Substitutes Teach Latin as Sole Teacher Steps Away From Classroom

The wall outside of the language department office. Photo by Ellie Kessler.

From Sept. 21 to late October, students taking Latin only had substitutes as the sole Latin teacher, Nicola McCutcheon, had to stop teaching due to a severe concussion. Since  McCutcheon returned in early November, she has taught classes part-time, with various substitutes filling in when she has not been teaching.

When McCutcheon returned, she taught some classes and Alun Walpole, the first long-term substitute, taught others. McCutcheon observed classes that Walpole taught but did not teach. After winter break, Walpole left and was replaced by long-term substitutes Ted Parker and David Pickel and math and history teacher Andy Lipps.

In the first month after McCutcheon’s concussion, none of the short-term substitutes taught Latin, and they only supervised the classes. Long-term substitutes like Walpole, who began after the first month of McCutcheon’s absence, were later responsible for teaching Latin.

According to McCutcheon, the first short-term substitutes supervised the students as they completed work that she posted on Google Classroom, which was sometimes graded by McCutcheon. From September to October, students did not take any quizzes or tests.

Five Latin students told the Bit that after McCutcheon left, they found themselves and their peers losing focus. “People definitely don’t take it as seriously because it’s definitely not as hard as it was,” sophomore Henry Cohen said, crediting the lack of assessments.

“Sometimes it just feels like it’s not a class,” freshman Avery Snyder said.

According to freshman Parker Holland, the assignments posted on Google Classroom only took students about 15 minutes to complete, and most people in his class did not complete them. “We just didn’t do Latin,” Holland said of the time before the school brought in a full-time substitute teacher. Freshmen Carter Kunz and Nick Salehizadeh said that they sometimes did not have a substitute and did not have to attend class.

After about a month with short-term substitutes, Walpole, a long-term substitute who had prior experience teaching Latin, began teaching all of the courses. Five students interviewed by the Bit said that they enjoyed Walpole’s instruction because he helped them get back on track with the curriculum. “Everyone loved Alun. He taught us well,” Holland said.

Soon after Walpole was hired, McCutcheon returned to school. McCutcheon said that she was at school almost every day, but she sometimes had to leave because of doctors’ appointments. She added that she taught some Latin classes herself, taught some in conjunction with substitutes and observed some of the classes.

When winter break ended in early January, Walpole did not return and was replaced by Parker, Pickel and Lipps. Pickel and Parker teach lower-level courses, and Pickel and Lipps teach advanced courses. 

Both Pickel and Lipps declined to be interviewed.

Five students interviewed by the Bit said that they learned less material with substitutes than what they had expected to learn. Holland, who takes Foundations I in Latin, said that he thought his classmates would “not be set up for Latin II in the future.”

Freshman Caitlyn Quint said that students could not learn as much material when McCutcheon was gone. “We’re only on section 6 and 7 of the book,” Holland told the Bit in January. “We’re not supposed to be in 6 and 7; we should be farther.” (By April, Holland’s class was on section twelve.)

Senior Wesley Brubaker said that his Advanced Latin Literature class has “probably moved slower than anticipated.”

Junior Avery Ludlow agreed with Brubaker’s sentiment. Ludlow added that having multiple substitute teachers made the class very disorganized.

McCutcheon and Parker said that students were not behind where they should be in the curriculum.

Parker and McCutcheon collaboratively plan lessons and grade students’ assignments. They teach alternating classes, and while Parker or McCutcheon is teaching, the other observes and takes notes. After class, Parker and McCutcheon write a report for each other to keep track of the class’ progress. “We put a lot of effort into trying to always stay calibrated and on the same page to present a consistent pedagogy to the students,” Parker said.

McCutcheon said that she attempts to dedicate equal time to each of her classes, but the students interviewed by the Bit provided different estimates of how often McCutcheon taught. Junior Ajay Reed, who takes the Introduction to Latin Literature course, said that McCutcheon taught all three classes the week of Jan. 30. Kunz, who takes the Foundations I in Latin course, said that McCutcheon teaches once a week at most. Senior Wesley Brubaker, who takes the Advanced Latin Literature course, said McCutcheon only teaches one class every two weeks.

McCutcheon said that she has asked students for their feedback about how to ease the shifts between her and the substitutes’ teaching. “We’ve really been good about having a lot of feedback and a lot of really open conversations,” McCutcheon said.

McCutcheon said she is not sure when she will return to teach full-time. “Because it’s a health situation, I can’t predict that,” she said. Until she fully returns, McCutcheon will continue teaching alongside the substitutes.

CLARIFICATION (May 3 at 12:08 p.m.): This article has been clarified to reflect that the interview with freshman Parker Holland was conducted in January and did not reflect, at the time of publication, the progress of his class.

NOTE: The interviews in this article were conducted between Jan. 20 and March 15, and they do not reflect the progress of Nicola McCutcheon’s Latin classes on April 16, when the article was published.