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La Muerte

Dad Pony just sent me some sad news. Señora LaRosa, who I knew before her marriage as Señorita Marselli, my beloved high school Spanish teacher, died yesterday morning at 51.

It's technically accurate to say that she was my high school Spanish teacher, since I did take Spanish IV and V with her. But that's kind of like calling the Pope a priest. Señora LaRosa was a force of nature. She was on the school board and was the senior class advisor at the high school. She knew every single student in that school, and loved them all, with this fierce love that was like having a momma bear at your back. You always knew when Señora LaRosa was around -- the fluorescent glasses and pants suits kind of gave it away -- because she'd always greet people in the halls. She spoke to everyone in Spanish, regardless of whether or not they knew the language, and everyone understood her. Not many people have that gift.

She was the driving force behind Project Graduation, which was the all-night graduation party that the high school hosted, with games, snacks, prizes, and breakfast, to keep kids sober and off the streets on graduation night. She rounded up hosts of parents (including the Pony Parents) to help with this event, and sold chocolate bars as a fundraiser for it. In the summers, she'd go to Mexico and live in a garbage dump, teaching the children who lived there, and then she'd come back to us in the fall and tell us all about her summer.

She survived so much, including a previous near-death experience in the principal's office. She'd been spearheading the effort to have another Spanish teacher fired. Now, given that this guy a) couldn't speak Spanish, b) could barely speak English, c) was known for sexually harassing his female students, and d) had been arrested twice for threatening his ex-wife, once at a soccer game and once with a shotgun at her house, but pled nolo contendere and was let off because of e) probable Mob ties, you'd think this would not be difficult. But it's really hard to fire a tenured public high school teacher, and Mr. C was not about to let that happen. So he fought Señora LaRosa every step of the way, even going so far as to get into a screaming match with her in the principal's office, at which point her heart stopped, and she keeled over, and they had to use CPR to get her back to classroom strength. But she did get him fired, in the end. He then sent his daughter after her in revenge. The daughter, who was in the same graduating class as Little Sister Pony, punched Señora LaRosa in the mouth just as Project Graduation was letting out, and the last shot on Little Sister Pony's graduation video is of a line of parental cars driving away from the high school, with one kid being taken away in a police car.

Señora LaRosa survived all that. She planned parties, she gave out diplomas at graduation, she bullied and meddled and cajoled and loved every single kid who walked through the doors of my high school, even the ones that no one else loved. In my senior year, she coached me into winning a gold medal at a state competition for reciting poetry in foreign languages (Spanish; I asked if I could compete in German as well, but they said no, because I wasn't taking it through the high school). About a month and a half ago, I got a "high pass" on my graduate school Spanish translation test, even though I hadn't studied for it and hadn't actively taken a Spanish class in ten years -- that's how well Señora LaRosa's language instruction worked.

Adios, Señorita Marselli. I'll miss you.


( 20 comments — Leave a comment )
Jun. 16th, 2007 02:57 pm (UTC)
She sounds like a strong woman who had a real influence on her students, the kind of teacher we all hope to be. Condolences, FP.
Jun. 17th, 2007 03:06 am (UTC)
Thanks. She was an incredibly powerful woman. That's why it's so weird that she could just drop dead like that. And stay dead, too.
Jun. 16th, 2007 03:23 pm (UTC)
I've heard it said that everyone should have at least one teacher who profoundly influences their life for the better. The one teacher who believed in them, accepted nothing less than their best, and gave her or his all to see students succeed. You were indeed blessed to have such an educator in your life. From the way you describe her, she taught more than Spanish; she taught how to live a good life, how to stand firm in her beliefs.

