Just Folks - Longtime Latin teacher says 'vale'

Scheer brought 'dead' language to life for North High students

Scheer brought 'dead' language to life for North High students

June 22, 2007|by MARLO BARNHART

Want to get into a serious debate with Joseph Scheer about whether the study of Latin still belongs in Washington County classrooms?

Careful ... you'll probably lose.

Even though Scheer is retiring after 26 years teaching Latin and English at North Hagerstown High School, he still firmly believes in the value of studying this so-called dead language.

"Latin is so interesting and it's everywhere," he said.

Look at graduation which is itself a word derived from the Latin meaning an arrangement or classification into grades according to size, Scheer said.

"Valedictorian comes from 'vale' meaning goodbye and 'dict' which is speaking," Scheer said.

A Philadelphia native, Scheer attended the University of Pennsylvania, Temple and then Georgetown.

"I was a professional student for a while," Scheer said. "I went into teaching to influence others."

Now 71, Scheer's main area of teaching interest was at first social studies which he taught in high school for three years. For seven years, he was on the faculty at Gettysburg College where he taught political science.


Then Scheer went into business for eight years because his wife, Margaret, had recently left the teaching profession and the family needed more money than one teaching salary could provide.

When Scheer came to North High, it was because an English teacher who also taught Latin left suddenly. "I began around Thanksgiving that year, teaching two classes of Latin and the rest English."

Later, there were enough students interested in Latin that it became his main teaching curricula.

"Latin is so interesting ... a tool and a vehicle for other studies," Scheer insisted. And he tried mightily to make it interesting to his students through the years.

While he is aware that parents often have a lot to do with whether a student takes Latin or not, he also believes that once the student was in his classroom, he could share his love of the language.

"My students were my best advertisement," Scheer said. "Young people complain about the work but they learn that attainment comes with the work."

His advice to students pondering the possibility of signing up for Latin is not to be afraid of the challenge, Scheer said.

"You'll not only learn Latin but grammar and vocabulary, too," he said.

Reading, gardening

Now that he is retired, there is a lot of reading in Scheer's future as well as some physical work for a change. "I enjoy gardening and there are two old houses I will be fixing up," he said.

Scheer and his wife have three daughters and two grandchildren, all of whom live on the other side of the Mississippi River, so some travel will be in the offing for the couple.

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