My best teacher - Alice Roberts

26th November 2010 at 00:00
A self-confessed 'geek', the TV scientist and writer was enthused by the ancient classics

I went to the Red Maids' School in Bristol. It was an all-girls' school, but there was no question that because we were girls we wouldn't do things like science. Miss Jones, my physics teacher, was great. We would try to get through what we needed to for the A-level and then spend all our time talking about quantum physics and the possibility of building a time machine.

We had teachers who really cared about us and there was a very nurturing atmosphere. But some things they were quite strict about, like the uniform. There were numerous petitions going around school to try to get rid of the beige socks, as everyone hated them. We would all get quite worked up about it.

It is safe to say I was a bit of a geek. I enjoyed school, I enjoyed learning and still do. There was such a wide range of things that interested me.

It was Mrs Wood, who taught me Greek, who was possibly my most influential teacher. We used to fit Greek around other classes early in the morning and at lunchtime. There were only about five or six of us in the class.

If you didn't know Mrs Wood, you might think she was quite stern from her appearance. She had short hair and dressed quite conservatively. At the age of 15, anyone over the age of 30 is ancient, but I think she was probably in her 50s. She was very calm and very encouraging.

She often started class by going through the newspapers and then translating Greek passages. It made you look at the Greek and Persian wars from a different perspective. If you are thinking about current affairs, and then looking at what was going on in ancient Greek politics, it really brings the subject alive.

It made the classical world much more personal and relevant. I think Mrs Wood was trying to give us a more well-rounded education rather than just seeing it as her remit to teach us ancient Greek. It was amazing to read texts in their original language. In Latin, we read The Aeneid, and in Greek the works of Homer.

It was also useful in school because my best friend Julia and I would write each other secret notes using Greek letters.

It might seem odd to be interested in the classics, but I found Greek, in particular, very useful for studying medicine. At the time, I had my heart set on doing medicine. I wasn't really thinking about science communication as a career.

Even though it seems like a dead language, ancient Greek permeates the English language. Understanding Greek is like understanding the history of our language, and knowing ancient Greek helped me learn technical medical terms as well as their spellings.

Mrs Wood was very enthusiastic about her subject. Her lessons seemed very organic, but she must have thought carefully about constructing them. Having gone on to teach, I have realised just how much planning goes into it.

The classics are so important to our language and our politics. It is important to realise that people have been very similar for thousands of years. We are not that different.

TV presenter and author Dr Alice Roberts is chief contributor to 'The Complete Human Body', published by Dorling Kindersley. She spoke to Meabh Ritchie.

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