By Claire Seidler, VI Form
This past semester I began as a Teaching Assistant for Dr. Harwood’s Latin II Class. I am interested in both Classics and teaching, so this independent study seemed perfect for me. As this semester has gone by, however, I have found that this independent study is more challenging than I had thought.
Teachers are under constant criticism from their students. It was easy when I was the critic, but I have found a deeper appreciation for teachers having gone through it myself. Since I am only a few years older than the students, I had to prove that I knew what I was talking about and earn their respect. I had to prepare myself for classes and take notes so that I would know what to say for the next class. I have made quizzes, review sheets, and games for the students. Some of these were successful and some were not, but every time I made an assignment I learned from the student feedback and then I tried to improve on the next one.
This year Latin II has become a class both focused on learning grammar through reading Latin in groups and on learning about Roman culture and history through group projects. These projects have included inscription writing, sentence mapping, and posters with a focus on a certain god or goddess. Latin II’s latest project was to build Ancient Rome with sheets, tape, styrofoam, and some wooden blocks. The 16 of them were split into four groups and each group had to focus on a specific detail of the city: the seven hills of Rome, rivers and roads, the Roman Forum, and major temples and public spaces. At first, this project seemed easy. Each group could focus on their own subject with little interaction with the other groups. We soon learned how wrong this was.
This is where Latin II met their first challenge–what came first: rivers and roads or hills? This was something they actually struggled with for a good portion of a double period. Both the ‘Rivers and Roads’ and the ‘Seven Hills’ groups wanted their subject to come first in the building. I watched as certain students came out as leaders, advocating for their groups and making good arguments for each side. Though Dr. Harwood and I tried to let Latin II do most of the project alone, it was a small question from Dr. Harwood that helped the students finally choose what would come first. ‘What literally came first in Rome?’ It was a simple question with a simple answer (hills). Thus, they decided to start with the hills, just as the Romans would have. I learned from this seemingly trivial debate that it is important to let students figure out what they’re doing for themselves. If they do need help, however, they should be guided instead of explicitly told what the answer is. Being a student myself, I know how infuriating it can be when a teacher won’t simply answer a question outright, but having been a part of it I can now understand why they do it. When a student has to think of an answer his/herself, he/she is more likely to remember it. This is both because the student comes to a conclusion in a way that he/she understands and because he/she values the answer more because he/she came up with it.
As the project went on, I was surprised to see the students rise out of their comfort zones and get involved with the project. They got excited making the perfect hills out of sheets and cardboard and furiously debating where the roads should go. In the end, they did it. They built an 8×10 foot Rome in a double period.
Claire Seidler, a VI Former, is from Worcester, MA, and she will be attending Smith College next year. Her academic interests include Latin, Greek, and studio art.