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Ancient Solutions for Modern Problems

This year I decided to bite the bullet and become a dually qualified teacher of Classical Studies, having the absolute pleasure of teaching everything from S1 up to Higher level. However, it was during a lesson on the myth of how Athens got its name that I first realised the impact of Classics on my classes.

The lesson began normally. I told the class we’d be learning about an ancient competition. I came armed with my props of olives and olive oil (not that I am at all biased to Athena). Then, as soon as I began storytelling and acting out the parts, silence washed over the class and all eyes were on me – I won’t deny, I almost felt a bit nervous!

Once the storytelling spell broke at the end of the story, hands began to shoot up of their own volition. Pupils wanted to tell me what they would call a city if it was named after them; a time they won or lost a competition; and their ideas for how they could have also beaten Poseidon, mighty God of the Sea.

As the weeks went on, and we learned about Talos and Orpheus and Medusa and Prometheus, and ranked our favourites, and compared these ancient stories to our own lives; I began to realise what was going on.

Pupils were telling me they thought Perseus was brave, Demeter was loving and Theseus was the true monster. I realised that when pupils heard these myths, they were seeing themselves and their own lives in them. They were reading these abstract stories and discerning meaning in places where it was uniquely relevant for them. They were finding idols to admire, morals and aspirations.

Seeing myths in action in today’s young people – it is hard to deny that Classics is very much alive and has the potential to encourage much creativity and self-reflection.

I also noticed that the hands shooting up did not solely belong to the usual contributors. Many pupils who struggle to engage in traditional classroom settings and having demanding relationships with learning, began to participate. I believe this is for two reasons:

Firstly – and quite simply - they found the new stories interesting and, in relating to myths in this personal way, they felt safe to share as there wasn’t a “wrong” favourite mythical hero or monster to have.

One pupil found a lot of success in learning when talking about mythical creatures. In these lessons, his behaviour and effort hugely improved – I was delighted!

However, one day I spotted him in the corridor having been sent out of another class for distracting those around him. He told me he was being a “troublemaker”. But he couldn’t fool me! He’d already showed me his true colours – hardworking, enthusiastic, and caring. I reminded him of his excellent attitude in classical lessons and asked him to continue this in other areas as he was clearly very capable. I wanted to give him confidence, to show that I’d noticed him and that believed he could do it. Classics did that – provided an opportunity for him to re-engage and build up his confidence.

It has been to my surprise and joy that I have seen Classics blossom amongst my junior pupils. Not only has Classics vastly broadened their understanding of worldviews and beliefs, but it has improved literacy, communication skills and provided opportunities for personal reflection and choice, developing skills and attributes which are essential to the Scottish Government’s Curriculum for Excellence.

It also re-engages young people in learning by providing a valuable access point. In our current times, where the attainment gap between our most and least advantaged young people continues to exist, and many learners are struggling to re-engage following very different experiences of online learning, we need something to motivate our young people.

In my humble opinion, the teaching of ancient myths is an innovative solution to this modern problem.

Last Minute Exile: Joanne Devenney

Hometown: Edinburgh

High School: Kirkcaldy High School

Like Seneca, like Aristotle and like countless others from Classical history, you find yourself subject to an exile order, and must vacate the country tout-suite before some sort of sword-based injury befalls your neck!

You grab three records...

1. Random Access Memories – Daft Punk – Good fun and variety. Would definitely be needed.

2. Map of the Soul: 7 – BTS – Got me through a hard time. I’d bet it could do it again.

3. Black Holes and Revelations – Muse – Teenage obsession. Nice memories.

…two books…

1. Lovely War – Julie Berry. World War I and the Greek Gods. All I need to say.

2. Rebecca – Daphne du Maurier. One of my favourites. Netflix did it dirty.

…a Tupperware of your favourite food…

Sushi…mango and salmon is the best combination.

…and something else at random.

My diary. Been going since I was 9 and an exile isn’t stopping me.

Exile is going to suck, but at least you won’t have to put up with…

I have an uncontrollable appetite for cheap paperback YA fictions. They’re a money and time drain. Doing without those is probably no bad thing.

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