May 27, 2010
Fiona Hamilton, London Correspondent
The teacher was using a Ben Hur video clip to illustrate the basics of Roman chariot racing when she turned to the most unruly member of her class and asked a question.
A shamefaced Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London, played with his hair for a moment before answering: “I’m sorry, I wasn’t concentrating. It was exciting though. Did someone fall off their chariot?”
With its chaotic nature and propensity to induce collisions, chariot racing shares some similarities with Mr Johnson. Many were evident in yesterday’s classroom appearance in Southwark, South London. The mayor’s failure to pay attention was quickly followed by the ultimate classroom faux pas when he addressed Miss Hollender by her first name, Sophie, in front of students.
“Teaching is really hard isn’t it?” he said. With typical exuberance, the language enthusiast went on to compare gladiators with footballers at the World Cup, describe Roman massacres in detail and expressing surprise at pupils’ knowledge of Latin verbs.
“I was told you didn’t know anything,” he exclaimed. His teaching style was one of enthusiasm and encouragement. The air was punctured with “brilliant”, “fantastic” and “unbelievable” as students demonstrated their knowledge of the language. “What else do I need to teach you? I’m exhausted,” said Mr Johnson.
The lesson turned to modern issues when he was asked to explain the origin of “coalition”. It came from the Latin coalesco, he said, meaning “growing together”.
Mr Johnson spent half an hour at St Saviour’s & St Olave’s secondary school, teaching Latin basics and describing transport in the Roman period as part of his campaign to promote volunteering in the capital.