It's one of my favorite days of the year: the Ides of March. Oh yes, I'm just showing my true colors all over the place lately—first prom pictures from the late 1980s, now my undying love for the day Julius Caesar was assassinated...
A little background: I love Rome, and all things Roman. I took four years of Latin, was a member of Latin Club and Ohio Junior Classical League, and each year in high school traveled to the big state competition where I competed in various Latin-themed events (i.e. tests, dramatic interpretation and oratory, art, etc.) with the rest of my fellow Latin Club team. (For the record, I was on that team the year we won for the tenth year in a row. Last year the team won for the 27th year in a row. Latin was a big deal where I went to high school.)
When I started teaching World History, my unit on Rome always fell sometime in October, so there wasn't much opportunity to work in the Ides of March. During my second year of teaching, I decided to offer a little extra credit—just 10 points—to anyone who could remember to wish me a Happy Ides of March the following March. The only condition? They couldn't say anything out loud in front of anyone in class or they'd forfeit their points. We finished up our regular days of Rome, moved on, and I never said another word about it. Months passed, and I wondered if anyone would remember.
Yep. They remembered.
I have a manilla envelope filled with all the hilarious well-wishes I've received since I first offered this little assignment. Notes were slipped to me on the way into my classroom, hidden on my desk, and passed to me in the hallway by straight-faced sophomores not wanting to make eye contact for fear someone would catch them and blow the "surprise." One year a group of my students were out of town for a student government convention and they mailed me letters at school to make sure they didn't miss their chance to say Beware! or Happy Ides of March! I even had three creative, brave girls with military IDs show up at my front door at our house on base to wish me well. And here is the best part of all: every year, I still hear from a handful of people from that era on March 15. It's a little holiday for all of us.
It gets me thinking: when I started doing this, I never really had any sort of big educational goal by offering a few points of extra credit for remembering something that happened hundreds and hundreds of years ago. World History is not the most exciting subject for a lot of high school kids, but every year even some of the ones that were marking time until they could escape played along. It was an opening. Openings are very important to teachers, because they're the little opportunities you have to make (or catch) to invite a student to participate, to pay attention, to realize significance. If I could get a reluctant student to step through an opening in my classroom, I had a better chance of reaching him or her. Not all the time, but at least I increased the odds. This one happened to be a light-hearted opening. They weren't all like that—there were openings all over the place the day after the school shootings at Columbine High School happened and my classes wanted to talk, talk, talk about all the heavy things on their minds. But openings are openings, and if you ignore them you put yourself in danger of creating a serious disconnect in the classroom. Or life, I suppose.
So Happy Ides of March, everyone. It's a day of intrigue in history, one of the gazillion rich stories that make the past so interesting. 10 points extra credit to whoever remembers next year. : )