Wednesday, December 2, 2015

What Do I Want To Know?

What do you see in these pictures?  Do you see school projects that are too simple for today's world that seeks to develop critical thinking skills?  Do you see evidence of teaching methods that are outdated?  Are you inspired or left flat?


I see something rather more, and yes, I am inspired.  My first year Latin students keep a section in their notebooks titled QNC, which stands for Quod Noscere Cupio, or What I Want To Learn.  Most days they have the opportunity to jot down something that they would like to know based on what we have discussed in class.  At different times throughout the semester they will present one of their questions to the class, including a discussion of what inspired the question and the answer or answers they have discovered on their own.

"Okay," you say.  "That's great for helping students take ownership of their own learning, but, um, posters?  Why not something a little more tech savvy and hip for the 21st century?"

I can't display a PowerPoint in the hallway and I want other students, non-Latin students, to see what my students are thinking about and discussing.  I want them to be intrigued by the diversity of topics.  Look at those pictures again.  There is considerable variety displayed, including questions that I would not have thought to ask.  Yes, I know that not everything is grammatically correct or spelled correctly even in the English.  Some of my students are not native English speakers, so I can live with that.  What is important is that my students develop the belief that Room A526 is a place to ask questions and explore big ideas.

That belief begins in Latin I and finds some of its best expression in Latin IV, our A.P. class.  Recently one of my students asked a highly perceptive question about one of the characters in Vergil's Aeneid.  He asked why Mercury could appear in full divinity to Aeneas in Book IV, but Venus had disguised herself for a similar appearance in Book I.  Another student chimed in that Iris, another divine messenger like Mercury, had appeared undisguised to Turnus in Book IX, a fact she recalled from her own research for a presentation she had given in our class a few weeks before.  She wondered whether the lack of disguise were a feature common to divine messengers.

I ended up posting the question and the direction of our class discussion on Facebook, tagging Latin colleagues and Classicists from universities around the country.  The comments exploded as scholars began discussing the matter, and when the academic frenzy had abated, I printed out the entire FB discussion, three pages, and took it to my students for further exploration, pointing out that none of it would have taken place had they not asked the questions they did.

It's true that our QNC projects in Latin I are a bit simple.  They may even be old fashioned with regard to their presentation.  Yet they help develop a culture of inquisitiveness that is vital to our exploration of matters that matter in the philosophy, history, and poetry of the Romans.  If a simple first-year poster will lead a student to ask a probing question in his study of Vergil, I am more than pleased.

Monday, November 16, 2015

A Life Well Spent

Marcus Tullius Cicero, 106-43 B.C.

One translation of Cicero's essay De Senectute, which literally means "On Old Age," has the title On A Life Well Spent.  I recently had the opportunity to bring Cicero to life through re-enactment and in so doing to explore some of the depths of this statesman, philosopher, and orator.

I first came to appreciate Cicero in my third-year high school Latin class.  I admired his oratorical pyrotechnics, and when I was pursuing my M.A. in Classics, I focused on his execution of the Catilinarian conspirators in 63 B.C.

I am always seeking ways to reduce the gap of two millennia and half a world that separates students from the cultures of ancient Greece and Rome.  One way I have done that is through re-enactment.  I present multiple personas from the Classical world, about which you can read more at  One of these personas is Cicero, and I was glad for the recent opportunity to bring this important figure to life for students at the Illinois Junior Classical League convention in Pekin, Illinois.  My own former teacher and now dear friend and colleague Marcene Farley had invited me, and it was great fun.

During this half-hour presentation, Cicero rises from the table where is writing his memoirs in Brundisium in 43 B.C. and begins musing about his life.  He reflects on growing up in Rome after being born on his grandfather's farm in Arpinum and what it was like to begin his career in the dictatorship of Sulla.  He goes on to talk about his consulship, his family, and the dark times that brought about the end of the Republic.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Cicero, Springsteen, and Common Grace

Expectant mother Amanda Blackburn was murdered at 8:30 a.m. on Tuesday, November 10, as she protected her infant son from a violent home invader.  Her husband, Pastor Davey Blackburn, has released a beautiful statement.  The Indianapolis Star has details of the crime.

