15 Mar 2021

Ides of March

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In my high school, the better students, in the two Academic class sections, received instruction in Latin in 9th and 10th grade. Our Latin teacher had a curious personal custom. He sacrificed annually in honor of Great Caesar, on the Ides of March, the male student in each class who had offended him by doing the least work and/or being the most disruptive. He sacrificed additionally one female student from each class whose selection, I fear, was based only upon his own capricious whim and covert sexual attraction.

The sacrifice consisted of the victim being bent over a desk and receiving three strokes of a paddle, delivered by a six foot+, 250 lb.+ Latin teacher laying on the strokes with a will and putting his weight behind them. (I won’t name him.) Mr. X’s paddle was a four foot long piece of 1 1/2″ thick pine, produced in our high school’s wood shop by General Curriculum students, who did not take Latin, but admired Mr. X. The paddle was roughly in the form of a Roman gladius, and its surface was scored by a series of regular lines, because it was generally believed that a blow from an uneven surface was more painful.

Mr. X had a fixed policy of assigning the duty of construing the day’s Latin assignment on the blackboard in strict and completely predictable order, going up and down the aisles of desks. Two or three of the smart kids would always actually do the Latin, (I was one of them) and it was our recognized duty to supply the translations in advance to the person who would be going to the blackboard.

Readiness to translate correctly was really vital, because Mr. X would apply his dreaded paddle to anyone who failed to write out the day’s assignment correctly on the blackboard. It was rare, but every once in a while some truly feckless idiot would neglect to seek out Kenny Hollenbach, Jack Rigrotsky, or yours truly, and would arrive at the blackboard, chalk in hand, unprepared.

Mr. X typically broke the current paddle over the defaulter’s posterior, and the mental defectives in shop class would gleefully commence the fabrication of a new, yet more elaborate, edition of the famous paddle.

Every March 15th, two 9th and 10th grade Academic Curriculum sections would look on with the same sadistic interest of Roman spectators at the gladitorial games, as Mr. X conducted his sacrifices. I can recall that he struck the pretty strawberry blonde with the well-developed embonpoint so hard that he raised dust from her skirt. We were a bit puzzled that girls actually submitted to being beaten with a paddle for no reason, but all this went on undoubtedly because the legend of Mr. X the fierce disciplinarian had enormous appeal in our local community. The whole thing was fascinating, and it all made such a good story that everyone, student and adult, in his heart of hearts, enthusiastically approved.

Mr. X would never be allowed to get away with that kind of thing today. Alas! In Hades, poor Caesar must do without his sacrifice. And it is my impression that Latin instruction has rather overwhelmingly also become a thing of the past. Kids today learn Spanish. Modern languages are easier and are thought more relevant.

My high school Latin teacher is the large chap wearing glasses. He also coached one of our sports teams.


An annual post in memory of my Latin teacher.

4 Feedbacks on "Ides of March"


My 9th grade class was carved out to “house” the problem and older students (we had two students in the 9th grade that were 20 YO). I picked that class because it had wood and metal shop classes along with drafting. Our math teacher was the Gym teacher and someone not to be trifled with. He was NOT a math teacher he was selected because the math teacher wouldn’t do it. One day one of the larger kids (6’3″ 220 lb athlete) really acted up in math class and when called on it he responded less than politely. The teacher walked right up to him and knocked him to the ground. This was 1957 back when you wouldn’t dare tell your parents that you got in trouble in school because they would knock you to the ground for it. After that Math class was the model of decorum.


A friend of mine, who taught science in high school, told me once that he was having trouble with one smart aleck junior boy. My friend called home to discuss the situation with the parents. The boy’s dad told my friend not to worry, he would take care of it. The next day, when they were in the lab doing some experiments, the boy was his usual self, i.e. goofing off and being an idiot, when the door opened and the dad walked in unannounced. The boy did not see his dad until he was right behind him. When the dad spoke the boy turned around and saw his dad. Then the dad, who was built like a fire hydrant, grabbed his much taller son and pushed him against the wall. Then he lifted the boy up onto his tippy toes and said, (I’m paraphrasing) “I hear that you have been goofing off. I do not want to get another phone call about your behavior. Understand?”

The boy, wide-eyed with shock and fear, nodded his head, then his dad let go and walked out.

The boy was a dream student for the rest of the year.

Joe Gruber

I had an English teacher in my freshman year of high school who probably only weighed 150 pounds and was about 5’ 7” in his stocking feet. He was a brand new fresh out of college teacher and students were always trying to take advantage of him. He slowly began to get the hang of things in terms of running the class, but one day well-known troublemaker who was about 180 pounds in 6 foot one decided to take a swing at him. That was a mistake! We all learned that day that our English teacher was a former golden gloves Boxer in college. Easily avoided the first punch from Mr. bully, and then decked him with one punch. The bully was suspended for a week, and nothing happened to the teacher. That was 1967. How times have changed.


Day one Freshman Latin class 1962. Teacher–Ms Johnson, been teaching Latin for 40 years. One smart ass boy (not me) acted up and Ms Johnson marched him down the hall to Mr. K-one of the coaches,i.e. enforcers. Smart ass boy returned to class about 10 minutes later with a red face and the finger marks prominent and his tail between his legs. No more discipline problems in Latin class the rest of the year.


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