By Janie Southard
Sona si latine loqueris! (Honk if you speak Latin!) Few do, but that's not the fault of Celina City Schools Latin teacher John Roth.
The last thing young Roth had in mind as he grew up on Put-In-Bay Island in Lake Erie was to become a Latin teacher. However, he's spent almost all of his 41-year career teaching Celina students the ins and outs of Latin grammar.
But, Latin is not a spoken language, so why learn it at all? Because, according to Roth, it gives students a head start in all aspects of education and is, as well, one of the pleasures of learning.
"About 55 percent of English is Latin, 15 percent is Greek and 25 percent is Anglo-Saxon," Roth, who teaches seven classes of Latin each school day, told The Daily Standard recently at his country home. "So it's really all around us."
Roth's father was known as "the power company" on Put-In-Bay through young John's eighth grade year. The senior Roth repaired, replaced and otherwise tended to electrical problems all over the island until the family moved to the mainland. John Roth began his first of four years of high school Latin after the move. In college as Roth pondered his life's work, his old professor/ counselor gave some never forgotten advice. He said there were a lot of "old lady Latin teachers dying off and no one to replace them, which would make for a lot of job opportunities and job security," Roth recalled.
He majored in history and social science, but took many years of Latin along the way. After college he spent three years working as a camp counselor in Florida. Roth and his wife Sandy decided to move closer to home (Fremont), and then chose Celina because of the lake.
He was hired over the phone for the Latin teacher position at Celina High School and received his contract in the mail. "You can see things were a lot different then," he mused.
"Once I got here Bob Brandon (then high school principal) told me I was replacing a local legend, Sarah Sutton. Nothing like starting out with a lot of pressure," Roth said.
Presently there is a scarcity of Latin teachers, which is one reason the Celina district rehired the retired Roth this year to teach the students already studying Latin through their senior year.
Due to budget constraints the district must eliminate one foreign language. So, when the last class now studying Latin graduates that language will be cut.
"I know some people were upset and some board members disapproved. But reductions were being made. One consideration was that (Roth retiring and being rehired) wouldn't cost any teachers their jobs," Roth said.
Of Latin, he said it's a tough language to learn, but it's a good way to expand a student's thinking. Plus, all the English grammar rules are based on Latin.
"Translating Latin is a definite process, a system, like math. You do step one, then step two and so forth. But it takes a while for students to rely on the process. You will never have an indirect question in English, so, again it's the process -- look for the main verb," Roth explained.
Another benefit is the English vocabulary strength that results from being familiar with Latin.
"You know the advice that if you don't know a word, look it up. Well, I encourage my students to try to figure it out based on what Latin they know. Many, many words will give students a Latin clue.
"Surprisingly it's the straight A students who have difficulty with this. They want to follow the rules and to get to the answer as soon as they can. It's very hard for them to keep from reaching for their dictionaries," he said.
Roth's students top his list of career rewards. He said he's had some truly brilliant students, however, these are the students that usually pack up and leave town.
"In little towns there's always a brain drain. Many graduates go to college and move away forever. I just hope when my students are back in town, they stop by and see the old man Latin teacher," Roth chuckled.