I am currently reading I, Claudius (1934) by Robert Graves. I watched the miniseries on PBS in 1976–I was fascinated by the story then, and I am loving it again.
This time though, I am a teacher. And this passage from early in the book encapsulated my evolution as a teacher. If I have any advice for young teachers it is here:
Athenodorus told me, the very first day of his tutorship, that he proposed to teach me not facts which I could pick up anywhere for myself, but the proper presentation of facts. And this he did.
One day, for example, he asked me, kindly enough, why I was so excited: I seemed unable to concentrate on my task. I told him that I had just seen a huge draft of recruits parading on Mars Field under Augustus’s inspection before being sent off to Germany, where war had recently broken out again.
“Well,” said Athenodorus, still in the same kindly voice, “since this is so much on your mind that you can’t appreciate the beauties of Hesiod, Hesiod can wait until to-morrow. After all, he’s waited seven hundred years or more, so he won’t grudge us another day. And meanwhile, suppose you were to sit down and take your tablets and write me a letter, a short account of all that you saw on Mars Field; as if I had been five years absent from Rome and you were sending me a letter across the sea, say to my home in Tarsus. That would keep your restless hands employed and be good practice too.”
So I gladly scribbled away on the wax, and then we read the letter through for faults of spelling and composition. I was forced to admit that I had told both too little and too much, and had also put my facts in the wrong order.
The passage describing the lamentations of the mothers and sweethearts of the young soldiers, and how the crowd rushed to the bridgehead for a final cheer of the departing column, should have come last, not first. And I need not have mentioned that the cavalry had horses: people took that for granted. And I had twice put in the incident of Augustus’s charger stumbling: once was enough if the horse only stumbled once. And what Postumus had told me, as we were going home, about the religious practices of the Jews, was interesting, but did not belong here because the recruits were Italians, not Jews. Besides, at Tarsus he would probably have more opportunities of studying Jewish customs than Postumus had at Rome.
On the other hand I had not mentioned several things that he would have been interested to hear — how many recruits there were in the parade, how far advanced their military training was, to what garrison town they were being sent, whether they looked glad or sorry to go, what Augustus said to them in his speech.
There it is.
That’s how you teach if you want students to learn anything beyond the next test.