Feb 11 2010

Teaching Isn’t So Bad After All

Latin class has been pretty fun so far.  The class isn’t very big, but that’s probably not a bad thing.  We’ve only covered punctuation and the first lesson on the first declension, so it’s not too late for more people to get in on it if they want to.

I’m surprised by how much I enjoy teaching.  It’s even got me thinking I might want to expand into teaching other skills, like programming or webmaster work.  I always thought I’d hate teaching because I hate getting up and talking in front of people.  I’m sure I would hate the lecture-hall kind of teaching, but this isn’t like that.  It’s more like a lab setting or a conversation, with a lot of feedback, so it doesn’t feel like giving a speech at all.  I’m still a little nervous about it, but that’s because these people are trusting me to know what the heck I’m doing, and I don’t want to let them down.  And I don’t have the subject down cold 100% myself, so that’s a bit nervous-making too.

Whiteboards are really cool.  I scribble a lot of examples up there while I explain things, so I have to erase a lot to make room for the next thing.  Our whiteboard is probably 6′ x 4′ or so, and I probably cover it a few times during the course of a class.  Someday when I build my own office, at least one entire wall will be whiteboard, so I’ve got plenty of room to sketch things out.

Another surprise has been how easy it is to tell when someone “gets it.”  People just don’t stick their hands up and say, “Could you repeat that whole thing, because I didn’t get that at all.”  They generally look back and forth between the board and their book, or stare at the board looking slightly puzzled, trying to figure it out.  Then when they get it and it falls into place, their face kind of relaxes, and they might even nod a little.  So all I have to do is keep explaining things in different ways, trying to find a way that makes sense to them, until they’re all relaxed and nodding.  Simple, eh?

It occurred to me during the last class that learning a language (at least a heavily inflected one like Latin) is kind of like doing a jigsaw puzzle without the picture on the box.  You have to start with the corner pieces, then the edges, and continue working toward the middle.  Every piece gives you the foundation for the next piece.  Eventually the big picture comes into focus; but when you start, you don’t know whether the blue pieces are sky or water—you just know they go together, and you’ll see why later.

Learning Latin is like that: you don’t know why you have to learn this chart of endings or memorize two forms for each noun, but later it’ll make sense.  You have to start with one piece and get it right, without understanding how it will fit into the final picture.  Sometimes I pretty much have to say, “Just go with me on this, and I promise there’s a reason for it and it’ll make sense someday.”  I just have to keep them interested for a few more weeks until they can see some of those pieces fitting together.

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