Saturday, April 09, 2005

Raising the Bar

Whew. It's amazing how impossible it seems to reach the bar when you're just beginning. And as you get closer to meeting your goal, there's always a higher bar, a greater goal, a raised standard. A little over a year and a half ago I was hired on at Petra Academy to teach Latin to 3rd-10th grade students. I accepted the position in July and had a little over a month to prepare before school started. There was only one problem... I didn't know Latin.

I know what you're thinking - What?! What kind of a school hires a teacher to teach something she readily admits she doesn't know? And what kind of psycho ACCEPTS the position??!!! Well, as I was soon to learn hundreds of times over, "God doesn't call the prepared, he prepares the called." Little did I know that he had already been preparing me for this position. It all started when I was a baby...

When I was an infant, my parents had a friend and missionary staying at their home. He watched me in my crib, just beginning to form sounds in that baby-talk way and told my parents, "She's going to be good with languages someday."

Now fast forward a little over a decade or so to my freshman year of high school. Spanish I with Mrs. Montenegro. Now, Mrs. Montenegro was not a Spanish teacher by occupation. She was a nurse. But she happened to be a native El Salvadorian who learned English (by watching soap operas, I might add) and was willing to teach Spanish to a bunch of high schoolers. We learned all sorts of things that year. We learned to shop in a Spanish market and make authentic maize tortillas, we learned to give directions to the beach (nevermind that we lived in East Texas and the nearest beach was seven hours away), we learned to describe all the animals in a zoo (including a banana slug...), and many other things, all in Spanish. The one thing we didn't learn was Spanish grammar. Oops. Our Spanish II teacher was straight out of college with a degree in Spanish. Let's just say that she was a little more particular with proper Spanish grammar and a little less concerned with actual culture. All in all I'd say my Spanish classes were less than inspiring. Yet despite all that I made trips to Venezuela, Bolivia, Brazil, and Mexico in the next few years and conversed freely in Spanish with no major problems.

My junior year of high school I decided to try my hand at German. Because I already had a full classload and didn't need any more credits, I opted to audit the class. All was going pretty well until the teacher learned that I wasn't taking the class for credit - He chose then to poke at every mistake I made and make snide remarks about my lack of effort because the class didn't count. I decided it wasn't worth the persecution and dropped the class about half-way through the first semester. Yet - when we took a family trip to Europe the following year, I could hold basic conversations and navigate German signs just fine.

English having been one of my easiest and most enjoyable subjects in high school, I chose it as my major in college. As a liberal arts student, I would need four semesters of a foreign language to graduate. Our university didn't have a whole lot of offerings in the way of foreign language - you could either take Spanish or Greek. I'd had Spanish before so I thought it would be easy, but I heard horor stories about the professor. She was a native French woman fluent in Spanish, French, and German. Unfortunately, she conducted all of her classes only in Spanish and at that, Spanish with a French accent. The only people who managed to pass her classes the first time around were those who grew up in Spanish speaking countries. So... I decided to opt for Greek. By this point I had decided that I wanted to become a linguist and translate the Scriptures. With a degree in English and minors in Bible and Cross-cultural studies I figured Greek was the next step in my journey to missionary translation.

The two years I spent in Greek were all-consuming. I ate, slept, and breathed Greek participles, paradigms, and conjugations. My classmates and I formed a bond that could only be formed by trudging through two years of life-draining academic rigor. I ended the first semester with a hard earned A, followed by two B's, and finally a C, for which I was eternally grateful. By the time I finished my last semester of Greek, I didn't care if I ever saw another foreign language again. I was burnt out.

I didn't really think about language again until that interview with Petra. Noticing that I'd learned Greek, they wanted to know if I would consider teaching Latin.

"Do you realize that I don't know any Latin?" I asked.

They assured me that I had a month before school started to learn. Wow. After praying and consulting those who knew me best (and having all of them say, "Go for it!") I accepted the position and set about the task of learning Latin. I have to admit that, though I tried, I had no idea where to start and got very little accomplished in that first month. But "God doesn't call the prepared, He prepares the called." and He set out that first year to prove once and for all that it was He who was at work - not I. Once school began, never did I sit down to study and learn the material. As I read and planned each lesson, the information clicked into place immediately and fit with the rest to build the picture of Latin I was being given. God gave me what I needed, when I needed it, and not usually long before I needed it.

Now that my second year is drawing to a close, He is still working to supply me with the knowledge I need to do the job He has called me to do. And the more knowledge He gives me, the more I see how much I still have to learn. Learning is a never ending process, and I hope that I never stop learning. There is so much I still have to read and learn and develop before I even have a decent mastery of Latin, much less any of the other subjects in which God has so richly revealed himself. I am convinced that as I (through God's grace) develop my understanding of Latin, I will constantly be presented with new ways to raise the bar and hold myself to a higher academic standard. I stumbled across one of these tonight in an article written in 1912. I know the classical Christian movement is still in its infancy, and I know that it will take time to grow to maturity, as will I. But I pray that God will continue to provide such goals as only He can help me achieve so that my dependence will always be on Him, that my studies in any area will always lead to Him.

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