Etwart says, "Plus brassicae, vos omnes."*
I find I teach best when the challenge to excel seems just beyond my reach, when the anxiety that I'll bomb just exceeds my confidence that I'm fine. After more than two decades of teaching you'd think that might never happen, but it does, if I follow the challenges.
I have always had an athletic view of life. That is, growing up in a very competitive family of four brothers and a father who never let us beat him if he could help it, I was formed to approach life as if it were a performance in which it mattered if you excelled.
In school, this rule didn't always apply. Although I would often try harder for a teacher who thought I was a dunce-- to show him or her that I was smart, thank you very much, I cruised through many of my school years, reserving my fire for all the sports I played. Grades didn't matter to me nearly as much as scoring a goal or hitting a home run, even though the principle is the same: challenge, perform, excel.
High grades mostly came easy for me, except in math, where I didn't see the point, so mostly the challenge was not there. When everything comes easy, I tend to check out.
Nowadays I remind my high school charges that it is more important than ever to perform and excel, beyond cruising and coasting. You need to choose a college wisely. Where more and more people are getting BA's, the name of the school matters. And I expect the experience at the better schools will be different, too, though I would be the first to say that wherever you go, your experience hinges on whether you're passionate about it.
I was lucky in finding a field of study that I loved and that was difficult: Greek, Latin, ancient religion and mythology. In college, school became a challenge, and I put in more energy. It continues every day to be a challenge. So here I am today, still having breakfast with Pandora.
As I teach I attempt to communicate that pleasure of the challenge to my students. For some, it doesn't click, as it didn't with me and math. But I believe that the more passion and enthusiasm a teacher has for his or her subject, the more it will rub off on students.
(I wonder what would've happened to me in math if I had had enthusiastic teachers. Probably no change... right, Mr. McLemore, who used to call me a turkey regularly?)
I know that my undergraduate professors really helped me to get into Greek and Latin, and my super-enthusiastic graudate school mentor in mythology was about singlehandedly responsible for my specialization in that subject. Good teacher --> better grades is a principle I believe in.
So many people have come to me and said they hated Latin when they took it. "Why?" "My teacher was always giving it to me in the neck." It's an uphill climb. Latin isn't a walk in the park-- not easy to teach well or learn thoroughly. But I try to teach it so that the pleasure of the challenge, the payoff of excellence, is apparent.
Have a great year, students. I'm taking the challenge to teach-- seize the challenge to learn.
*"More cabbage, y'all!"