Friday, November 11, 2011

Fortes Fortuna Iuvat

I just found out that there's an "Elizabethan proverb commentary" website out there. I discovered this while perusing the weekly Bestiaria Latina digest. Oh, shut up. I fully understand that the sentence I just wrote puts me in a difficult position, high horse-wise. I had planned to poke fun at the aforesaid community of Elizabethan proverbists, but isn't mocking the Elizabethan proverb commentary while admitting that I receive weekly email digests from an organization called Bestiaria Latina just a wee bit of situational irony?

Oh! Oh! Teachable moment! Situational Irony: Miss Havisham is all in a lather because her daughter Estella won't show her love, but Miss Havisham is the very person who raised her to have no heart. Doh. 

In case you feel less than educationally topped off today, the featured proverb at the Elizabethan proverb commentary is fortes fortuna iuvat, which translates as either "fortune favors the brave," or "Fortune favoreth bolde adventurers, nothinge venture, nothing to have: spare to speake, spare to spede," depending on your era of origin. Me, I prefer the modern version, but it's nice to know that if I land in 1564, I will have a couple of proverbs at the ready.

Fortes fortuna iuvat. Teaching isn't usually the sort of job that results in publicity, let alone a shout-out in the New York Times, but it's been a great ride. The combination of that piece and my new blogging gig over at the Core Knowledge Foundation leads me to believe in the power of the Betsy bracelet. As a new friend noted, it's a good week to be Jess Lahey.

K.J. Dell'Antonia wrote a really nice piece about my blog and my teaching, and response has been overwhelming and quite varied. She linked to my blog, so a huge number of readers went there and emailed to tell me what they thought of me and my teaching style.

I'm a lumper, so let's do some lumping. Most readers were supportive and believe I made the right move, allowing my kids to go back and deal with their failures. However, some thought I humiliated my students by "punishing" them for failing to learn the material the first time. Some got bored of criticizing stuff in the New York Times and moved on over to my blog for fresh fodder. As there are pieces on rabbit pee and I swear once or twice on that blog, they found concerning things to email me about. Yes, that's right, I ended that sentence with a preposition on purpose, deal with it. A couple even linked over to my Core Knowledge blog post and sent me messages about my irresponsibility in allowing students to read Catch-22 (relax, my students know that the more mature books on the top shelf of the independent reading bookcase have been a wee bit excised by yours truly in order to allow them to read great literature while not being subjected to R-rated sex and violence) and questioned a whole host of other issues I won't bother to go into.

My assessment? People have a lot of opinions.

My answer to all of these readers? My students trust me. I work very hard to make sure that they know I care about them, they are secure in the fact that I have created a safe and constructive classroom environment, and they understand why I am challenging them rather than simply that I am challenging them. And if they are a little embarrassed by their failure to prepare, well, that's good. They should be. How they react to that embarrassment is what matters. I came oh-so-close to failing Civil Procedure in my first semester of law school and I was completely humiliated. I may have cried in bathroom and I may have eaten my body weight in chinese pork dumplings, but I also confronted my failure. I asked the professor to show me precisely what I'd messed up on my exam (in law school, one three-hour exam decides the grade for the entire semester) and I never made those same mistakes again. I made plenty of other ones, but I never made those particular mistakes again. I also never ate those particular pork dumplings again.

It's part of my job to teach my students to be brave and view their failures as learning opportunities. To buck up and return to the place of their defeat and ask for help.

I'm just grateful I get to be in that place when they show up.


  1. Good on you Jess. Fortune favours the brave indeed.

  2. We were just talking about this with AmyG in Chicago. When you put anything out there about how you conduct your life, there will be those who agree and applaud, and those who, well, don't. And the worst thing that could happen, frankly, is to be ignored, so look at it this way: people responded on both sides because you opened a conversation. And that's what writers do.

    While I hate to hear you were criticized for taking the time to work with your students and actually - wow! - TEACH THEM SOMETHING, that's part of going public. There's always a naysayer. The good news is that you had so much support, and that K.J.'s article and your blog were both well written and well thought out. And appreciated.

  3. Though your posts prove your intelligence, the quality I missed most from my teachers was a sense of humor, which you obviously have and share with your students and the world at large.
    Shouts of approval!!!

  4. Okay, this only proves I'm naive, but it stuns me that the testing post brought you naysayers. Wow.