Although I did not understand the gravity of this situation, I
was distraught over the idea of not seeing Miss Paeck everyday. Who
would my new teacher be? Would she also fit the casting call
requirements worthy of a Hollywood movie? These questions were
soon answered. Miss Paeck introduced the new teacher to our class with
an excitement and energy that seemed impossible for someone with
cancer to possess. She seamlessly helped our new teacher get acquainted
with our class, but it did not end there. From my recollection, Miss
Paeck did not even seem to be gone that much. Every moment she
could be there, she was in the classroom and sporting a new hairstyle,
which enhanced what can be only described from my perspective then
as her movie star allure.
Some days she would wear just a bandana, other days she would
sport a long, thick, and wavy black wig. Yet, no matter what hairstyle
Miss Paeck wore or how much pain she was in, she looked beautiful.
Besides her various hairstyles, I could not tell any difference in her. She
gave rest of the students in the class and me all she could give every
single day, no matter what she was experiencing and keeping from us.
Miss Paeck should have been in the hospital. She should have been
resting and trying to heal. She should have been with her family and
loved ones. But, to Miss Paeck, we were her family, too.
Miss Paeck was 29 when she was my teacher. I remember her
age perfectly because one day I asked her. The kids in my class were
discussing their lucky numbers, and I was upset because I did not have
one. I quickly had a grand idea. I asked Miss Paeck what her age was,
she told me she was 29, and I declared that from then forward, 29 would
be my lucky number. It was on March 4, 2014 at the age of 49 that Miss
Paeck died of cancer.
When I saw the movie Stand and Deliver (1988) I saw the same
spark and determination in Jaime Escalante that I saw in Miss Paeck.
The school settings are very different. Miss Paeck taught in a well-
funded elementary school, and Jaime Escalante taught in a poorly-
funded urban high school, but when they both fell ill, they ignored their
doctors’ recommendations from their love of teaching and their desire