This piece was prompted by stories of mentors. I dedicate this to my fellow “survivors” of Carl Ingle.
We called him the Vulture. He wore the same gray sweatshirt every day, the same pale khaki trousers, and the same sensible black shoes. Tall, well over six feet even with his hunched shoulders, and tough to the point of sadistic, his true name was Mr. Ingle. I distinctly remember the day, early in sophomore year, when he called me fat in front of an entire classroom.
On the day my story begins, our class had been having a particularly heated discussion about Emma Goldman, the infamous female anarchist. While my more-conservative peers had been anti-anarchy, I was going through my SLC Punk phase and thought Goldman was someone to be admired. I kept applauding her antics. After the fourth or fifth round of only-me-applause in the forty minute lecture, the Vulture swooped to my desk and said with a sarcastic sneer, “I get the point, Emma.”
My eyes grew wide and I sucked in an overdramatic gasp. “Mr. Ingle,” I cried, “you just called me fat!”
He sputtered and stood up, hands covering his mouth, “No, I didn’t. What are you talking about?” Genuine terror and confusion clouded his eyes.
I laughed, “You just told us that critics called Emma a ‘towering pillar of cement’ in her later years because she gained so much weight, and then you immediately called me Emma. Hence, you called me fat.” I grinned and waited for the reaction. My best friend was in silent stitches beside me. No one ever made Mr. Ingle speechless, especially in the middle of a lecture.
Slowly, The Vulture straightened his back, stacking a few more inches onto his already towering frame, and put his hands on his hips. I bit my tongue, wondering if my joke had actually crossed a line somewhere. He sized me up for a moment, the rest of the class watching us with baited breath. I think half of them were hoping I, the class smartass, was finally going to get in trouble.
But he just sighed. “I really am sorry, Sam,” he said with an apologetic smile. “I didn’t even think about what I had said before I called you Emma.”
I smiled, “It’s okay, Ingle. All great anarchists are fueled by criticism.”
“Well then, I expect your next test to be an A+,” he said matter-of-factly and resumed his lecture without another word. I exchanged a subtle high five with my friend and went back to my diligent note taking, a smug smile perched on my lips.
The rest of high school was a blur. The only constant for those last three years, besides my friends, was Mr. Ingle. He taught Spanish II and III, Honors American Government, Honors American History, and World Geography, with the last three classes being concurrent credit through a local community college. Mr. Ingle was the teacher we made freshmen afraid of, the teacher whose tests we hated studying for, and the only teacher whose classroom rules we obeyed. He was the Vulture, the Dungeon Master, and the Hangman. He could make or break your high school career.
Mr. Ingle was everything a high school teacher should be for a student; he prepared us for college and our lives beyond the four years of high school. He lectured for the entire hour, no breaks, no clips, and with a minimalist slideshow on the wall. “Ingle Tests” were ten page monsters with obscure fill-in-the-blanks and essay questions that required doctorate responses. It was seemingly impossible to get an A in his honors classes.
But I did. I aced every single Ingle class I took. I give him all the credit. He made the classes fun for me, giving us information that normally we’d never hear. And that man was smart. It seemed like he knew everything about everyone who ever affected history or society. He’d been teaching for so long and knew so much that Ingle Jokes were tradition at Osawatomie High. Some jokes had lasted from past generations, and we created new ones of course, but Ingle added his own, too. My personal favorites of his were his insistent remarks that he had a signed copy of the Bible and his own rocking chair at Camp David.
That’s where the real Mr. Ingle came through. On the surface, and from the outside looking in, he was a heartless beast of a teacher. But from the inside, when a couple Ingle classes were crammed under your belt, Mr. Ingle became something completely different. I realized he was funny, sarcastic, admirable, hardworking, and completely under appreciated.
This man, who is now in his late 60s, singlehandedly plans Junior Trip and Spanish Trip every year. He’s done this for 25 consecutive years. Contracts are made with the Kansas City Royals’ and Chiefs’ stadiums that allow his Spanish III students to work the games in exchange for the wages to be transferred to a trip fund. We would work food and merchandise booths all year long so not a penny came out of our pockets. For Junior Trip, Mr. Ingle plans every detail, down to bathroom breaks on the journey from Osawatomie to New York City and back. He willingly smashes himself onto one of two Greyhound buses filled with high school juniors and their luggage for a seven-day adventure to the Big Apple. And yes, it’s a driving trip; Mr. Ingle does not fly. He does, however, ensure that Broadway is experienced properly, Times Square is purchased in various trinkets, and Ellis Island’s history is soaked up through a private tour. It’s an unforgettable trip, especially for a seventeen-year-old and her friends.
But I didn’t appreciate all that Mr. Ingle did for his students until after I had graduated high school. Now that I’m on the cusp of college graduation, and failing miserably at not looking back through the years with misty eyes, I see what he truly taught me. He went beyond facts about Senator McCarthy and the Cuban Missile Crisis, didn’t stop at the Battle of Lexington and the lynchings in the South, and he didn’t just plan a little vacation at the end of the school year. Mr. Ingle taught us appreciation. He made us get down into the nitty-gritty of life and really look at what it all meant. He taught us how to work hard and dedicate ourselves to something, taught us about self-reliance and accountability. Mr. Ingle didn’t treat you like a child unless you acted like one.
Above it all, however, Mr. Ingle taught us how to learn, and not just inside a classroom. He took us outside of the walls of our high school. He wanted to make sure that we weren’t just ready for college, but that we were ready for the real world. He made sure that we had toughened up our skins before feeding ourselves to the sharks. And yeah, sometimes having Mr. Ingle for a teacher was like hell. There was no such thing as slacking off in his classes, and if you even thought about doodling on your test papers he flunked you. I remember putting my elbow on his desk, which was right alongside mine, one day during lecture and getting an hour detention for “not paying attention.” He was harsh, I’ll admit, but it was all worth it.
I know it sounds like high school nostalgia has stained my glasses a nice rosy hue, and I agree that’s true to an extent. But go to another kid from my high school and ask him about Mr. Ingle. He’ll tell you the same things. We all gained so much from the Vulture, and we didn’t realize it until we had long since run away from the concrete walls of his classroom with our diplomas flapping around in our sweaty hands. I guess that’s how most of life works, though. Didn’t someone somewhere once say, “You don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone?” Well, that person probably had Mr. Ingle for a teacher.