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As a classicist, I wanted to use the knowledge I had from university to develop students’ cultural capital; as an English teacher, I could see how references to Greek mythology in literature often went over students’ heads.
We were blessed with a large and enthusiastic group of students; half of them have chosen to continue classical civilisation this year with the aim of getting a GCSE.
We now have three groups running across our schools, in tandem with Latin groups – some students even attend both!
The students’ written responses to my ‘Why do you want to study classics this year’ questionnaire were charmingly dutiful (‘Because I get a GCSE early,’ ‘Because it helps me in my other subjects’) and I suspect that they were telling me what they think I want to hear. The real answer, which they regularly tell me, is ‘classics is fun’.
Classics seems to touch something deeper than a normal lesson. I’ve seen two students nearly come to blows over who had the most correct version of an Olympian family tree. Their interest elicits something different from me, too: when they told me they didn’t know what a pomegranate was, in a lesson on the Persephone myth, I naturally went out to buy them pomegranates.
Three new students joined the group this half term, because their friends said they should. Perhaps part of the attraction is the specialness of the after-school experience. Their daily curriculum doesn’t include the chance to dress up in Roman armour (‘Miss, it’s so HEAVY!’) or make Greek pots out of clay, or go round the British Museum on a treasure hunt. And unlike their usual lessons, we are not trying to make them examination experts – there’s plenty of time for that later.
In short, we’ve created our own little cult of classics within the school, and like all good cults the influence has begun to spread across our Trust of schools, helped by enthusiastic staff at Leicester University, and a programme of trips, which are always a winner. Having said all this, of course we have challenges. As an extra-curricular option, classics isn’t granted meeting and planning time, two things we desperately need. I battle the students’ other extra-curricular commitments (drama and sport are my nemeses). I battle my own teaching timetable which takes precedence. I also battle my own academic inadequacy when they ask questions I can’t answer.
My knowledge is growing but of course the training courses for classics are always prohibitively expensive (are there truly staff out there whose line managers sign off those eye watering fees for Continuing Professional Development? Goodness me, I envy you). Thank goodness for Classics for All, Google, and the innocence of Key Stage 3 students who still believe that teachers know everything. Let’s see if that lasts two years.