Feature Posts

Summer Ideas

We come again to the month of Juno, and in addition to inputting final grades, throwing out old projects, cleaning up the classroom, and checking out with administrators, some teachers may still be pondering how to gainfully employ themselves through the summer. Indeed, as a new teacher several years ago, I debated my options anxiously. I asked many colleagues how they used their time, and I encountered a wide variety of responses, each with its own particular merit.  

I discovered that many teachers use the summertime to deal with all the ‘stuff’ that doesn’t fit in comfortably into their busy school year. They re-roof their houses, spend time with children and family or work on their passion for pottery. Other teachers don’t do much of anything. I have heard some espouse the virtue of sitting on a hammock near a dog with a glass of lemonade; when a spouse discovers the summering teacher at the end of the day, she inevitably wonders has he moved since this morning?

A different option for the summer involves travel. Some teachers give themselves a budget and head off into a journey of discovery. My favorite sorts of trips to hear about are those which involve long, overly-ambitious schemes to cycle across the entire country. Still others combine learning and travel, going solo to significant sites or taking part in teacher education programs. There are some terrific classically minded opportunities with the American Academy in Rome as well as a tours and programs at the Getty Villa in California. There are also exciting opportunities closer to home, such as the CANE Summer Institute (linked on this site), the American Classical League Institute, and through the Paideia Institute, with both in-person and online programs.

Teaching summer school or working at summer camps is another popular choice. In addition to providing an educator with a different teaching experience from the regular school year, this option has an added benefit of extra income. However, as I myself have discovered, teaching over the summer and into the following school year may simply feel overwhelming.  

For many, gainly employment over the summer is obligatory. After all, teachers’ salaries in the United States compare unfavorably to full-time workers with similar education levels in other fields. Student loans, mortgages, car payments, and school tuition payments add up, and working through the summer might be a fact of life. However, it is not necessarily a woeful necessity. Varied employment outside of the classroom can provide a much needed mental respite from the complicated demands of the school year. 

Whatever you do, I hope you relish the change of pace! And if you were facing an existential crisis about what the summer means to you, I hope that I have by now reassured you that there is no right answer and no wrong one. Make a decision that seems right for now and forge ahead. fortuna fortem adiuvat!

Latin Podcast Roundup

I know that I have school colleagues whose summer vacation is more than three weeks off (my wife, sadly, is one of these). But I finished my student final comments today and will turn in grades tomorrow. Despite the fact that I turned the heat back on this morning, and my buff cat is, to paraphrase Sappho, turning greener than a blade of grass, my thoughts have turned to summer.

Summer is a great time to explore Latin podcasts. The range of approaches and of subject matter is very wide indeed and some are consistently of spectacularly high quality. If you have a smartphone, of course, you can listen to them just about anywhere.

As a Latin poetry lover, I have long been very language-focused, and have been listening to recorded recitations of Latin poetry since the mid-70’s, when I found a recording by Gareth Morgan and other members of the University of Texas Department of Classics. I’ve always been particularly fond of the late Robert Sonkowsky’s recitations of Vergil’s Aeneid. I know some find these mannered and overwrought. But personally I think that they are not only highly consistent and in accord with the evidence for restored Latin pronunciation, but they also provide good food for thought about what poetry recitation was like to a large audience without amplification.

In any case, here’s what I look for in a Latin podcast:

  1. Consistent pronunciation. Without entering the lists over the various national and intellectual schools of thought for Latin pronunciation, I want consistency. I don’t want to hear an overwhelming American (or other) accent (Spanish- and Italian-accented Latin is too beautiful to tamper with).
  2. Natural pacing and vocal inflection. I wouldn’t listen to Latin podcasts if I didn’t know that Latin is a viable vehicle of expression for one’s thoughts and feelings. I appreciate recordings in which the speaker(s) feel(s) the same way.
  3. Avoidance of a sing-song or hyper-fastidious quality. This is the flip side of #2, I think. Of course, I realize that we have no idea of sentence intonation for Latin in classical times, beyond the fact that there were separate declarative and interrogative ones (i.e. one finds many yes/no questions without -ne). But avoiding monotony is just too important. And personally I find painstakingly careful pronunciation grates on the ear. Here is my short list of a variety of interesting podcast series, in no particular order:

TITLE: Quomodo Dicitur

FORMAT: Conversation among three people on a set topic


Now running for a full year and 50 episodes, Quomodo Dicitur is the work of Gus Grissom, Jason Slanga, and Justin Slocum Bailey. Even when I’m feeling low, these three always cheer me up. They are, or were, full-time Latin teachers who are really committed to speaking and hearing Latin in the classroom. All three are also bright, well read, clearly friendly and likable guys. There is no script; these three just talk–if there were background noise, I would think they were podcasting from a bar. The span of topics addressed is very wide indeed. Given that this is clearly extempore without a great deal of planning, the Latinity is remarkably consistent, with some variation depending on the speaker. It’s notable that Justin Slocum Bailey consistently articulates long vs short vowels as he speaks. There are many “um’s” and “ah’s”, potentially annoying to some. Very natural pacing.

