Saturday, 15 March 2014

Homage to a teacher on the Ides of March.

March 15 1958. Latin class in grade 2 of the Lyceum, the first year we had the subject. Greek had to wait another year. The education we received, Gymnasium, was supposed to be the perfect preparation for the lofty halls of academe. In retrospect we were being trained to be perfect seventeenth century gentlemen.

The teacher gave everyone a chocolate bar to commemorate an assassination that had taken place some 2000 years ago. I remember that small incident every March 15. Not because of the candy, but because he was such a great teacher.

Kees de Keizer was only 24 at the time, still a graduate student. This meant nothing to us. He was a teacher and therefore on the other side of the dividing line between Us and Them. He was a grownup and that was that.

In spite of his youth and inexperience he was one of the best teachers I ever had. A tall, gangly young man, he had no problem dominating the classroom and keeping order. An orderly classroom is one of the prerequisites for a good learning experience. I don't think it is something one can learn. There may be some methods and tricks, but above all a teacher of teenagers needs a certain animal tamer quality, an inner stance of strength. It is a good thing I never tried to become one. I had a hard enough time getting my kids to pick up their toys.

Mr. de Keizer loved his subject. He brought the classics to life like no other teacher ever did. The memory of his lessons in Ovid still makes me smile. We had to learn reading hexameters, a tricky business since certain syllables can be either long or short, depending on the rest of the verse. Said he: "If you can learn to dance, you can learn to scan verse." 

Somehow my feet have never been able to connect to a beat in my ears. There is a block somewhere. Past lives in a monastery would explain much but that is of course pure speculation. Anyway, I loved Latin, hexameters and all. In spite of never learning to dance I excelled at scanning . It is sad that the brain has retained no more than a few fragments. 
One such fragment, from the story of the great flood, pops up every time I see a picture of a flooded landscape.

Terra ferax, dum terra fuit, sed tempore ab illo
pars maris et latus subitarum campus aquarum.

Fertile land, while land it was, but at that time
part of the sea and a wide field of sudden waters.

Once in a while I think it might be fun to take a refresher course, but let's get real. There are gardens to plant and too many kittens on Facebook.

Meanwhile, today I raise a glass (of carrot juice) to the memory of a beloved teacher.


  1. Sweet. I taught all the way from grade 7 to 12 at various times and loved most every minute till the day I retired. And yes classroom discipline is an essential ingredient.

  2. Good teachers are worth their weight in gold!


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