As I read, watch, and listen to the coverage of the memorial services and vigils for LAUSD teacher Rigoberto Ruelas, I can’t help but feel a deep and lingering sadness. The death of any member of our LAUSD family is always met with a heavy heart, but the tragic circumstances and abundant outpouring of love and appreciation for Mr. Ruelas’ impact on the lives of so many young persons has prompted me to reflect on my own life and the role teachers have played in making me who I am today.
I often talk about the impact of some of my teachers: Ms. Smith, Ms. King, Ms. Williams, Ms. Hakansson, and Ms. Loya. These were my LAUSD teachers from Gage Middle School and Huntington Park High School. They were – and still are – the treasures of my public education. They, like Mr. Ruelas, went above and beyond for their students. These teachers loved me… I knew that from the way they looked at me, talked to me, and over-extended themselves for me. I still recall phoning Ms. Hakansson at home whenever I needed help with an algebra problem; she always answered and guided me just enough for me to figure it out. Ms. King dedicated a weekend to take me to Occidental College and later introduced me to the University of Redlands; having no family who could expose me to higher learning, she made college a real possibility for me. Ms. Williams – my ever creative and dynamic history teacher not only made history come alive, but also taught me the critical note-taking and study skills I would need for college. And from Ms. Loya and Ms. Smith, I truly became bilingual; they taught me to not only speak and write well in two languages, but to also cherish my native language, Spanish, as well as the richness of English literature.
This is exactly what I imagine Mr. Ruelas to have been for his students. He seemed to be a lot like my teachers, who I consistently say are the type of teachers every student deserves. The kind of teacher we should lift up and support in every way.
Students like 13 year-old Karla Gonzalez, and many others that have shared their stories, confirm that he was exactly that type of teacher. For Karla, Mr. Ruelas was more than a teacher; he was a father figure who helped her learn to speak and read English when she first came from Mexico. A number of young male students shared that it was Mr. Ruelas who turned them away from gangs and offered them a different path through education. Mr. Ruelas believed in his kids… he helped them learn and he helped them dream.
The premature loss of a teacher like Mr. Ruelas, who has touched and transformed the lives of so many, is nothing short of devastating. While no one will ever know just how many students Mr. Ruelas inspired and uplifted, I can only imagine that over time, it would have been many, many more.
My hope is that his students honor his legacy by reaching their full potential and becoming all that he knew they could be. More importantly, my hope is that we enlist, nurture, and support teachers like Mr. Ruelas – the kind of teacher that every student deserves.