Her name was Rena Ingersoll. She was the librarian and senior English teacher in my high school; all seniors took her class.
I can’t remember how big she was, it didn’t make any difference. She was tough! She had a shrill voice that would pierce the building when she was angry. I saw and heard her chew out some very big, “tough” guys, take them by the ear to the principal’s office, and then left them feeling so low they could sit on a tissue paper and dangle their feet! The principal had no more chewing to do. If she chewed out someone next to us, that was close enough and we learned to behave ourselves just to avoid her. I was notorious for being disruptive, but even I controlled my self when I was in her class or her library. I would like to say I respected her which I did, but admittedly there was some fear involved also.
In her class she taught us to read classic literature as well as write about it and write creatively on other things. Most of us didn’t care too much about Shakespeare or the other guys, but I think we were all awed by her love for literature and writing and how she made it come alive.
She was a taskmaster and motivated us all to do our best, whatever that would be. When we did poorly we heard about it by notes on the papers we submitted, or comments on tests that we did poorly in. But when we did something good she also praised our efforts and success.
One of my prouder moments in high school was when she read an essay I had written for an assignment in satire. She really enjoyed mine so read it to the whole class while leading the laughter from what I wrote. Coming from her that was a great compliment as well as what she wrote on my paper: “Robbie, you like to write don’t you? Keep writing” With that I was motivated to do more. I would bet that others in my class were also encouraged by her when they did something well too, that was her way and it meant a lot coming from a real critic.
Then I went to college. My writing wasn’t well received there. I know why, it was because I didn’t read the books that I was supposed to write about. I didn’t have time to read, too much cards to play and horsing around to do. I almost failed English, my writing was severely criticized and I decided not to write ever again unless I had to.
After college in one of my accounting jobs I was one of the guys who proofread audit reports before they were sent to the clients, a boring and mundane job that we did only when there were no other things we could do for billable time. One day my supervisor approached me and told me that the partners wanted me to proofread all the reports when I was in the office. I asked him why I was being punished and he said it was not punishment, I was the only one getting the reports right. So, I did remember some stuff I learned from Ingersoll! One of the typists even asked me if I was an English major!!
Then on to banking where I wrote a lot of memos for various purposes. Very often, I was complimented on my writing skills and the clarity of my expression of the situation in the memo. I began to get confidence again.
Last year I wrote and published a book. It was a big adventure for me and I learned a lot about it in the process and since it was my story, I had no need to prove my statements! Many readers from my home town sent me comments about the book and many recalled Ingersoll’s class and how much they learned from her. Many commented: “Ingersoll would be so proud of you! I think she would have been proud, even with the imperfections in it! She should have been, she was my inspiration to write. She is no longer with us, but if she had seen my book I would bet she would have written me a note saying: “Robbie you still like to write, keep it up!”
Now my class of 1965 is gathering for our 45 year class reunion and exchanging emails anticipating the event. It is interesting that Ingersoll’s name has come up the most frequently in messages; some expressing the fear they had, but mostly the respect they had for her.
I hope every student in high school has a teacher like her some day. One who is tough, but encouraging; one who loves her venue and shows it; and one who the students will know she really cares about them.
Bless her memory