A Dead Language Revived

Mr. Tom Handloser Breathes Life into the Lost Language of Latin 

On test days, Mr. Tom Handloser has 60 students and 7,200 points to grade in one night. Well, it must take some kind of superhero to do that.

As Mr. Handloser, also known as Magist (which means “teacher” in Latin), takes his proud pose, the classroom erupts with cheer. The students show admiration toward this because Magist repeats the phrase every time there’s next-day grading on tests. It really does take some kind of superhero to do that. As of writing, the streak of next-day-grading lives on. The streak, among countless other in-class traditions, makes Latin at CHS unique.

Magist, a CHS graduate, returned to teach here in 1986. “I actually taught English for four years. Then, I returned to school to earn a master’s degree, while also teaching classes as a graduate assistant for Latin and Greek classics,” he said. 

He also pointed out differences in teaching at a university as opposed to a high school. “To start out, there were girls in the class, obviously. There was also the age difference. People who took Latin at the University were typically older and more serious. There aren’t any discipline problems in college, but, by far, I prefer teaching here,” he said.

Former Latin student Mr. Dylan Owen said, “Working with Magist, at times, I feel like I’m still a student in a positive way. I just go to him often and ask for advice on life. Our conversations are now more peer-to-peer vs. teacher-to-student, so working with him has been awesome.” 

Magist and Mr. Owen demonstrated the benefits of taking Latin. Apparently, it also helps with other classes. “Sixty-five percent of English words are directly derived from Latin,” Magist said. “The more Latin you learn, the better English grammar you have. It also helps us understand our modern society. The better we observe Greek and Roman histories, the better we can understand our own world.” Mr. Owen said, “Learning Latin absolutely helped me as an English major and teacher. I can carry a conversation simply because I know what the words mean. Knowing Latin has absolutely been beneficial.” Sophomore Ben Baldwin said, “Just the other day, I was going through my vocabulary assignment and I knew the words just by knowing their Latin roots.” 

It’s not only the language that the students love. Baldwin said, “Magist’s way of teaching is very special. It’s more effective because you’re actually engaged with the class. There are so many decorations in the room, so when a student points out a statue, Magist gives the story behind the statue, and then it ties into the lesson. And being in the class is such a different kind of learning. I stress in all of my classes, but when I walk into Latin, it’s a positive feeling.”

Magist has always encouraged fun in the classroom. As evidence of this, Mr. Owen told a story of the 3 Amigos. “Magist called me, Coach Rob, and Tyler Campbell the 3 Amigos because we were together all the time. And in sophomore year, we were in the same Latin class. And it was the greatest thing ever. For Lent that year, Tyler gave up talking in class. He didn’t say a word the entire time. When [Lent] ended, the first day after, Tyler did not close his mouth for the fifty-minute period. Magist did this thing for a while called Quote of the Day, which was one of the in-class things we had going on. After Lent, Tyler was so excited to talk again, he tried to say, ‘Quote of the Day,’ but it actually came out as ‘Quo-Day’, and that became the new term for it. So that was my favorite part about Latin. That kind of situation could just arise. We learned all the time, but he allowed this kid to not talk, so he’d try to see if Tyler could cave in. We all had a good time with it.  

getoriginalimage (7) copy

Magist gives a lecture to one of his Latin II classes.

“And he just understood how we worked as 14- and 15-year-old boys; we’re all kind of dumb. It was pretty cool how he could teach while also have fun with the students. It was fun.”

Magist also expressed his biggest challenge as a teacher. He said, “Getting teenage boys to see the value of education, especially while teaching a dead language, is difficult. They have to understand that, beyond a test, this is going to lead into their future. Otherwise, it’ll be torture for them.” 

As it turns out, he overcame this challenge. Baldwin said, “He was the teacher who made me take school seriously.” 

Mr. Owen said, “I was going to quit Latin. It wasn’t because I had a bad grade; it was because I didn’t want to work hard and Civics [would have been easier]. But, Magist had a conversation with me, and we agreed that I’d stick work through it, and I took Latin seriously.” 

According to Magist and Mr. Owen, teachers draw inspiration from previous teachers. Magist said, “I use a lot of Father Raymond Rossi’s methods. He’s my number one influence. I try to get little bits of techniques from my favorite teachers. You can take it, and make it your own.”

Mr. Owen said, “The fact that Magist’s not afraid to stop the lesson and connect it to something related to life, and he’s not afraid to make fun of himself as long as a point’s being made. He emphasized that life was just as important as the lesson we were learning. That made a big impact on me because I remember being a student and thinking, ‘Hey, I like that!’”

Baldwin has grown to love the in-class traditions in Latin. “The competition of better grades on tests drives us to win against other classes and perform better,” he said. “There are so many routines we have, so it’s hard to pick a favorite. We sing people out when they don’t have their homework, and they have to return to class with shame. There’s the PAE club, which is a reward for achieving a 100% on a test, and we also read the Iliad,” Magist said.

Magist has a simple message for future Latin scholars. “We work, but we have lots of fun,” he said.

Ben Baldwin said, “Honestly, you should choose to take Latin. It helps you with all of your other classes, and, on top of that, you get Magist. That should explain itself.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *