Robert Lingenfelter, History This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

May 26, 2010
Today is the day: the eighth grade field trip to Ellis Island. As I wait to board the bus, the principal pulls me out of line. He tells me I’m not going to be allowed on the trip because I can’t be trusted to leave school. He is right. I’m every teacher’s worst nightmare: loud, rowdy, and disrespectful. I’ve spent most of eighth grade in the time-out room, or suspended. As I begin to walk back to school, my social studies teacher, Mr. Lingenfelter, tells the principal that I will behave on the trip; he’ll make sure I don’t step out of line. He is right. Back then, Mr. Lingenfelter was the only teacher I would listen to. He had my utmost respect, even when I wouldn’t show an ounce to any other teachers.

Mr. Lingenfelter’s class was something we all looked forward to every day. In eighth grade I was a straight-F student. It was impossible for a teacher to get my attention. But he grabbed it, mine and every other student’s in the classroom. His style of teaching was so unorthodox that he managed to engage us every day, whether we were studying President Kennedy, when he let us construct our own conspiracy theories about the assassination, or the history-themed tiles that we painted across the ceiling. I’ve had countless teachers who seem to have picked the wrong profession, people who didn’t belong in front of a classroom, but Mr. Lingenfelter has found his niche. He belongs in front of a class, where he thrives.

Back in eighth grade, it was a mystery why Mr. Lingenfelter never gave up on me. All the other teachers had within the first weeks of school; I was a rock, an immovable object. They might as well have been teaching a wall. Mr. Lingenfelter was persistent, though. On several occasions he pulled me out of the in-school suspension room so I could attend his class. He wanted me to succeed, but I couldn’t understand why.

Late in the year, I made the connection. One day, he told the class about the day when he came home from school and found his mother, dead. He looked straight at me several times as he told his story. Somehow, he had known that I grew up with only one parent, and we had something in common. His persistence had to do with seeing part of himself in me.

I regret not taking advantage of all the opportunities he gave me. Even with all his effort, I never managed to pass his class. I just didn’t care. The school year came to an end, and the other teachers were relieved I was going to be moved up to high school. I was out of their hair. Mr. Lingenfelter’s lectures and advice hadn’t stuck yet.

It took getting held back and thrown out of a school for me to finally realize that the direction I’d chosen wasn’t going to get me anywhere. Miraculously, I managed to turn my act around. Mr. Lingenfelter saw something in me that even I wasn’t able to see, and he never gave up on me, even though I had given up on myself. When I was in eighth grade, Mr. Lingenfelter’s previous students constantly returned to visit him. Now, as a straight-A ­college-bound student, I think it’s time I paid him a visit to tell him that all his efforts weren’t wasted.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.

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This article has 3 comments. Post your own now!

irishdancer97 said...
May 1, 2012 at 6:46 pm
Amazing! I really wish I'd had Mr. L as a teacher that year. I remember my class being boring then, and my friends telling me how much fun they had with Mr. L. Great job!
LifeWrite This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
Jul. 5, 2011 at 4:45 pm
What a wonderful and inspiring article! It's teachers like Mr. L who make school a worthwhile experience--as you said, some teachers just don't belong in a classroom and they ruin the purpose of getting an education. This year (8th grade) I was an advisor to my journalism class. There was one kid in particular who just DIDN'T CARE yet I kept trying to get him to care, because I see a lot of leadership and potential in him. I failed, but hopefully in the future he'll look back and change the dire... (more »)
amanda10 said...
Jun. 1, 2010 at 11:33 am
Great story!  Very well written and what an honor for Mr. L.
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