To Strive, To Seek, To Find and Not to Yield: Curriculum Innovation
By Mario Morales-Bermúdez, Latin Teacher; Publisher, The Shield
I have never taught a class the same way twice.
That’s no idle boast. Ask any of my students what, say, their second year of Latin was like, and
have fun comparing stories.
Frankly, it’s not much of a boast at all.
It’s a lot of work to tear a curriculum down to its true successes, year after year, and try to build
something better around them, especially when there are four or five curricula that require that
Plus, when you change things around every year, you lose the stability and familiarity that
repeated experience provides. You introduce even more variables into the immensely complex
human equation that is education.
So why do I do it? Well, because I get bored easily, but also because if I think there’s a better
way to teach than what I’m doing right now, I owe it to my students to try it. I owe it to myself to
All of which brings me to the newest addition to the Foreign Language department: the
Language 1A course, which fuses important elements of its Language Seminar predecessor
with the typical coursework you’d get in the first level of a language.
Over the summer, the Foreign Language department met several times to iron out the entirety of
the English-focused first semester, which we are effectively co-teaching. During those hours, we
outlined interesting projects, found fun videos and activities, and chose the most important
topics to help our seventh graders become precise, passionate, and energetic writers.
Now, I did teach a year of seventh-grade language in 2020 . . . but that was Intro to Language,
not Language Seminar. I haven’t co-taught a class since 2014, when I last taught Spanish 1. (I
wasn’t even married then.) As some of my newest students found out during schola brevis, I
have never taught a project-based class.
In other words, this should be a wonderful experience, right? I just spent the first several
paragraphs of this post talking about my constant need to tinker with my classes, didn’t I?
Surely this is just the next level of that challenge.
Unfortunately, a desire to modify and improve a class presupposes that you’ve taught that class
at least once.
So as I write this, somewhere under twelve hours from my first Latin 1A class, I’m also
somewhere between terrified and restless—and thankful my students aren’t going to read this
for another two weeks.
The reason I’m terrified is simple: I’ve never done this before. Even if I had, you never know
how the next class of students will react to the parts of your curriculum you’ve kept the same.
Assignments that fit perfectly into your schedule last time become impractical quagmires you
abandon. Activities you considered ironclad bounce off a class so hard that you wonder whether
they’re worth doing ever again.
Despite all of that, though, I can’t wait to teach this class.
Partly, that’s because our department did such amazing work preparing this class. I’d like to take
this moment to thank my colleagues—Gena Stoll-Ewart, Vanessa Bucukovski, Lena DeLuca,
Jennifer Martínez, and our intrepid chair Susan Hickman—for all of their work over the summer
on making this course a worthy new offering at McQuaid Jesuit. We think everything we’ve put
into this course exemplifies not just good pedagogy, but the true spirit of Jesuit education.
Partly, it’s because I’m a total grammar fiend, and this first semester is a chance to shift my
thinking on how to teach writing. English isn’t my first language, and when I learned to write and
speak formally, I did it with a big book of grammar drills and a lot of practice writing essays in
longhand. Somehow, it became why I chose to specialize in teaching languages (quit laughing,
I’m serious), and now I have the opportunity to transmit that passion in new ways.
But most of all, it’s because I refuse to ask anything of my students that I would not do myself.
Some of you know that I address my students formally, using “Mr.” or “Domne” followed by their
surname, because I consider it only fair if I am asking them to do the same for me.
By that same token, I can’t ask them to take on the challenge of learning a whole new language
if I’m not willing to be a little uncomfortable, even a little scared, in order to teach them one.
Have a great year, Knights.
The biweekly chronicles of 1800 South Clinton by McQuaid Jesuit community members.
Hope Springs Eternal: The First Day of School
By Ben Bogdan ‘17, Associate Director of Admissions
What day marks the dawn of a new year?
The calendar says it’s January 1st, but – if you’re like me – this date can feel a bit arbitrary.
When I was a kid and the biggest Boston Red Sox fan in New York State, Opening Day
represented the true “beginning”. For many families in our community, there’s a
different, natural answer: yesterday, the first day of school.
The start of a new year brings endless uncertainty with it. Before our beloved team’s first game, the
internal monologue of a baseball diehard reads like an optimistic line by Alexander Pope. “Hope
springs eternal,” is the mantra. In this context it means, “This could be our year!”