I'm sure she'll be missed by everyone whose life she touched. I'm sorry more students won't get to know her. I'm sorry I didn't know her. My thoughts are with you.
Jun. 17th, 2007 03:09 am (UTC)
She was one of the three teachers at that high school who had the most influence on me, and I'm sure she was that for most everyone else there. The school will be having a memorial for her in a couple of days, and they've asked everyone to wear the most vibrant colors they have in her honor. Becase Señora LaRosa never wore plain colors when she could wear fluorescents.
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Jun. 17th, 2007 03:12 am (UTC)
I don't think anyone who knew Señora LaRosa could ever forget her. Certainly not after practicing the past conjugation of -ar verbs with "vomitar," because, well, why not talk about throwing up in the classroom? The newspaper said she spoke seven languages. Can you believe that? I know of English, Spanish, and Russian for certain, because I heard her use them, and she had to have spoken Italian, but I wonder what the other three were.
Jun. 16th, 2007 04:43 pm (UTC)
I'm sorry, FP. She sounds like an amazing woman, and I'm glad to know a little bit about her.
Jun. 17th, 2007 03:14 am (UTC)
Señora LaRosa was absolutely incredible. The school is going to go ahead with graduation and then with Project Graduation, since those were her projects, but they won't be the same without her cheerleading.
Jun. 16th, 2007 05:26 pm (UTC)
Wow, she sounds like an incredible, inspirational woman. I'm sorry to hear about her death--it is particularly sad that she died so young.

Jun. 17th, 2007 03:17 am (UTC)
The newspaper didn't have an immediate cause of death, but my guess is that she just worked herself to death. She was always at the school at five each morning, making coffee (apparently, she never drank it, and this is probably a good thing, because the combination of Señora LaRosa and caffeine would be truly scary), she'd teach all day, then stay to do stuff with the senior class, then go off and do her political work -- she told us once that she only got four hours of sleep each night, because she did so much.
Jun. 16th, 2007 08:19 pm (UTC)

She sounds like a really inspirational teacher - the sort I wish I could have been (I wasn't, and eventually I quit teaching.)

She died terribly young - how sad that she wasn't able to go on and inspire new generation.
Jun. 17th, 2007 03:20 am (UTC)
There aren't many high school teachers who love their students that much. There aren't many people who love other people that much, even. I feel most sorry for all those incoming high school students who won't get to experience Tsunami LaRosa.
Jun. 17th, 2007 12:14 am (UTC)
What a blessing to have had a teacher like her in your life.
Jun. 17th, 2007 03:20 am (UTC)
I'm not going to teach high school -- I'll teach college students some day -- but I hope I can be at least half the teacher she was.
Jun. 17th, 2007 02:39 am (UTC)
What a fine tribute to a terrific teacher--and person. What a loss to education--and the world.
Jun. 17th, 2007 03:21 am (UTC)
I wonder who'll go down to teach the kids in the Mexican garbage dumps now. They'll miss her as much as I do, maybe even more.
Jun. 17th, 2007 11:32 pm (UTC)
{{{hugs}}} I am so sorry for your loss, sweetie... she will never be gone so long as she is remembered, which doesn't sound like a problem, considering how memorable she is. And so young! She made a great impression on the world in her short time... what a wonderful woman!

May the space left by her passing soon be filled to marvelous overflowing with happy, raucous memories.

Jun. 18th, 2007 12:52 am (UTC)
I'm sure she'll always be remembered. Not just by me, either, though of course I'll always remember Señorita Marselli (she married after I graduated high school, so I always think of her as Señorita Marselli, not Señora LaRosa). I just bet there'll be some sort of wonderful memorial to her at the new high school they're building in town. She was on the building committee, and was at a meeting the night before she died, helping to pick out the color scheme for the new lockers. I wonder if they'll be fluorescent -- those were always her favorite colors.

But there'll never be another Spanish teacher quite like her.
Jun. 20th, 2007 12:24 am (UTC)
She sounds like the kind of person who burned so brightly in life that she couldn't burn as long. She certainly accomplished more in just over fifty years than most would in several lifetimes by what you've said here, and it sounds as if you were tremendously fortunate to have had the chance to know her.

It also sounds as if she's left quite an impression, and no doubt, a very positive legacy behind. What a wonderful, vibrant woman. That kind of energy can never be destroyed. She's sent it out in her students.

Jun. 20th, 2007 11:28 am (UTC)
I really do hope that I can carry a little bit of what Señora LaRosa was out into the world with me when I do things. Everyone needs a bit of Señora's magic, and now the source is gone. But she did burn brightly, that she did. I can still hear her voice, slightly hoarse from cheering, booming down the halls, boostering for something or other, soon to be followed by the explosion in fluorescent green or pink or yellow or whatever the color of the day was, charging down the hall to sweep everyone into Spanish class. She was a real firework.
( 20 comments — Leave a comment )