Mr. Rathgeb: The Enigma

Hannah Zhang ’22

Mr. Rathgeb is one of Ridge’s three Latin teachers, dividing his time between William Annin, Ridge High, and a vast cave system somewhere most likely in the Mediterranean. His long dark coats, vast historical knowledge, and general aura of omniscience have earned him a reputation among his students as an immortal entity in disguise. Ridge’s own Ms. Fairbanks was once one of Mr. Rathgeb’s students in Latin, and she claims he looks the exact same now as he did back then.

Despite the mysteries surrounding his mortality (or lack thereof), Mr. Rathgeb is regarded by many of his past students to be a keen, supportive figure with a unique sense of humor. “You can tell he has a sort of calm energy,” Jordan Guzzi ’22 says of Mr. Rathgeb. “He’s a no-nonsense guy, but he makes Latin really entertaining.” Lu Jia Liao ’22 agrees, adding that he possesses a “playfully cynical energy.”


Mr. Rathgeb has taught Latin for 31 years, eleven of which took place in Bernards Township. I asked his fellow Latin teachers whether or not they knew his true identity; Ms. Fairbanks answered, “All I can say is…the man is a true mystery.” Mr. Gebhardt mused, “No.”


Mr. Rathgeb took the time to answer some questions about his work at school and beyond, most likely between his business hours laying vigilante justice on the evildoers of Basking Ridge.


Hannah Zhang: Have you always set out to be a Latin teacher?

Mr. Rathgeb: No. I accidentally stumbled upon teaching Latin as a career. Here’s the short version of the story: for my first job, I was hired to teach social studies at Morris Catholic, but that position also included a Freshman English class. At teacher orientation, the principal announced that they were in desperate need of a Latin teacher because they hadn’t been able to replace the former Latin teacher who had retired in June. I knew some Latin from studying for my master’s degree in Medieval History and offered to switch the English class for a Latin class, but instead I found myself with six Latin classes. Not what I would have chosen, but it was the best thing to happen to me. Careerwise.


HZ: What inspired you to study classics?

Mr. R: I had a really engaging professor in college who sparked an interest in medieval European history, which is the field I pursued in graduate school. To get my degree, I had to be able to read Latin. Once I was teaching Latin, I wanted to get certified in Latin so that I could teach in a public school and fulfill my life-long dream of teaching at Ridge High School.


HZ: You say you also teach at William Annin, but where do you really go?

Mr. R: I could explain it to you, but how much do you understand about how the multiverse works?


HZ: Growing up, what was your favorite subject in school?

Mr. R: History. That’s why I have a master’s degree in history.


HZ: How many millenia have you watched over humanity from the shadows?

Mr. R: Sooo many. Honestly, I have lost count.


HZ: What is your second-least favorite animal and why?

Mr. R: A snake. They just give me the heebie-jeebies.


HZ: What makes teaching enjoyable to you?

Mr. R: I enjoy spending time with students. They make me laugh.


HZ: Do you think Latin is a “dead language?”

Mr. R: Well…if the rumors are true—and I am neither confirming nor denying them—then I am a vampire, one of the living dead, and I teach Latin. So logically, yes, Latin is a dead language.


HZ: I Googled “John Rathgeb” and I got ten pages of John Rathgebs, some dead with obituaries and some practicing orthopedicians. How many of them are actually you?

Mr. R: No comment. The bigger question is, why are you Googling me?