A Gift of Language

By: Anne Corke

Jan 23 2017

Tags: , , ,

Category: Life stories


It’s fifty years since I graduated from high school. Of course, high school has changed a lot in the intervening years, not necessarily for the better but that’s a topic for another day. In those days, there was a four year program, intended to prepare students for the workplace, and a five year program for those with post-secondary ambitions. For many reasons, I really didn’t enjoy high school but when I think back to those days, I do remember very fondly two exceptional teachers. I think we would all agree that, as in any other profession, there are good teachers and bad teachers but few exceptional ones and these two gentlemen were indeed exceptional. And although I was a bit of a science geek, my highest marks throughout those years were in French and Latin because of these remarkable men.

My Latin teacher’s name was Mr Glavin. Mr Glavin looked a bit like a dark-haired Art Garfunkel, thin with a high forehead and bushy black hair. Although many would consider Latin a dead language, Mr Glavin made it come alive with his infectious enthusiasm. “Did you know” he asked one day, “that in Latin we can not just describe a walled rose garden, but we can construct that description to reflect the garden with the words of the wall surrounding the roses.” He was a true romantic and I was enthralled. He made the language come alive; he made it relevant and beautiful and so intriguing. And he obviously enjoyed his students. In fact every summer he would invite us all to his cottage for a barbeque and a swim with Caesar. Caesar, his adorable English bulldog, loved young people. So much so that when one of us dove into the water, he would dive in to save us from drowning. But unfortunately Caesar couldn’t swim and so we would spend the afternoon saving Caesar.

Mr Park was my tall, distinguished French teacher. He was charming and very continental and like Mr Glavin, an enthusiastic and caring teacher who inspired a love of language in his students. In public school, I hated French. I moved to Ottawa halfway through grade seven. I had never studied French and my French teacher at my new school was a narcissistic bully who loved to put me on the spot and showcase my shortcomings. But for Mr Park, I would never have continued my French studies. Mr Park loved his students and shared his love of the French language with us as he took us on a linguistic journey to Paris and beyond. I recall a funny incident when he was walking past my desk one day and pointed out to me that I had spelled ‘marriage’ incorrectly – I had transposed the ‘a’ and the ‘i’. He told me not to worry, that when it happened to me, I would certainly know how to spell it. When I was in Grade 13, Mr Park suffered a massive heart attack. While he was in hospital, his students wrote letters and cards every week to keep his spirits up. He replied with a wonderful poem he had composed. More than a poem, his ode to his students included a personal stanza for each of us. He never returned to teaching. Such a loss.

Fifty years later, I reflect on these two remarkable teachers. I wonder if they knew the impact they had on their students. I hope at least that they knew how much they were loved. My French and my Latin are pretty rusty now, but I will always remember these two wonderful teachers whose love of language is their enduring gift to me.

Copyright 2017 Anne Corke

2 comments on “A Gift of Language”

  1. A really interesting post. Thanks for sharing it. How are you doing these days?

  2. This left me with a warm smile on my face and in my heart! X

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