In a recent comment here, in response to the “Dream Necklace” post, David Maust wrote this about his experience with a Latin 2 class this year:
…another thing I noticed this year with a class I had last year that was really tough, is that this year they have blossomed beyond what I ever would have expected, especially if you asked me last year. (As the only Latin teacher in our school, I get the same kids each year, so I’ve become aware of this.) One of my Latin 1 classes last year was very difficult, especially just unenthusiastic and dead. There were a few that were alive that first year, but their life was usually squelched by the majority of more cool, aloof and un-participatory kids. But this year, I don’t know what happened, but it’s like the seeds which were planted last year have finally sprouted after much, much water, sun and weeding. This class now is a highlight of my day, and some students that used to seem dead have come out of their shells. I can just see it on their faces, they smile more, let me communicate more, they trust me more and the CI learning process more. It took a WHILE, but it finally happened for this class. A few kids are still “too cool,” but they are now in the minority and go along with the general happiness of the class….
He went on to add:
…each class (and student) is a work of art….
This is it. And we just don’t go up to a work of art in a museum and then walk away a few seconds later. Rather, we approach it in this sense:
Petit Prince: Qu’est-ce que signifie “apprivoiser”?
Fox: -C’est une chose trop oubliée, dit le renard. Ca signifie “Créer des liens…”
Petit Prince: -Créer des liens?
Fox: -Bien sûr, dit le renard. Tu n’es encore pour moi qu’un petit garçon tout semblable à cent mille petits garçons. Et je n’ai pas besoin de toi. Et tu n’a pas besoin de moi non plus. Je ne suis pour toi qu’un renard semblable à cent mille renards. Mais, si tu m’apprivoises, nous aurons besoin l’un de l’autre. Tu seras pour moi unique au monde. Je serai pour toi unique au monde…
Little Prince: What does “to tame” mean?
Fox: It’s something all too forgotten, said the fox. It means “to create links…”
Little Prince: -To create links?
Fox: Exactly, said the fox. Right now, to me, you are nothing but a little boy who is no different from thousands of other boys. And I don’t really need you. And you don’t need me either. All I am to you is a fox who is just like a thousand other foxes. But, if you tame me, we will need each other. Then, to me, you will be unique in the entire world. And I will be unique for you in the world…
[Ch. 21, translation mine]
That is why I wrote the book PQA in a Wink! and why I chose to begin each year without focusing on stories for months and months, until I had gotten to know the kids and normed the classroom.
What is most significant about what David did here is that he never gave up, and links with his students were created very slowly, imperceptibly, in spite of the unavoidable existence of the pig kids last year (making level 1 the hardest level to teach in my opinion).
And it is not just because of the rude kids from last year that David was unable to make the links – links between people don’t occur fast if they are to be lasting, as per:
Que faut-il faire? dit le petit prince.
-Il faut être très patient, répondit le renard. Tu t’assoiras d’abord un peu loin de moi, comme ça, dans l’herbe. Je te regarderai du coin de l’oeil et tu ne diras rien. Le langage est source de malentendus. Mais, chaque jour, tu pourras t’asseoir un peu plus près…
What do I do? said the Little Prince.
– You have to be very patient, answered the fox. First you just sit a little bit away from me, like that, in the grass. I will look at you out of the corner of my eye but don’t say anything. Language is a source of confusion. But, each day, you can sit a little closer…
And so it is that each day, figuratively, we can sit a little closer to our students, to those who are ready to do the work of going deeper and deeper into what we have to teach them, which, for me, has always been French poetry. Wanting to teach French poetry was one of the reasons I became a teacher in the first place, to share works like this one with my students.
[Ch. 21, translation mine]
But, some kids have never even had a chance (sometimes even with their own parents) to build trust in the way described by Saint-Exupéry above. Taming takes take time. Luckily, many of us can actually continue with the same kids, as David is able to, in the second and third and fourth years, and the kids with whom we are meant to have close links and show our best knowledge to remain with us over the years. And that is what leads us to real teaching, and justifies the kind of work and patience David describes above.