American Faces #41
Updated: Feb 26, 2020
It’s interesting that a person who initially struggled at math himself became a high school math teacher, serving in the classroom for 35 years and positively influencing at least 21,000 students in the process. That’s Rod Lingenfelter, 88 years old and still teaching – not in school any more, but certainly with those around him. Looking back, Army training at Fort Riley, Kansas, was a great testing ground for his future career as a high school teacher.
Rod served in the Army infantry and played football at Fort Benning, Georgia, sharing barracks with soldiers he realized had no understanding of even the basics of math. This revelation kick-started his passion for becoming an educator. Rod was given an early discharge to pursue his Master’s degree at Winona State Teachers College. After that, it was on to Bloomington, Minnesota, and Thomas Jefferson High School where Rod brought humor and honesty to his teaching – not only instructing in high-end analysis and algebra, but also creating a Math for Daily Living course for general students that incorporated real-world math skills. Rod’s approach of “if they need help, help them” applied to both gifted students and to those struggling with basic math (with whom he could truly identify).
Along with teaching 34 years of mathematics, Rod coached basketball, football and cross-country running as well, coaxing the very best out of his kids, both in the classroom and on the field. Now even on family DIY projects, Rod – ever the teacher – will supervise and offer advice, but not actually do the work (because he says he wants them to learn). When asked for his advice to the next generation, Rod’s answer is partially formed by his military time down south when both he and his African American teammates often dealt with racism: “Accept people for who they are and who they are yet to become.” As you can see, Rod Lingenfelter never stops teaching.
Written & art directed by: Jim Lingenfelter