This is but one more instance of senseless violence.  One.  More.  Instance.

The Roman orator Cicero closed one of his earliest speeches with these words:

Nam cum omnibus horis aliquid atrociter fieri videmus aut audimus, etiam qui natura mitissimi sumus adsiduitate molestiarum sensum omnem humanitiatis ex animis amittimus.  (Pro Roscio, 154)

"For when at every hour we see or hear some atrocity taking place, even those of us who are by nature most gentle, by growing accustomed to the violence, lose all sense of humanity from our souls."

Yet today in this city that wakes up to the news of one more mother killed, one more unborn baby murdered, we will go about our business.  I will teach my classes.  Baristas will serve coffee.  Doctors will heal, officers will help, and lawn care crews will rid homes of unwanted fall leaves.

How is this possible?

Bruce Springsteen once wondered the same thing in song.  After he recounts various mundane tragedies in the verses, he sings in the chorus, "Struck me kinda funny.  Seems kinda funny, sir, to me.  At the end of every hard earned day people find some reason to believe."

How is this possible?

Some of the students at our school, one of the largest public high schools in Indiana, have faced horrors no one, certainly no child, should ever face.  These pictures and words from our English Language Learners currently on display tell part of their story.

How is this possible?  How can these children survive such atrocities and not, as Cicero had it, lose all sense of humanity from their souls?  Sadly, some do lose their humanity, but most do not.  Most, in Springsteen's words, find some reason to believe and to carry on.

I am reminded of the words of Jesus in Matthew 5:45.  "For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust."  (ESV)  There is a common grace that allows us to endure.  It gives us a reason to believe and, for those who would "rage against the dying of the light" and would not lose all sense of humanity from their souls, to keep going.

As these thoughts were running through my mind while I walked the halls before the start of school, I was reminded of how important it is that I love my students well.  I must provide an environment for grace to flourish.  I do this in part by treating my students with respect, by enjoying them and the things they do, and by creating a positive atmosphere in my class.  I also do it by striving along with them to achieve the greatest rigor in our subject.  We work hard because our subject matters and they matter.  We correct mistakes.  We do not flinch from academic difficulties.  We conduct class this way because to do other would be to cheapen the experience and to say that they are not worthy of the best in human endeavor.  This would truly be a loss of humanity, and it is something grace will not allow.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

The Shoulders of Education Leadership

A dear friend of mine, Kate Smith, who is an award-winning principal in Australia uses the expression "shoulder-to-shoulder teaching."  (Before you continue reading, follow her on Twitter @edukate_S.)  She describes going into teachers' classrooms and working with them, teaching alongside them, shoulder-to-shoulder.

Another friend of mine, 2015 Indiana Teacher of the Year Kathy Nimmer, (again, follow her on Twitter @Kathy_Nimmer) once told me about monthly summits in her district in which she meets with central office leaders to share experiences and what she is learning as she travels our state.  It is a time in which everyone benefits, and she is valued.

And then there was the experience I had recently with my post-evaluation conference.  The person who evaluates me is my department chair, Traci Rodgers (again, you know the drill, follow her @tracirodgers).  We quickly moved from talking about the evaluation to discussing the implications of some data I had requested about changes in the demographics of our school and school district.  We talked about work our department had done a few years ago in this area, how our student profile has changed in the intervening years, and what some of the implications could be.  And as we talked about numbers, we began to talk about people.  We talked about actual students and families.  We speculated.  We mused.  We pondered.