The relative quiet of summer at McQuaid Jesuit becomes a crescendo in its waning weeks. As
students and faculty gradually emerged in the halls, visiting the bookstore or organizing a
classroom, I asked them to indulge a brief, impromptu, and anonymous (to encourage
participation) survey: “What do you feel is the greatest unknown entering this new year?
And what is your greatest hope for it?” Here are some responses.
1. Incoming Student, McQuaid Jesuit Class of 2030 (6th Grade)
Unknown: “Well, I’m kind of worried about how I’m going to get to all the rooms. It’s a big school,
so I’m worried about that, but *with a cool confidence* I’m going to make it work.”
Hope: “I really hope for a fresh start. I’m going to be able to experience a new environment, and
it’s gonna be nice. I have high hopes.”
2. Mother of the Above Student
Unknown: “The structure and rigor. I think that school has been relatively easy to date, but
moving to McQuaid for 6th grade is like graduating to the next chapter. I think the McQuaid
curriculum will be a good challenge.”
Hope: “My hope is that this is a year when he’s really able to find and explore his passions. This
is a new environment. It’s beyond academics. And that’s what me, my husband, and my son
really are so excited about.”
3. Jesuit Priest, McQuaid Jesuit First Graduating Class of 1958 (I promise not to spoil all of them)
Unknown: “Who will be the next president of the school?”
Hope: “That we will live up to the ideals of McQuaid, especially in the development of Men for
4. Former Principal, Current Staff (relax, he doesn’t mind)
Unknown: “The margin by which the Bills will win the Super Bowl.”
Hope: “My greatest hope for the upcoming school year is that each of our students discovers
something about themselves.”
5. Senior, Executive Council Member
Unknown: “What’s the next step? Figuring out everything with college… Where am I going to be
Hope: “Just to make a lot of memories, honestly. It’s senior year, my last year. I want to make
as many memories as possible. I want to stay present.”
Unknown: “Will the lingering effects of students’ educational experience during the pandemic
continue in some way? How will we help them succeed despite the impact?”
Hope: “My greatest hope is that every student tries something new this year and is open to
Unknown: “Will I bond with the other kids? Will I meet new friends?”
Hope: “That I get a good part in the musical production. I also hope to get enough sleep.”
8. Two Staff Members in the Same Room
Staff A: “My greatest unknown is what my favorite meal is going to be in the cafeteria. I hope the
walking tacos will be back.”
Staff B: “They’ll think that’s me. Thanks.”
Unknown: “I think the biggest unknown for me is the amount of work I’m going to get. Last year I
only took one AP class. This year, I’m taking four.”
Hope: “To do well in all my classes and build a healthy relationship with my teachers. Also, to
win a World Championship in robotics.”
Unknown: “What will be the culture of the year, the feel of the year? And I think the senior class
is going to define that. I have a lot of confidence in them.”
Hope: “That our students encounter God in a meaningful way and know in a greater sense how
much they’re loved.”
Yesterday, I walked down to the cafeteria and ran into respondent #1, the 6th grader. I asked
how his first day was going. “Good,” he said cheerfully. “This is my second lunch. I went to the
wrong lunch period earlier, but now, this is my right one.” “Bonus lunch!” I exclaimed. It sounded
like he was “making it work”, indeed. “How were your classes this morning?” “Easy.” Sorry,
Still in the cafeteria, I observed a student approach a classmate who was eating alone. The two
then walked together and sat down at a crowded, lively table. It reminded me of respondent #7,
the freshman who wondered if he’d make new friends, and respondent #3, the Jesuit who aimed
to mold Men for Others.
Around 3 pm, I followed up with respondent #5, the senior. I asked what he was going to
remember about his last first day at McQuaid. “Definitely messing up on the announcements,”
he replied with a grin.
I’ve all but given up on my Sox at this point in early September. But yesterday, the now-noisy
halls brought me back to that preseason mantra. To every Knight: I hope this is your year.
Please revisit FortKnight in two weeks to read Mario Morales-Bermudez’ reflection on curriculum
Welcome to FortKnight, McQuaid Jesuit’s new biweekly blog. We want to tell the day-to-day stories that you might not otherwise hear. Every 2 weeks, a different individual will write a post. We hope you enjoy, and encourage you to share your favorite columns.