I still remember how nervous I was during my first day of school, as a new kindergartener at Fremont Elementary. As the daughter of Mexican immigrants, I only spoke Spanish at home. So, I was worried about how I would fare in school. Would I understand what my teacher was saying to me? How would I make friends? What if I didn’t like school?
Thanks to Mrs. Silverman, I didn’t have to worry about any of that. She welcomed me into her classroom and helped me fit in, even going so far as to set up a play date for me and a classmate, Brenda, who would go onto be my best friend. Gradually, she taught me my second language, while never devaluing or trying to erase my first. Most importantly, she showed me how magical learning could be, and set me on a path to academic success.
It is in large part because of Mrs. Silverman that I became a teacher. To this day, I have a photo of her with some of my classmates and me that appeared in a district newsletter. And whenever I have the opportunity to speak about the power of education, my story always seems to come back to Mrs. Silverman. Every so often, I do a search online for her, to see if I can find her, and tell her in person how much she’s done for me. I haven’t found her, but I’ll continue to share broadly my memories of Mrs. Silverman. Maybe that’s my way of thanking her over and over again for all that she did for me – though I sure would like the chance to tell her in person.
Thelma Meléndez de Santa Ana is Assistant Secretary of Elementary and Secondary Education for the U.S. Department of Education.
Ed. note: This post is part of an ongoing series of ED staff thanking teachers during Teacher Appreciation Week.