When she left, we acknowledged that we had come up with no solution to any problem, no means of handling any certain challenge.  Yet we had done one of the most important things two human beings can do.  We had thought together.  No, you did misread that last sentence.  I did write that we had taught together, although we are indeed colleagues in the best sense of that word.  We had thought together, and that supreme and supremely human act can only take place when egos and agendas are set aside and two people walk shoulder-to-shoulder looking in the same direction toward what can be.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Self-Indulgent Rock 'n' Roll Post

October just got away from me.  Speaking engagements and teaching and podcasting and parenting and just got away from me, so there were no posts in October.

And how do I usher in the month of November?  A sizzling piece on edu policy or theory?  Nope.  This rock 'n' roller at heart needs a bit of a fun break.  I promise, though, that education posts will return.

In October the metal band Stryper released their eleventh studio album since blasting onto the scene in 1984.  I have been a fan the whole time and am writing this review just so I can be part of the historical moment that is the re-birth of classic metal.  Stryper’s album Fallen proves what talented musicians can do who stay true to their roots, care about their fans, and have enough creativity not to live on the glory days but to create new ones in keeping with the times.

The opening track, “Yahweh,” begins like no other Stryper song.  It starts with an acapella choir sound that turns into a thundering, sonic guitar attack as Michael Sweet begins the story of Christ’s crucifixion.  It is an epic story, and the music stands up to it.  The entire album has a ten-foot deep, concrete foundation made out of Robert Sweet’s pounding drums and Tim Gaines’s aggressive bass.  On this track they combine to lend the perfect tone to this tale.  And let’s be serious.  If you are going to open your album with this story and a sound this big, the audience knows it is going to be a killer album in whole.

From there we get the title track, and one cannot help thinking of the epic poem Paradise Lost as we get the story of Satan’s fall from glory told in traditional Stryper guitar attack style.  Michael’s high scream opens the tale and resurfaces in the chorus, which always has me reaching for the volume to turn it up.

“Pride,” for which the band released their first official video, picks up the dark, heavy sound from “Yahweh” for the third track, and again we have the pounding rhythm section to open.  We are treated to a beautiful melody that morphs into a gritty scream during the chorus, and those who have never heard Michael Sweet simply accept his powerful vocals, but those of us who have heard him for three decades stand in awe at how he has continued to grow.

“Big Screen Lies” is a fun tune with another aggressive, rhythmic opening.  It talks of how Christianity is portrayed in popular media, something the boys in Stryper know a little about.  It has that in-your-face, “We’re Not Gonna Take It” it feel of “Loud ‘n’ Clear” off their debut album.  The chorus features thundering guitars, and the song ends with a gritty, greasy, snarling vocal.

The next track, “Heaven,” would have been at home on the Sweet & Lynch album Only To Rise.   This is another song of rebellion against what others think is the way to go.  Michael has strong, soaring vocals without going into the stratosphere.  It is again an in-your-face lyric.

“Love You Like I Do” almost has a Whitesnake feel in the very opening.  It is a call-and-response song that could be seen as a lyric between a man and a woman, but is more likely, and more reasonably, a lyric between God and His creation.  I could not help thinking of Oz Fox’s wife, Annie Lobert, in this one, as she leads the fight against sexual exploitation of women.  No one will ever see us as God sees us, certainly not those who see us only as means to an end.  And speaking of Oz, his guitar work has been killer on ever track, and the guitar solo on this song begs to be seen live in concert.

“All Over Again,” for which the band and their wives have released the album's second official video, is a country-rock ballad and may be the best of their career.  Let’s face it.  A fair portion of their fan base is of a maturing age.  This lyric hits home.  It is not a rose-colored glass view of the past, but one that can honestly say that with the good and the bad, we would not change a thing, but would do it all over again.  It is a big sound, worthy of the cowboy rocker of the ‘80s and perfectly suited for today.

“After Forever” was the track a lot of people were eager to hear.  It is a cover of Black Sabbath and, despite that this may get me negative comments, I will go on record as saying the cover is better.  It is sharp, clean, and aggressive.  It is a perfect fit for Stryper, and the boys carry it off perfectly.

