Medders, Kim: Karlsruhe American High School

Ever wonder what your students take away from you with them as they depart into the world? The Ides of March being tomorrow, I thought I’d share this little brain dripping with you. Enjoy!

“This was the noblest Roman of them all: All the conspirators, save only he, did that they did in envy of great Caesar…” Tomorrow being the “Ides of March” made famous in Shakespeare’s play, Julius Caesar, reminded me of two gifted educators I had while attending Karlsruhe American High School in Germany in the 1960’s.

Mrs. Eleanor Born who signed her yearbook picture “Best Wishes” (and I’m sure she meant it) was my ninth-grade English teacher. I thought at the time she was somewhat “supercilious”, a vocabulary word she shared with us. She and I did not see eye to eye on many things in that class, but as I once taught junior high English myself, I now understand many things from her point of view. If she was still with us in this mortal world, I would tender her heartfelt apologies.

We studied Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar in her class that year. Mrs. Born, who was also one of the drama club sponsors, was probably scouting for some new actors for various high school productions. At any rate, she made everyone in the class memorize a soliloquy from the play. I hated the idea because I didn’t like talking in front of people, but it meant a significant part of your grade. I searched this masterwork diligently until I found one of the shortest in the play. It was Marc Anthony’s soliloquy, “He was the noblest Roman of them all” spoken over the body of Brutus. I then hunkered down and spent many hours committing it to my weak and until this time, underused memory. On presentation, I had to fight past my fear of speaking in front of people and managed to mumble it out without too much trouble. I must have done it well enough, because I managed to get a B+ on the assignment and a C+ from Mrs. Born that year.

Mr. Clyde Born, Eleanor’s husband, was my wood shop teacher and I loved his class and that guy. Mr. Born also had the distinction of being the high school’s first principal. He apparently did not like administration which was good for us kids as he had a wonderful and comfortable teaching style. I credit him with imbuing me a real lifelong love of woodworking. I think I heard “measure twice and cut once” from him for the first time. My projects in his class were clumsy and unremarkable except to my parents who seemed to really enjoy my crooked bookshelf and dangerously unstable candlesticks. I was really that kid who would put a log on the lathe and finish with a toothpick! He was very encouraging to me and though he did not annotate my yearbook with “good luck”, I am sure he would have said it. At least now I make a lot more than saw dust! I think of Mr. Born every time I pick up a tool or cut a piece of wood. He also, I would thank him again if he were still alive. Oh yeah, I got an “A” from him that year!

The upshot to this story is the year before last I was standing around the American Legion bar in my hometown. Somehow the conversation turned to Shakespeare and before I knew it, I broke into perfect rendition of that soliloquy I memorized some 50 odd years ago and had not thought of since. I rattled that sucker off like I was a Shakespearean actor, wowing all the assembled veteran beer drinkers present. Unfortunately, they soon became unimpressed when I could go no further…I am after all it seems, a one trick pony when it comes to Shakespeare!

I am sure Mrs. Born would be pleased that I still carry something of her pedagogical skills with me even today, along with her “Best Wishes” even though I used it as a parlor trick in a bar. With Mr. Born I thought I learned a lot of things about using tools which I have always been grateful. Mrs. Born on the other hand, might be the unsung hero (or the noblest Roman of them all). I really hated the soliloquy exercise and was not a big fan of her ninth-grade English class, but she did move me out of my comfort zone into a world where today, I have no fear of public speaking at all. I really did not attribute that skill to her until those Shakespearian words tumbled from my lips under a fine spray of Budweiser. Thanks Mrs. Born!

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