The Association for Latin Teaching

respice prospice

Belinda Dennis

Belinda died on 23rd February 2003. Her obituary is here.

"Belinda's active involvement with ARLT spanned four decades......"

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Belinda Dennis - five appreciations

1. By David Parsons

 Belinda Dennis, Vice-President and long-standing inspirer and supporter of ARLT, died today, Sunday 23rd February 2003.

Others will write her obituary. I wish just to give my personal experience of her unique contribution to the Association. When I attended an ARLT Summer School for the first time, everyone was most friendly, but it was Mrs Dennis who above everyone made me feel that I was welcomed and appreciated. In fact it was because of her that I came to the next year's Summer School. Her welcome was not because of anything in me; she sought out and befriended every member of the Summer School that she had not met before and ensured that they felt valued and at home.

After a Summer School which I led, it was Belinda's warm comments, making light of the weaknesses and catastrophes, and concentrating with warmth and appreciation on the better aspects, that gave me the most cheer and comfort.

It turned out that she was the same Mrs Dennis who had taught and inspired my sister at Harrow County School, and sent her to read Classics at Cambridge. The Classics group of which my sister was part kept in touch with her and enjoyed reunions with her until just a few years ago.

Belinda found walking increasingly difficult in recent years, and had to take a less active part in ARLT and in the London Association of Classics Teachers. She was honoured in her last years at a ceremony held in the British Museum. In her enforced retirement from voluntary activity she has already been greatly missed, and news of her death will bring sorrow to her very many friends.

2. By Veronica Kotziamani

As young Veronica Lemon, I had the privilege of being taught by Belinda Dennis in the 1950's. The trip she organised to Italy for us in the LVIth, lives on in our memories. She was accompanied by her tall, kindly husband Pip and the hugely knowledgeable and energetic Eric Brentini of 'Educational Travel'. They took us to Florence, Rome and Pompeii.

The most spectacular memory I have of this journey was standing on the 'ground' at Solfatara next to a seething 'puddle' of molten lava. Our feet sounded hollow on the thin plug filling the huge crater. I have always sought to replicate exactly this amazing journey with my own pupils and they have equally magic memories; though sadly because of Health and Safety regs. it is now longer possible to stand close to the boiling magma, - (but that is compensated for, to some extent, by my own discovery, the Hotel Oriente at Vico Equense, nr. Sorrento. I always insist on it).

Belinda took us to the theatre, entered us in the Verse Speaking Competions, with finals in the Gustav Tuck theatre at UCL, a most exciting atmosphere; in fact 'if there was anything going, she took us to it' in the words of my former classmate Stella Sterry (nee Webb).

Even after we left school, she kept in touch, and we all had a memorable lunch at her local Greek restaurant.

She was particularly kind to me, and was so thrilled when I came back to teaching Classics after a gap of 18 years. She was extremely generous with her resources, so that I had a nucleus of ideas to start me off, including her own copy of 'Ferdinandus Taurus'.

She is going to be much missed. Because she was a very modern teacher, far ahead of her time, we shall always remember her with great affection.

3. By Ruth Allott

I first met Belinda at my first Summer School in 1958. I had already done nine years' teaching, but was put off attending before by an HMI who said ARLT were "just a bunch of enthusiasts"!! So I went to Ministry courses instead, which were good, but by no means enthusiastic!

Belinda gave me a lot of encouragement and TLC. I found her demonstration lesson inspiring and she gave me a lot of practice and advice. Some people found her a little too enthusiastic! but she was one of the teachers who helped me to stay in teaching Latin when I was going through a bad patch.

4. By Hilary Walters

Belinda's active involvement with ARLT spanned four decades. She attended her first summer school in 1958 (when she became a Committee member), her last in 1996. and kept in touch with the Association even though ill health prevented her from more active participation.

Above all, she was an inspirational teacher. In I960. she gave her first demonstration lesson of the oral method ol Latin teaching, something to which she was deeply committed at the time. The lesson in I960 demonstrated how to teach Purpose Clauses using the Oral Method: it was 'not anything revolutionary,' but showed 'how she teaches Latin at her school' (Harrow County, where she had succeeded Joan Newey as Head of Department). The girls knew the forms of the subjunctive already. the 'tabula' was graphic and to the point, with no side-tracking to other constructions, and there was 'plenty of repetition by both teacher and class until there was no doubt that ALL had grasped the meaning'. The 'old lady's imprecations - 'i in malam rem', "o abominandissima puella' - afforded light relief'! This method of teaching involved extra effort and possibly strain on the teacher, but Belinda felt that 'it was worth while'. The demonstration lesson shown in the photograph, at Loughborough in 1963, was a beginners' class. Belinda used 'eggs. lollipops, crocodiles and considerable acting ability' to make pupils aware of the importance of endings! She was almost ahead of her time in her strong focus on skilful teaching techniques and ensuring that pupils really enjoyed lessons and had fun.

