as time progresses, I would like to see this group develop into a community of Latin speakers, and I think that we are on the right track.

Shortly after I finished editing this post, Miriam posted about her own classroom community!