The next song, “Till I Get What I Need,” is a fast, blistering number that seems directly born from Michael’s autobiography Honestly.  It has the classic Stryper guitar sound that would have been at home in the ‘80s, yet sounds in no way dated.

I’m not sure what it is, but I often like the last two or three tracks of an album the best.  Time and again for a variety of artists, these seem the heaviest.  "Let There Be Light" would have gone well on their last album, No More Hell To Pay, and is musically in that vein.  Again we have a strong, epic sound to the epic story of Genesis.

"The Calling" may be my favorite.  It is a chest-beating, bold, head-thrown-back anthem, with a fast and aggressive rhythm.  It has almost a classic rock sound at points.  Matthew Arnold, the famous scholar of Homer, said the Greek poet had a fast-moving, forward-driving feel to his poetry.  The same is true in this song.  It grabs you and drags you along at Mach I.

The final track, “King of Kings,” is another that would have gone well on the last album.  Stryper has always given us anthems, and this is one that calls to mind the expansive chorus of “Passion” from the Reborn album.  We have a sonic race at the beginning that slows and hits a slower, powerful stride in the chorus, forcing us to listen and, if so inclined, to belt out the lyrics, too.

And speaking of lyrics, I have to say these are some of Stryper’s best.  The stories are epic, yet the lyrics have a way of speaking directly to us.

If you did a word count, you would see I used “epic” and “aggressive” more than any other.  This is how I like my music.  In one of his songs, country singer George Strait sang, “I don’t want you under my roof with your 86 proof watered down ‘til it tastes like tea.  You’re gonna pull my string, make it the real thing for me.”  I couldn’t agree more, and Stryper delivers better than ever.

Some pictures from Michael Sweet's acoustic concert in Bluffton, Indiana, in October.  In the third picture you will see my friend Dr. Brad Oliver...teacher, principal, superintendent, professor of education, former state school board member, current Director of Education at The Summit, and most importantly fellow Stryper fan!

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Top 10 Thoughts On Education

I recently had the opportunity to interview the top ten finalists for 2016 Indiana Teacher of the Year.  Watch out, America!  These Hoosier educators are among the finest!

Throughout a day of sitting with Indiana's teaching best, I heard many good thoughts that warranted a broader audience.  This is what Indiana educators are saying.

Fail forward, or be a success.

This should be on bumper stickers.  We all fail.  Unfortunately, too many people see failure as merely the opposite of success.  Failure is a great learning experience.  When we fail well, we fail forward.  This is why I am one of the founding fellows of The Failure Institute and why I support my friend Jessica Lahey's book, The Gift of Failure:  How the Best Parents Learn To Let Go So Their Children Can Succeed.

Ask alumni what you could have done better.

Many of us keep in touch with former students, but do we ever ask them what we could have done better?  We all need space and time away from something to be able to see it clearly.  Once our students have gone on to college or careers, they are in a better place to evaluate their own elementary and secondary education.  This is one I had never thought of, but am eager to implement.

Tests should measure students, not teachers and schools.

Teachers and schools must be evaluated, just as any employee or organization should be evaluated, but such evaluations cannot be significantly informed by student testing.  Note that I did not write "should not be," but "cannot be."  There are many factors affecting a student's performance on a test that are beyond a teacher's control.  It says absolutely nothing about my school or about me if my student fails a test because he or she was unable to think clearly as a result of hunger or worry about an abusive home life.

To be fair, we must also consider what test scores do and do not reveal about students themselves.  When a student misses a question, I know only that the student did not answer the question correctly  I do not know why he or she did not answer it correctly.  The student may have simply forgotten, never known the answer, lacked understanding of the question's wording, had a panic attack, failed to study, or missed seeing that particular question entirely.

Teachers need less required collaboration and more trust to work on their own.

If I have to be told when to meet, where to meet, with whom to meet, and what to meet about, then why did you hire me?  If college-educated adults cannot be trusted to work independently or in collaboration of their choosing, then the fault, dear Brutus, is not in their substandard work, but in careless hiring practices.

