My Tennessee education story began in September of 2003 when I arrived in Morristown after leaving my native Mexico. From the very first moment I stepped into Lincoln Heights Elementary School (LHES), I struggled. I had no prior English-language skills apart from saying, “Yes, no, and bathroom.” The language barrier was so great, that I accidentally presented myself on the first day by my middle name, as Julio Cesar rather than Julio Salazar; thus, assigned the number two in class. That first day, I quietly cried in the back of the room, lost, scared, isolated, and entirely disoriented. My only friend for weeks was a pocket-sized English-to-Spanish dictionary, which I frantically flipped through trying to catch words or phrases during instruction. I missed chunks of the regular curriculum due to my English as a Second Language (ESL) courses, creating an achievement gap which grew more difficult to close each day. My first-grade card had F’s, D’s, and one C. I began to fall behind all while desperately wishing to learn and know more. Donna Rasch saw my desperation. She made me throw away my dictionary, knowing I wanted to learn, she removed the crutch which kept me back. Every day for weeks she stayed with me at the school, helping me catch up to the curriculum that I had missed while in ESL. She read with me and wrote with me, taking what she did during the day and personalizing it for me. The fire to learn grew inside me, always craving more information.
Once finished, she would drive me to my house, knowing that my mom worked two jobs and simply could not pick me up. She did this out of simple generosity. No overtime. Just teacher love. By the end of that second-grade year, I had made the LHES Honor Roll. As a silent promise to Mrs. Rasch, I strove never again to score below a B. I kept that promise for the next 10 years in Tennessee schools (admittedly, I made one C+ in a math course at Notre Dame, sorry Mrs. Rasch!). Now retired to a beach somewhere in South Carolina, Mrs. Rasch and I remain dear friends, we email, and she comes over for dinner anytime she is back in town. This second-grade teacher became much more than a teacher; she became a friend, a mentor, a confidant, and my superhero. This is the value of all teachers. This was the value of Mrs. Rasch. For her and all teachers, I am eternally grateful.