From French Girl to Latin Girl

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In high school, college, and my minimal number of years in “the real world,” I was always that girl who knows French. People who knew this fun fact, or heard that I had lived in France, would say something in French and ask me to translate, or ask me to say something French — as a test?

Now, I am Latin girl. People ask me to say something Latin, or they give me something in Latin to translate. Speaking French is no longer the most salient Fact About Me; what comes up first is Latin teacher.

I’m loving it. There’s a whole other side of me that’s been dusted off and put on, slipped over the French and the teacher and the studied-abroad. It’s the writerly, grammarly, linguistic-y side of me…back again. It’s mixed with odd echoes of my middle school self, enthusiastically chanting the declensions with my teacher and competing with my best friend over who could finish the most homework the fastest (we definitely failed the tests).

Here’s the thing that speaks-French me and reads-Latin me have in common: we love words, we love writing, and we love teaching. We love exploring different cultures through arts and literature, learning the histories, lesson planning, and spending time with kids. We get so nerdy-excited about language. Like, I bought a book on the history of sentence diagrams. I’m reading a scholarly article on classification of words into groups other than the traditional parts of speech. I’m back at school (again and again) and absolutely thrilled about it.

I’m also planning and organizing furiously, trying to get ready for the school year, but knowing that it’s a pipe dream, and instead I should adopt a carpe diem approach – seize each day, each lesson, each teachable moment as it comes. I’m confident that I will learn as much as my students this year, and that is exciting.

So really, French girl and Latin girl aren’t very different. Both feel like me.

From French Girl to Latin Girl

Optimization

That title actually made me think of something completely different than what I’m going to write about. Or is it different? One of the Roman emperors, in legitimizing his supreme authority, called himself “Optimus Augustus,” which basically means the BEST Augustus of all the Augustuses (“Augustus” being a title of a Roman emperor in the late Empire).

Why do I know this, you wonder? I’ve been taking Ancient Roman History this summer for funzies, and also for my new job as Latin teacher (which starts Monday!). I just finished up that class and another which I was teaching, and I’m officially on summer vacation….for two more days.

Anyway, the best of the best Augustuses, Optimus Augustus, relates to my post because I was going to write about this interesting tendency I’ve noticed in myself: the need to optimize.

I guess it’s both a larger societal trend and a pervasive social and cultural pressure in our nation of individualistic entrepreneurs. I mean, we are constantly under pressure to compete for the coolest “Insta”posts, the best vacations, the hottest body, the best job…you name it, we want to optimize it. I guess I knew this, but I’ve been realizing that I also do it in my head, to myself. I want to be a better person, a better teacher, set new goals and challenges for myself, succeed in new and different ways. I think this drive is super important for my future success. And yet…

Sometimes, I think there should be more said for accepting people, places, and things for what they are. The problem with wanting to improve everything is that the already-great things don’t get enough appreciation or credit for how great they are. I don’t get to enjoy the small moments of gratitude for what I have, if I’m focused on where I’m going next. I don’t get to appreciate what’s in my life for what it is, if I’m thinking of how it could be better.

Furthermore, who’s to say that there will ever be an Optima Anne, the best of the best, with the best life and the best people in it. I don’t even like to think that there’s an end to self-betterment, because that makes it a linear, rigid process. With that mentality, I guess I won’t be the best until I’m nearly dead…

So in the meantime, here’s to celebrating all of the journey – meaningful or not, pleasant or not, optimal or not. It’s all worth learning.

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Optimization

Looking Forward

10 Things I learned as an assistant teacher in bilingual kindergarten

  1. Expect the unexpected. It’s a cliché that very much applies in a classroom of 5 year olds. This week, one of my students came in from recess with her shoes tied together. Another recounted the tale of the rat skeleton his family found in the attic. You never know what’s coming…
  2. In kindergarten, kids contemplate the big questions (“Anne, how long will I live?”). I’ve heard them discuss gender and sexuality, marriage, politics, religion, and the weather. They make complicated things simple in the most beautiful way.
  3. Don’t wear white to school. Clothing must be fingerpaint -, cleaning product – , and snotty hand – proof.
  4. “Sit down and raise your hand” must be rule number one. Otherwise, I am accosted by small bodies with loud voices, all with the expectation that they are my first priority. If I could have more hands and another brain, please, that would help.
  5. In my class, there are children raised by the rules of one culture, of another culture, of a mix of cultures. There is an actual difference between children raised strictly in French and children raised strictly in American. Neither makes a perfect child (but they are perfect to me).
  6. Play. The best class is full of humor, and nothing motivates or pleases children of any background like games.
  7. Read. Books are the most important thing to child-brains. When I have kids, words will be magic and stories will be magic come to life.
  8. Smile. There is no better way into a child’s heart. Except perhaps candy, or showing animated films (such as these).
  9. I have made unparalleled use of my multi-tasking abilities. I can simultaneously pour paint, help someone spell a word without giving the answer, prep snack, clean countertops, and empathize with a child who’s hurting from a bobo.
  10. People who teach kindergarten are straight-up superheroes. The creativity, the energy, the organization, the patience, the people skills…I can’t think of another job I’ll ever have which requires the same level of each all at once. I will miss it.

