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One Thank You, Two Generations of Teachers

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Every year, Teacher Appreciation Week reminds us to celebrate educators -- the people who love, inspire and empower our kids. This year though, as the mother of a new teacher, I find myself feeling more grateful than ever.

In 2010, my son Jason graduated from University of the Illinois at Urbana Champaign -- the first in our family to earn a college degree. Watching him in cap and gown, I thought about how hard he worked to get there, all the people who had cheered him on along the way, and about one person in particular who deserved my thanks.

Ms. Saucedo taught Jason in seventh and eighth grade social studies. She met him at the moment when he struggled most to care about success in school. Always a good kid, he became very uninterested -- never making trouble but not doing much otherwise either. He'd been through two and a half years of uncharacteristic struggle when he landed in Ms. Saucedo's class. But through her faith in him and encouragement, thing began to change. He took an interest in his classwork and in his future. A remember one Friday in particular that spring when Jason scored near perfect on a weekly assessment on World War II. I'm honestly not sure which of the three of us was prouder.

From then on, Jason switched back to the curious, inquisitive boy I'd always known. As a result, his path in school changed dramatically. Suddenly aware of his own potential, he crossed paths with a number of other teachers who encouraged him to push his limits, explore his interests and imagine his own outstanding future. When his acceptance letter to UIUC arrived, their work paid off.

Now, Jason is a teacher. To be honest, his career choice worried me at first. After all that work -- on his part, mine and so many others -- I wondered at his choice to join City Year, then Teach For America here in Chicago. I couldn't help but wish he'd do something easier, more financially rewarding and less draining. I wanted the best for him and I wasn't convinced teaching was it.

But once again, I've begun to notice a change in my son -- this time not because of the teachers who taught him, but because of the teacher he's becoming. Every day, I am in awe of the depth of his passion and his commitment to his kids. I know that he will not become a millionaire teaching, and I worry about how hard he works, but knowing that he's sharing pieces of himself with the kids who need him is priceless to me. Where once I worried about his career path, I know now that he has found a calling. Together with countless teachers, students, parents and community members committed to giving every kid the chance he deserves, my son is a part of something that matters.

Celebrating Teacher Appreciation Week last week, I hope Ms. Saucedo and every other educator like her knows how often I think of her and the life-changing impact she had on Jason and on our family. Most important, I hope my son knows how proud I am of all he's done, where he's going and everything he'll inspire his students to become.