Belinda enthusiastically embraced new ideas during a period ot tremendous change for Classics teaching. At the Summer School of 1970. Belinda led three lively sessions on the 'most important' new idea: literary criticism. Using Aestimanda, Belinda's infectious enthusiasm and skilful interpretation uncovered a 'rich complexity and so many contrapuntal overtones' in the texts. Unsurprisingly, the sessions ended with a reading aloud of the complete passage: the exercise was not an end in itself, but led to a more sensitive and informed enjoyment of the passage as a whole.

Over the years Belinda directed several Weekend Courses and a most successful Summer School. At the Weekend Course in 1971. the involvement of pupils was central. On the Friday evening alone, 'Photoplay' work - slides accompanied by a tape - produced by pupils from Hampden Secondary School, Eastbourne, was shown. The reviewer was impressed with the children's achievement in producing the slides ('working out for themselves how to introduce a horse harmlessly into the cathedral'!) This was followed by performances of Menander's Dyscolus by pupils of the Lycee Francais and some choruses of the Bacchus, with which members of the Classics Club from St Mary's Grammar School had been 'experimenting, for their own amusement'.' On the Saturday, Joan Newey demonstrated the Direct Method with a second year class, prizewinners from the CA reading competition performed, Mr MA Thorpe demonstrated a lessson using the Cambridge Latin Course - still very new. Then followed option groups and lectures. A programme of this kind would seem impossible to construct today; no doubt Belinda's choice of elements was partly traditional, but so much of a focus on leaching pupils was typical of her priorities.

Belinda became a Vice President of ARLT in 1978, an honour which marked the respect in which she was held by the membership. She subsequently became President in 1983. She led Reading Groups at Summer Schools, and did a great deal to help teachers with pronunciation. She was instrumental in developing the leaflet 'Why Latin?' which ARLT produced at this time, reflecting her sense of the importance of the subject and the need to recruit and encourage pupils to choose it. in times that seemed increasingly hostile.

As President she was an invariably gracious and patient Chairwoman. She had great affection for ARLT and for many years delighted the audience with her acting ability in the last night's Entertainment. I recall a hilarious performance as Catullus, too engrossed in writing poetry to satisfy the more earthy Lesbia (played by Guy Rawlinson).' Friendship and fellowship were hugely important to her: she was always exceedingly good company and greatly enjoyed a laugh. She delighted in seeing young teachers entering the profession and bringing in their own enthusiasms. She always quickly made friends with newcomers at Summer Schools and made them feel important and valued.

Throughout her retirement she continued to take a great interest in the fortunes of Classics teachers, especially those in maintained schools who were still struggling at the chalk face. Her encouragement, kindly interest and sparkling enthusiasm meant a great deal to many.

Hilary Walters. President. ARLT

5. by Cathy Mercer

We are very sorry to hear of the recent death of Belinda Dennis (6 July 1915 - 23 February 2003) who for many years was an energetic teacher of classics and worked very hard to encourage other teachers.

Belinda taught Latin and classics in a number of schools in north London, including Highbury Girls Grammar and Harrow County, after completing reading classics on a State Scholarship at University College London. She was a great exponent of the direct method, making much use of oral Latin in her teaching. She always entered her pupils for reading competitions and was more than happy to take on classes of boys as well as girls, when the two Harrow County Schools moved their Classics departments closer together. She embraced the Cambridge Latin Course with enthusiasm and her voice can be heard on the early CLC tapes.

Belinda married her beloved Philip in 1942 and they had an extremely happy marriage, with Belinda continuing to teach part-time. It was Philip who gave her the name Belinda when she would not tell him what her B stood for and she remained Belinda to family and friends for the rest of her life.

Philip died suddenly in 1967 and after that Belinda returned to full time teaching, which she continued right up to her retirement. She often said that it was the comfort of her colleagues and pupils that helped her through those difficult times.

Belinda had a very busy retirement. She was editor of the LACT Newsletter until 1994 and worked hard at encouraging young teachers to write in with contributions and reviews. Until 1994 she was the leading light in organising and teaching at the ARLT Summer Schools which have done so much to encourage good practice in classics teaching. She was made an Honorary Member of JACT in 1995. She suffered from painful arthritis caused by osteoporosis and had both hips replaced twice. Despite this, she led an active life until the very end.

More than anything. Belinda loved Latin and loved teaching. She loved her many pupils and. as long as her hundreds of pupils and friends are alive, she will be remembered.

Carolyn Sallis. nee Smith, a past pupil and now teacher of classics, says: "Belinda was such an inspiring teacher. She loved the direct method and even now I still use it to teach my own pupils their conjugations with ambulo. sedeo, surgo and venio. She was so inventive in her teaching. We all had Latin names and I was faber. She used to make us chocolate cakes to eat after the reading competitions and I went on visiting her really right up to the end. She always loved to hear about my family and was full of her own news."

Cathy Mercer