Requiescat in Pace, Mr. Alling

Troia fuit. Troy has been.

The phrase has stuck with me since 7th Grade Latin. Mr. Alling was hurrying around the semi-circle of desks that stood in front of him, periodically forcing his rolled sleeves back above his elbows as he handed out papers. He began to explain: we would each select one of the Latin phrases on this list and use it to design a magnet for our fridge at home. As he spoke, he fought off a smile at the corners. He had to do that sometimes, when he realized he might be more excited than one ought to be for a magnet or a “dead language.”

Of course, the phrases in front of us were far from dead. I guess that was Mr. Alling’s lesson. Carpe diem. Semper fidelis. Terra incognito. And one that seems more fitting now than it did then: Tempus fugit. Time flies.

But Troia fuit was the phrase I chose. The one that stuck. In two words, it encapsulated the destruction of once-mighty Troy at the hands of the Greeks. A city once full of life reduced to utter emptiness. A permanence ripped away. It was this phrase that came to me when I learned that Mr. Alling had passed.

Mr. Alling was my Latin teacher — my magister — for three years. And for three years, I saw him give his students everything he had. He spent hours creating thousands of Latin Bingo boards so his 6th Graders could learn fortasse, aestas, and agricola and laugh as they did it. He spent hundreds of his hard-earned dollars on Jolly Ranchers and pizza parties — rewards for Bingo winners and determined study. And he spent weeks every year pulling together his Saturnalia festival, marshaling a hundred students in togas through plays and skits and recitations as our parents watched and clapped and enjoyed cheese and fruit and grape juice like true Romans. And somehow, between all these games and all those Jolly Ranchers and all that pizza, we learned.

We learned because Mr. Alling loved Latin and he loved us. He wasn’t a stand-on-your-desk kind of teacher. He wasn’t our Captain, O’ Captain. He was tall but thin, with button down shirts that never seemed to stay tucked, and when he wasn’t calling bingo or conjugating verbs or retelling the Punic Wars, he could be terribly shy. But teaching Latin was his calling, and in front of that semicircle of desks, he commanded attention and affection. For three years, he was our teacher, and we were his students.

Of course, like so many teachers, Mr. Alling’s work didn’t stop when the bell rang. He spent hours preparing for Saturday morning tutoring sessions, creating new games and personalized study strategies. He met with students after school daily, staying as late as necessary to aid and encourage as they passed through the gauntlet of AP Latin. And he even devised a lesson plan — complete with a letter home to our parents — that made it possible for him to cancel homework whenever his beloved Red Sox won, all without us falling behind. For a 7th Grader, this was an intervention of the divine sort.

His efforts paid off. Year after year after year, his students earned summa and magna and cum laudes on the National Latin Exam. The year before I moved on to high school, more than three-quarters of his students earned NLE honors. Last year, in his last year of teaching, those numbers hadn’t changed. His students never wanted to let him down. We wanted to prove that all his effort and all our fun and, yes, all those Red Sox homework reprieves were worth it. He meant that much to us.

He meant that much to us because Mr. Alling was a constant. As our English, Math, and Science teachers changed year after year, Mr. Alling remained, full of nervous energy and love for his students. For a young teacher, there was a permanence about him. There was a mightiness to his skill and dedication, and a life to his classroom. That’s why his loss hurts so much. With his passing it feels, like Troy, that it has all been ripped away.

Meus magister fuit. My teacher has been. But he will never be forgotten.

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