Once in a while I reminisce about my school days and think about those teachers in my life who most inspired me to learn. Ed Axtmann was one such teacher. His deep baritone, rumbled along with a hint of old country German as he recited countless verb conjugations in Latin. He was an animated presence, often stooping low and taking deep steps as he marched around the front of the classroom holding his hardwood chalkboard pointer. Occasionally he would burst out in a fit of mock anger and slam that pointer onto the desktop of some unsuspecting student, uttering a German phrase that I can only transpose as ‘deuter gewitter, loci mol’. To this day I don’t know what the literal translation is but he often assured us that it was Bavarian profanity and was best said to mean ‘thunderstorm’.
If I learned anything in his class, it was to be prepared for anything. Participation was something Mr. Axtmann expected and the fact that we didn’t know when we would be called to participate was especially unnerving. To make Fate a major player in our education he often utilized Pandora’s Box, which was nothing more than an old Sucrets tin that held a small collection of red paperboard bingo disks. Each disk had been inscribed with a number in felt tip pen and represented a student in the classroom. Axtmann would allow a random student to choose from Pandora’s Box, and when the (un)lucky number was read aloud, that student would get to translate – ready, or not – a passage of Latin for the rest of the class.
I was reminded time and again by many friends that took Spanish or German that my three years of Latin were a waste of a foreign language. ‘It’s a dead language,’ they would say. Maybe. But I would remind them that Latin is the root of many languages, including English. Thanks to Ed Axtmann and my studies in Latin I have a pretty good handle on the English language. It not only improved my spelling habits, but has been tremendously helpful in deciphering difficult vocabulary. Above all, Ed taught me the importance of having passion for what you’re teaching.
Mr. Axtmann, Magister, you made a difference. Thank you.