Why will I miss it, you ask? I have a new job for next year. It may require very similar skills. It may be just as challenging, and will hopefully be just as rewarding. It’s an almost total change of gears.

I’m going back to my second home, my alma mater, to teach upper and middle school Latin. I couldn’t be more excited. I’ll be following in the footsteps of one of my favorite mentors and teachers, I’ll be in charge of my own subject, I’ll still be teaching language, and we’ll have a lot of fun bringing a dead language to life.

Au revoir aux enfants, and salvete discipuli!

As the sun sets on this chapter, I’ll be climbing new mountains.

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P.S. Seattle is beautiful.

Looking Forward

Playing Teacher

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There’s what “playing teacher” used to look like.

I guess now I’ve been a real “teacher” for two years: first of French high schoolers, then of some rambunctious bilingual kindergarteners. Although those experiences were entirely different, one thing remained the same: I feel like a teacher who still thinks she’s a student.

This week, my head teacher left for a teacher training in California, and I was the head teacher for three days. I was nervous about it, having never been responsible for the learning of a class of kindergarteners. I shouldn’t have been; everything was prepared for me, and the only real work of a teacher I had to do was being present, engaged, and organized enough to lead the class through the days and hope they learned something.

Turns out, being present, engaged, and organized takes a lot out of me. It’s hard to describe teacher fatigue. I’ve tried in other posts, but the only real way to empathize is to be there. The little expectant faces, the way they all scream “ANNE! ANNE! ANNE!” at me until I acknowledge them, even if I’m talking to someone else…the way they bring me cookies and watch me until I eat them, the way they glow when I praise their work, the joy I feel when I see them mastering something new, and the patience it takes to explain something five times and five different ways, all while being pulled and tugged and poked and otherwise distracted…it really is a job in its own category.

In high school it was obviously not the same — they stayed at their desks, they didn’t yell out in class…they didn’t talk much at all. Responding in English class was probably social suicide. But there were similar moments of inspiration and learning — when I decided to teach them about country music and they all started singing along, for example… when I taught them philosophy and I saw the scrunchy puzzled face turn into a comprehending smile.

Regardless of the context, I still feel like I’m playing teacher. I’m too young, I’m too inexperienced, I haven’t encountered enough situations to know how to handle them all, I don’t have enough education, I don’t have any natural authority: all of these are things I’ve thought to myself in the past two years, over and over again.

I realized, this week, that teaching isn’t really about any of those things. It helps to have experience, which comes with age and encountering situations, and it helps to have education and natural authority. But most of being a teacher is about being present, engaged, and organized enough to  lead a class through a day, or a period, and hope that they’ve learned something.

I just found this perfect quote:

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I want to become an educator, and the only way to learn how is by playing at it. Sometimes, I’ll get things right.

Playing Teacher

On Kindergarten

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How I feel at school is analogous to how I feel in life. I’m a barely-adult. Sometimes I feel like I’m underemployed; my immense skills and talents gained from world traveling and an education from a prestigious university are wasting away, unused [in a fit of eyeroll-worthy pretention].

Other times, I end up sobbing in Mommy’s backyard, locked out and overflowing with self-pity, and life is just so hard. Those are the moments I want to be a kindergartener, not teach them.

I’d die to have someone pick the seeds out of my orange slices. I want someone else to receive an e-mail saying I need to bring a potato and a leek to school tomorrow, to put those vegetables in my backpack without letting me know I had that responsibility. I’d love to ask an all-knowing all-powerful adult to validate my drama, and to make my friends apologize for hurting my feelings. I’d happily burst into tears and jump into some strong person’s arms when I’m tired, or frustrated, or I just can’t go on.

I want it to be okay that I’m young, and I’m learning, but I can’t do what the older kids can do yet. I want someone wise to remind me of that undeniable truth: that we are always learning and never perfect, and if you’re perfect what’s there to learn?   

But something happens when you’re in the repeat-childhood that is your 20s — you get to be “independent.” I became my own wise adult. Not only that, but I get to be the wise adult for my little almost-students, who are totally dependent. I have a wise adult voice, a wise adult air of confidence. My wise adult self makes sure they wash their hands with soap and teaches them it’s L M N O P and not ello-meno-pee so maybe they can read someday. 