On the flip side, leave teachers to their own devices and they will come up with some of the most amazing ideas.  Nobody shares information the way teachers do.  We enthusiastically ask each other questions and share our best ideas and activities.  If you do not know this is what happens when even two or three teachers gather, then you do not know teachers.

Teachers are effective when they are inspired.

We know this is true regarding students, so why it would it not be true regarding teachers?  It has been said that people perish when there is a lack of vision.  Never is this more the case than in schools.  When school leaders work shoulder-to-shoulder with each other, tapping into each other's talents and both casting and sharing dreams, something happens that is the true result of real education:  life.  Just as you can tell a plant by the fruit it bears, you can most accurately assess a school by observing its life or, in some sad cases, the lack thereof.

It's worth it.

Our profession can always get better.  All professions can.  Why would we want education to improve?  Because it is worth it.  Oh, is it worth it!  Setting aside all manner of foolishness, we see education for what it truly is.  It is a most human endeavor, a shared journey of discovery with young people discovering the mysteries and glories of creation and all that humans have come to know about and added to it.  Working with colleagues who understand this, teachers like these top ten finalists and the many others I have enjoyed knowing throughout our state and across our nation, I can honestly proclaim that the calling and life of a teacher are most definitely worth it.

Friday, September 11, 2015

That's So Routine!

Is there a place for routines and rituals in the modern classroom?  There is if you want learning to take place, and there is if you ask Bill Day, 2014 Washington, D.C. Teacher of the Year, who spoke about this on the latest episode of Teachers of the Year Radio.

It would come as no surprise to anyone who knows us that the first date my wife and I went on in college was to see the movie Lean On Me, which tells the story of Principal Joe Clark and his efforts turn around a troubled school.  Morgan Freeman in the lead role explains at one point that discipline is not the enemy of enthusiasm.  He knows that there must be some basic routines and procedures so that students and faculty can operate in a safe manner with each other, and that such an environment is then conducive to learning.

Yet there is another reason routine is important.  Our children live in an unstable age.  Think for a moment of the child teetering on the edge of the pool, eager to dive in, yet terrified at the prospect.  She beckons mom or dad, who is standing with feet firmly planted just a few inches away.  She laughs and giggles nervously, wanting to jump and not wanting to at the same time.  The desire to explore is there, but she needs the comfort of the solid pool deck behind her and the trusted arms of a parent in front of her if she is to make the most of this yearning.

Our children are exploring so much during their school years.  They want to take risks, yet they need stability and safety, and good classroom routines provide that.  Oh, there are subtle differences from day to day in my classes, but there is also a comfortable predictability.  The students know what they are going to get.  It is why they are upset when there is a substitute teacher in the room.

So what keeps routines from becoming routine, as in boring and stifling?  For that, check out Bill's podcast.  I know Bill, and I can assure you this award-winning educator is as lively as they come.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Do I Have To Like You To Teach You?

If we limit the definition of teaching to nothing more than giving information, then the answer is obviously no.  A person who hates my living guts may shout, "That truck's about to hit you!"  His motivation may be purely selfish.  He does not want the truck to splatter my innards all over his new car.  His tone could have been quite abrasive.  Nevertheless, at the basest level, he has taught me something, namely that a truck was about to hit me, a fact of which I may not have been aware.

Let's move past the absurd.  This is not what most of us mean by teaching.  We have a general understanding that teaching involves someone who knows a thing and someone who does not.  For any of a large number of reasons, they have been brought together, and the one who knows the thing must do something so the other person knows it, too.  In this scenario, it is also not necessary that the teacher like the student.  The teacher can do a perfectly adequate job of imparting information so that the student acquires the intended knowledge or skill.  During the teaching interaction, the teacher may well care nothing about the student, focusing solely on the paycheck.  The teacher may even harbor ill will toward the student.

But let us take it a step further to genuine education.  This is a far different enterprise.  Genuine education is an infinitely complex activity that cannot happen apart from meaningful and intentional relationships.  It is a distinctly human enterprise and therefore must be a humane one as well if it is to have any hope of success.

