Memphis Ethnic Media Celebrate Teachers ‘Who Changed My Life’

Memphis Ethnic Media Celebrate Teachers ‘Who Changed My Life’

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Editor’s Note: New America Media hosted an awards ceremony Thursday in Memphis, celebrating the winners of The Teacher Who Changed My Life essay contest, in collaboration with local ethnic media. During the ceremony, winners were honored alongside the teachers profiled in their essays. Three contestants out of more than 40 entries were awarded cash prizes for their essays in three separate categories – Teenage, Adult and Teacher in Memory. Below are their winning essays.

Rescuing a Student From Abuse
Winner, Teacher In Memory Category
Profile of Isabel Godoy by Yolanda Solorio
Submitted in Spanish, Translated by Liz Gonzalez

To my dear elementary school teacher. To my guardian angel!

I always wanted to tell her that I loved her, that she was special to me, that I was very grateful to her, for her goodness, patience, her advice and for her love.

One day, my father’s friend, who was the school bus driver, molested me. I remember looking for love and protection. I told my hero, my dad, and I remember how I cried – hurt, humiliated and filled with guilt. My father put me down even more. He took off his belt and beat me like an animal while he yelled at me calling me a whore. He told me that if that was done to me it was because I had provoked it. Until this day, at 53 years of age, I do not understand how the abused person has these feelings of guilt. How could I, at almost 7 years old, provoke a married man of 30 or 40 years, with children. Since that day, my life changed, my attitude, my person.

That was where the work of my teacher began. When she noticed my change in attitude, she armed herself with patience until one day, when I told her everything that happened to me -- the abuse I was subject to and the beating from my father.

I remember that my teacher cried, screamed, as if I was hers. She hugged me very tight and kissed me. Later we went to the principal’s office and she had the bus driver fired, but not without first going to slap him and spit on him. Then she went to my house to complain to my father about his macho and unloving attitude.

That day my teacher’s work with me began. She dedicated herself to make my life more bearable with love, patience, and a lot of tenderness. She talked to me a lot, about God, about her trips, about life. She would give me gifts, things that were probably insignificant like a pin, a pencil, etc. but for me they were like treasures.

I thank her from the bottom of my heart for her love therapy. Since that day, I have not been able to call my parents Mom or Dad. Even today they are just Soledad and Juventino.

Currently, I am not happy, but I try to live my life without harming anyone, or attempting once more to take my own life. Every time I am sad or desperate the memory of my teacher comes to my mind, may God keep her in his glory. Thank you for allowing me this homage to my beloved elementary school teacher.

(From El Norte)

A Teacher’s Gift That Keeps on Giving
Winner, Teenage Category
Profile of Anika Graham by LaTreece Tate

In life, you come across someone who has helped you get through things, besides your parents. While I was in middle school, I was a quiet girl who was not active in anything. I only cared about school. Until one day I decided to try out for the step team, but for some reason I was not scared. The next day, I heard my name being announced that I made the step team. I was in a lot of shock. The step team coach, Ms. Graham, was a very kind and thoughtful person, but she meant business.

In middle school, I was the type of person that did not like help from others. During this time, my life went all wrong. My grandfather died, cars broke down, and there were money issues. When my grandfather died, I was torn emotionally and mentally. Sometimes I would just sit in shock. Ms. Graham knew something was not right because that day I didn’t do my work. Also when I got to step practice I did not put all I had into steps. I was moody with a bad attitude. She pulled me to the side and asked me, “What is wrong?” I started telling her everything that was wrong with my life. She told me if I ever needed anything, just tell her. Most people always told my family that all the time, so I ignored it.

After practice, I waited for someone to pick me up for an hour, but no one arrived. Suddenly Ms. Graham came up to me at the bottom of the steps where I was sitting. She told me my mother called and told me to walk home. I thought to myself, “This cannot happen to me on this dark cold night.” I picked up my backpack and headed for the door. Ms. Graham stopped me and said, “Where do you think you are going in this cold?” I told her I had no other way home and walking was my only choice. She told me to sit back down and wait for her.

Five minutes later, I got in the car with Ms. Graham and on my way home we talked about my problems. She told me that she had had a side conversation discussing my attitude and how I do not like to ask for help. As we pulled in my driveway, she gave me a $100 bill. I told her that I could not take it, but she continued insisting. I remember myself repeating, “Thank you,” over and over again.

Now when I see people act like I did that day, I walk up to them and ask them are they alright.

(From The New Tri-State Defender)

The Go-to Person in Case of Emergency
Winner, Adult Category
Profile of Andrew Duck by Maribel Villarreal

I met Mr. Duck (Señor Pato) back in 1998. I came to the United States and started high school with no knowledge of any English. The majority of the students were English-speaking students, with only very few of us Latinos.

Señor Pato always showed us personal interest in our goal to learn English. He would not talk to us in Spanish very easily. He would push us to try our best to speak the words we were being taught in his class. It was very frustrating for me to go to the other classes because other students would always make fun of me and gave me a really hard time. Señor Pato would ALWAYS tell us not to be discouraged. He always said, “They are just a little bit jealous because you guys speak a second language.” Señor Pato reminded us how beneficial it was for us to be bilingual. These words taught me to never give up and always try my best. I have two other sisters who attended the same high school, and Señor Pato was a tremendous help for them too.

My sisters and I were here in the country alone, as my parents were back in Mexico. Señor Pato would take the time to talk to us and tell us to be careful. He asked us how we were doing at work and outside of school. He knew we all had a job and that every day right after school, we went to work. Mr. Duck even helped us in the school library to catch up with our homework in other classes. I admired Señor Pato and was very thankful to have a teacher that really cared about his students’ progress. Sometimes I felt as if he was our “guardian” since he was the only go-to person in case of emergency.

Without him and his continuous encouragement, I would not have finished high school. I believe I would have given up. I am the first person in my family to ever graduate from high school! My sisters and my parents are very proud of me. Right after high school, I worked at a law firm as a secretary. After college, I worked as a bank manager. Right now, I have put a pause on my career due to my three beautiful children.

Recently when I attended a school meeting with my six-year-old daughter, I found out that Mr. Duck is now the director of ESL for Memphis City School. I was so happy to find him and even more so when I found out that he is the director of the ESL program. I could not think of a better person for this position than he. I will always be thankful to Mr. Duck for his words and his dedication to his career as a teacher. I am sure that he’s still making differences in people lives.

(From New America Media)

This essay content is supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. All of the winning entries will be available soon on