But inside I know the truth: I am not a wise adult. Sometimes I can’t remember to bring my own potato and leek, and I can’t find the words to validate my own drama or make my friends apologize to me for hurting my feelings. All that feels like my fault and my shortcoming, because now it’s my responsibility.

Maybe the illusion that barely-adulthood is shattering is that wise adults “know what they’re doing.” Maybe they’re all just doing what they can, and that’s either enough…or not, sometimes. 

Or the true illusion is independence. Maybe I am only slogging through “becoming wise” because I know there are people behind me who would tie my shoes and help me zip my coat, if my fingers were numb or I didn’t know how.

Maybe we’re all still kindergarteners, inside, and we still need each other. 

On Kindergarten

Chatting with Children

I used to think that the most interesting minds were adult ones. More experiences + more language = more valuable things to say, right?

I was wrong.

The antidote to a frustrating day with the class is to also have lots of positive moments. (Unless the day ends badly, from which one can never recover. Never.) Overall, it’s mathematically neutral…but spiritually, I think the positive interactions lift the soul more than the momentary frustrations bring it down.

At lunchtime, I walk around and sit at each table for a few minutes. Upon my arrival at a table, all goes quiet…I’m scrutinized by searching child eyes. Did we do something wrong? Does someone need food opened? Is it time to clean up? Why is she here? 

When it’s decided that I’m not a threat, I become the center of attention. “Why are you looking at us?” “Were you ever a baby?” “Can you open this?” “Do you have kids?” “How old are you?” “Do you have a cat?” “When is it recess time?” (Because, yes, maybe, no, 23, yes, soon)

Someone kicks a chair, and I exclaim, “Apologize to Madame Chaise! She doesn’t like being kicked.” The room dissolves into giggles. “Why are you being so silly, Anne?” says the child.

“I know I’m a little bit sick, Anne…I have a lot of bless-yous.”

“Anne, he called my food gross!” “Apologize to her food please! You hurt its feelings.” [cue giggles]

“Anne!! Anne!! I can’t find my water bottle!” “It’s under your arm, silly!” [giggles]

I may not be convincing you that my time in the classroom is so interesting by means of these mundane little snippets. But, what I am quickly learning is that there is nothing mundane about kids. The mundane is not even mundane. The garbage truck is the biggest event of the afternoon. The fire drill once a month is traumatic. Creating 6 identical plastic egg characters is the funnest thing they’ve done all day. Cutting paper in zig-zags is summiting Mt. Everest.

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They are full of joy and imagination. I probably won’t ever forget the first self-portrait lesson, where one little guy looked up at me with a face of pure glee, held out his drawing, and whispered “I love it!”

Do you remember when you couldn’t read or write? I can’t. For all I know, I popped out with perfect handwriting, able to read all of Nancy Drew in a week. It’s fascinating to go back to K, where they learn the alphabet, and how to count to 20, and see how I learned it. And we don’t just teach that…we teach behavior. Respect. Listening. Self-regulation. Self-discipline. Self-expression. All of the fundamental parts of a person are there for the cultivating.

It just kills me when people don’t think of children as people. They are all of us…uncensored. Talk to them, you’ll see.

Chatting with Children

Working it Out

“If a doctor, lawyer, or dentist had 40 people in his office at one time, all of whom had different needs, and some of whom didn’t want to be there and were causing trouble, and the doctor, lawyer, or dentist, without assistance, had to treat them all with professional excellence for nine months, then he might have some conception of the classroom teacher’s job.” – Donald D. Quinn

I’ve only taught my “patients” for 12 days, and I already feel the truth of this quote. Teachers have always been superheroes for me, given my mom’s legacy, and they are perhaps even more so now. I would be honored to become one of them.

For now, thank goodness I’m only an assistant. I get to do some fun low-key English and French teaching, hang out with the children all day, butter and jam some baguettes, and clean/organize/wrangle. If I added planning, preparing materials, communicating with parents, and meetings on top of that…I’d be my mother! And I am definitively not ready for that yet.

The best way to learn is to do, though! And I have been doing all I can find to do.

Anyway, the added complication of the classroom is also one of my favorite things about it: diversity! We had parent info night last night: out of nineteen children, there were parents from at least 8 different countries, who speak ~7 different languages. And that was only one of the 7 classrooms at our level! It felt like I was abroad again, in that expat group I love so well, except these parents ex-patted to the U.S.A.

Basically, I want their lives.

But, envy aside, I was inspired. I was standing at the front of the room helping explain some of the rhythms of the classroom to the parents and I realized how much I already care about their kids. There’s a whole lot of teamwork going into their upbringing: parents, teachers, and teaching assistants. And I am soo happy to be on their team.

And it also made me think about my own future, and how I think my destiny is to leave the country again. Grad school 2017, here I come!

Working it Out