Enter Anne Marie Osheyack, the 2014 Massachusetts Teacher of the Year.  Anne Marie was recently a guest on the podcast I co-host with Gary Abud, the 2014 Michigan Teacher of the Year, and she talked about something few discuss.  You can hear the whole podcast here, and I encourage you to listen to all she has to say about setting and maintaining high standards for students.  What really struck me, though, was her emphasis on the need to like students and to see them as human beings.

Sadly, this seems to be a novel concept.  I say it is novel, for what I hear most regarding education has to do with curriculum, testing, teacher evaluations, data, school ratings, politics, standards, and taxes.  Oh, we also talk a lot about testing, evaluations, and data.  And we also talk a lot about data.  Did I mention the data?

It is, of course, important to know something about our students, and there is something that can be learned by counting the number of questions students get right and wrong on a test.  There is something to be gained from looking at which questions received more right answers versus wrong.  Yet for all the value gained by looking at numbers generated by students, we know exactly, and forgive the mathematical language here, diddly divided by squat about the people, the human beings, homines sapientes, who are in our classes.

To know something about people, we must enter into relationships with them, and unless a scholar is doing dispassionate research about tyrants, those relationships are based on affection.  We must, dare I say it, love our students.  Do I enjoy every behavior exhibited by each of my students?  Of course not.  Yet I care about them.  I want to know what kinds of music they enjoy, whether they prefer deep dish or hand-tossed pizza, and what they think of the latest blockbuster movie before I spend my money on it.  When they return from an illness, I want to know how they are doing and how much longer they will have to be on the crutches.  I enjoy listening to their stories of things they learned in another class and the connections they made with ours.

How much of this goes into an artifact that can be displayed in our hallways?  Zip.  Which state standard covers such interactions?  Not one.  For which portions of the A.P. or I.B. exam will these parts of my class prepare my students?  None that I know of, and if there are any, I frankly do not care.  What I care about are the young people...young people...with whom I get to share not just life, but some of the most amazing discoveries about life ever made by our fellow human beings across time and space.

And you know what?  Anne Marie is right.  It is from such relationships that genuine education, which is the only kind that truly matters, will grow.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

When Pictures Aren't Worth a Thousand Words


Pictures are not always worth a thousand words, and these pictures prove it.  What do you see?  Maybe this looks like a traditional classroom, and you are thinking there is nothing special here.  Perhaps you look a bit closer and spot paired or group work.

You are not wrong in your observations, but these pictures are far from telling the whole story.  We are now in our second week of school, and these are Latin I students.  Most of them do not know each other, or at least not well.  Yet as you can see, they are figuring out how to work together.

But you are still missing the key piece here, the sound.  I wish you could have been in these two classes.  The room was buzzing, not with off-task chatter, but with meaningful discussion as partners discussed how to render Latin sentences into English.  We had discussed the basic grammar, but there were aspects we had not yet covered.  As I walked around and made myself available for questions, I could not help being impressed by the level of engagement and collaboration among these students.  I was so impressed, I had to take a few pictures.  Unfortunately, those pictures only capture a fraction of the true vitality coursing through our room

Sunday, August 2, 2015

How To Start the School Year

I have never been so eager for the start of a school year.  In particular, I can hardly wait to see my Latin III, IV, and V students, for we will begin those upper level classes with a plunge into one of the greatest experiences of my life.  I did something this summer that I have longed to do for more years than my students have been alive.  I was able to see and touch the one object in the world I have wanted to encounter more than any other.  It relates to their studies, and many of them know about this passion of mine, so it will be appropriate that I share it with them.  Yet there is another reason why I am going to start the year with this experience.  I will say more about that reason and the experience itself shortly, but for now, a bit of literary and historical background.