TITLE: Latinitium

FORMAT: Narrative on a topic.


Latinitium is the creation of Daniel Pettersson, who teaches at the University of Stockholm in Sweden. Pettersson’s spoken Latin is simply outstanding in terms of its combination of consistency, naturalness, and production of vowel quantities. The podcasts are all narrative in form, always provide a transcript and often a video version with lively animations that realize the narrative. In addition to the podcasts, the Latinitium website contains a blog, a collection of video shorts about Latin proverbs, and links to books, dictionaries, and other websites. Well worth checking out.

TITLE: Latinum

FORMAT: Mostly recordings of written Latin texts


This recently migrated site is the brainchild of Evan Der Millner, a guy who has been making recordings of Latin for some time. The site is very large, with a sizeable number of recordings aimed at a wide range of listener proficiencies. Evan is extremely diligent in aiming for phonetic accuracy and consistency.  One consequence of this is that the recordings often sound quite close to computer-generated speech: vowel quantities are exaggerated and every word is uttered as a distinct phonological entity. While such recordings have their uses, I personally find my attention flags due to this mannerism.

TITLE: Sermones Raedarii

FORMAT: Narrative and monologue


Alessandro Conti, aka Alexander Veronensis, is the maestro of Sermones Raedarii. It’s a wonderful concept–he records his podcast as he’s driving to and from work (he’s a Latin teacher), so you feel like you’re commuting with a lively-minded colleague. The are more than 50 podcasts in the Sermones Raedarii catalog, with a wide range of topics: reviews of many works connected with the Living Latin movement, stories, fables, a manifesto on “Why Study Latin?” Alessandro’s lively on-air persona and beautiful Italian diction (he speaks with restored pronunciation) both make these a wonderful listen.


Skyping and Classical Education

Our feature article this week comes from Charlie Bradshaw, the CANE President-elect, who teaches at Wahconah Regional High School in Dalton, Massachusetts.

Sometimes the incredibly friendly nature of CANE members, and the camaraderie among both its longest and newest members can translate into wonderful things for the kids we hope will follow our collective footsteps as lovers of all things classical. Last month on 10 April my Latin IV Honors class of 25 seniors experienced one of its best academic sessions of the year. I owe it to the kindness and accommodating spirit of Professor Margaret Graver who has taught for many years in the Classics Department at Dartmouth College. Margaret has many areas of expertise in the classics, and philosophy is prominent among them.

I have taught the De Rerum Natura of Lucretius for many years to seniors. It is a work that can have a profound effect on students when they wrap their arms around its enormous offering of ideas that by their very nature prompt them to get their critical thinking juices flowing. I was perusing the web for more Lucretius offerings when I spotted an interview of Margaret by a Dartmouth physics professor, part of an effort to encourage academic sharing across the college’s many disciplines. It’s an engaging thirty-two minute YouTube video about Lucretius worth its time in gold to enhance an understanding of this prolific, if not mysterious Roman author. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vvKQ_IzNeZ8) I have known Margaret a long time, especially through the Cane Summer Institutes held at Dartmouth for nearly thirty years. She is a consummate professional, but also is approachable and supportive for those of us in secondary education. It doesn’t get any better than having such a solid connection with colleagues in CANE like Margaret. I contacted her to see if she had time, and would be willing to share an hour with my seniors via the medium of Skype. Margaret’s almost immediate response (despite my knowledge that the semester and end of year business would be facing her) was a cheerful “can-do.” The result was a Monday afternoon Latin IV Honors class channeling the knowledge and experience of someone in Hanover, New Hampshire with a group of young men and women in the Massachusetts Berkshires about to step into the next phase of their lives, something at once both daunting and exhilarating.

Each of the kids was asked to prepare beforehand a question emanating from a passage chosen earlier as a class exit project. The questions covered many of the topics found in this amazing first century BCE work, from the constant swerve of atoms, to life on other worlds, to human sexuality, abusive treatment of the planet, and the outbreak of the deadly plague in Athens centuries earlier. The genius of Lucretius’s dactylic hexameter and beautiful Latin alone are strong reasons to include it in an advanced level’s curriculum. There is such a treasure trove of topics—I could teach it all year long, for that matter. One by one students stood in front of the live camera, and I was proud of their poise. My principal attended the session (a former four-year student of mine), and remarked to me after the hour-long interaction, that Margaret answered their questions in a very professional and polished way, making them feel entirely comfortable. He also said that there was a feeling upon its conclusion, that the Skype could have lasted much longer, because the kids were energized both by Margaret’s respect for them and their questions, and for their feeling, for this hour at least, they really did” get out of high school.” I am sharing this with the CANE web site because I truly believe that this is the kind of reaching out in both directions we in classical education will have to do if we are to remain a vibrant and highly subscribed core academic discipline in the decades ahead. Don’t underestimate the importance and helpfulness of this kind of activity in your classroom, and of sharing your own classrooms with colleagues across the aisle via technology such as Skype. The rewards have both an immediate and potentially long-term effect both for students and their teachers.