From 1715 to 1720, Alexander Pope published in six volumes his translation of Homer’s Iliad.  These six volumes were produced at great expense by Bernard Lintot and were sold by subscription to some of the most important names of the early 18th century.  Pope arranged a deal for himself unheard of at that time for a writer and secured his financial future.  A little later he published his translation of the Odyssey, but with the help of two uncredited poets named Fenton and Broome.

The Iliad had, of course, been published in English prior to pope, most notably by George Chapman in rhyming fourteeners and by John Ogilby in heroic couplets.  Pope himself was taught to read by a loving aunt from the large, illustrated version by Ogilby.

With the Aeneid having been translated into English heroic couplets just a few years before by JohnDryden, and with Pope’s literary star on the rise, he was encouraged to take on Homer, and so he did.  The great 18th century biographer Samuel Johnson, in his Life of Pope, said this of it.  "It is certainly the noblest version of poetry which the world has ever seen; and its publication must therefore be considered as one of the great events in the annals of learning."  Consider the majesty of the opening lines of Book I.

Achilles’ wrath, to Greece the direful spring
Of woes unnumbered, heavenly goddess, sing!
That wrath which hurled to Pluto’s gloom reign
The souls of mighty chiefs untimely slain,
Whose limbs, unburied on that naked shore,
Devouring dogs and hungry vultures tore.
While great Achilles and Atrides strove,
Such was the sovereign doom, and such the will of Jove.

Or consider these from Book V in which the acts of my favorite of the Greek warriors, Diomedes, son of Tydeus, are depicted with such raging force.

Thus toiled the chiefs, in different parts engaged;
In every quarter fierce Tydides raged.
Amid the Greek, amid the Trojan train
Rapt through the ranks, he thunders o’er the plain;
Now here, now there, he darts from place to place,
Pours on their rear or lightens in their face.
Thus from high hills the torrents, swift and strong,
Deluge the plains and sweep the trees along
Through ruined moles the rushing wave resounds,
O’erwhelms the bridge, and bursts the lofty bounds!
The yellow harvests of the ripened year
And flatted vineyards, one sad waste appear
While Jove descends in sluicy sheets of rain,
And all the labours of mankind are vain.
So raged Tydides, boundless in his ire,
Drove armies back, and made all Troy retire.

I have collected a fair number of translations of Homer and Vergil, but Pope’s version of the Iliad is still the one to get my blood pumping!

For years I have wanted to see a first edition of Pope’s Iliad translation.  I have found them in rare bookstores on the Internet, but have never seen or held one in person…until our family vacation.  We had stopped in Midtown Scholar, a delightful bookstore in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.  It was enormous, with three floors of used, rare, and new books.  I had ventured to the basement and, after perusing aisle after aisle, turned a corner into another store housed within the larger store.  It was called Robinson’ Rare Books and Fine Prints.  Most of the works were in locked, wood and glass cabinets arranged by century.  I asked the man working there if they had any Pope, and he checked his computer to find that they had a nine-volume set of his collected works, so I asked him to show it to me.  As he was unlocking its cabinet, I spotted the volumes of Pope’s Iliad and Odyssey nearby and asked if I could see one.  I withdrew the first volume of the Iliad, nearly shaking and with my heart beginning to beat fast.  I took it to a table where I could look at it and quickly opened to its frontispiece.  My eyes raced down the page whose reproduction I had seen so often, and there I found the date.  1715.  I was holding and looking at a first edition of my most sought-after book in the world.

I quickly called for my wife and children to join me, and our son took several pictures of me with the book.  It was in astoundingly good shape for being exactly 300 years old, and I thrilled to see the original opening lines that Pope changed for later versions.

The wrath of Peleus’ son, the direful spring
Of all the Grecian woes, o goddess, sing!

I had had only one other experience like that with a book and, unsurprisingly, it was with another edition of Pope’s Iliad.  When we were living in Texas, Melissa and I had visited a perfectly ordinary bookstore.  I was perusing the Classics section, and suddenly my eyes lit upon a Penguin edition of Pope.  It was October 26, 1996, and I recorded the moment on a note I now use as a bookmark in that volume.

Ineffable was the feeling when by the grace of God I chanced upon this volume of Pope’s Iliad.  The edition is indeed nothing remarkable, and yet when I happened upon it quite by accident in the most commercial of bookstores, I was rendered truly senseless.  My sense of balance lost, I was forced to support myself upon a nearby bookcase.  Quite truly the sight of that volume, there, unobtrusively standing amidst other great works, whose bookshelf was itself surrounded by a sea of vain publications, “eripit sensus mihi: nam simul te, Papa, aspexi, nihil est super mi, lingua sed torpet, tenuis sub artus flamma demanat, sonitu suopte tintinnant aures, gemina teguntur lumina nocte.”*

This is what it means to say education is a shared journey of discovery.  I want to kindle in my students the spark of learning's passion by drawing them close to my own burning flame.  These upper level students know of Greco-Roman epics, and the Latin V students have read Vergil.  They know of Pope and they know of the challenges and the artistry of literary translation.  They know the excitement of discovery through archaeological finds and through their own experiences with Classical literature.  It is important that they know their teacher is no less passionate and is in fact wildly excited about the field of their study.  This is how to start the school year.

*These lines are from Catullus 51, which he wrote upon falling in love at first sight, albeit from across the room, with Clodia Metella.  The only word I changed was the name of the addressee.  "It snatches my senses from me, for as soon as I have laid eyes on you, Pope, there is nothing left for me, but my tongue grows numb, a slight flame runs down my limbs, my ears ring with their own pounding, and my eyes are covered with darkness."

Friday, May 15, 2015

Best Practices

As the 2014 Indiana Teacher of the Year, my year of service was the 2014-2015 school year.  During that time I had the opportunity to take a sabbatical from my classes and to support education around the state.  I did the latter, but did not take the sabbatical.  I remained in my classroom teaching six sections of Latin I, II, III, and IV, which included A.P., I.B., and independent study students and sponsored one of the largest chapters of the Indiana Junior Classical League.  Suffice it to say, it was a wonderful and exhausting year!

Highlights included working with schools of education at Indiana University, Indiana State University, Ball State University, Indiana Wesleyan University, Huntington University, Taylor University, and St. Francis University.  These opportunities allowed me to see the great work that is being done in our schools of education to prepare the next wave of Hoosier teachers and to share with them many of the things I have seen in the field.

 Speaking of being in the field, it was a true pleasure to visit many different schools and districts across Indiana.  Of course, the best part was spending time with students, who were always eager to show me what they loved about their school.

There were times when I was able to address and work with members of our legislature and the Indiana Department of Education.  This even included my film debut as the narrator for State of the Classroom, a piece that looks at the challenges students face outside the school and the amazing Hoosiers who are working to help them.

I found it most fitting the last act in my year of service was to deliver the keynote address at Ball State University School of Education's Best Practices Conference.  This was an event that saw teachers from around the state sharing their best activities, their best strategies, and their best ideas with each other.  It was fun and exciting.  It provided an opportunity for teachers to share and to learn, to enrich each other's lives from all they have experienced in the infinitely complex and vastly wonderful world of educating students.

So where do I go from here?  I have received countless questions about teaching at the university level, publishing, and even running for office.  I can tell you that Gary Abud, the 2014 Michigan Teacher of the Year, and I have been working for a year on a soon-to-launch educational radio show.  Our producer is working with iTunes, and we will have more information for everyone in the next week.  I am also working on establishing an educational leadership conference at one of our state universities in 2016 that will feature U.S., Hoosier, and international education leaders.  I am speaking at multiple events this summer, and as nearly as I can tell, while my year of service may be at a close, my years of serving the education profession have no end in sight!

Thank you to the many people who have supported me throughout this wonderful experience.  Were I to try to name you all, this post would crash the Internet.

A special thank you goes out to all those who read this blog and follow me on Twitter @intoy2014.  Keep reading, for I will have much to write about this shared journey of