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David Menasche was teaching high school in Coral Gables, Florida, when he was diagnosed with a deadly form of brain cancer. In 2012, he suffered a stroke that left him visually impaired and partially paralyzed. It forced him to give up teaching.
He decided to go on the road and find out if he had had any impact on his former students. The outcome is a new book, “The Priority List: A Teacher’s Final Quest to Discover Life’s Greatest Lesson.”
Menasche joins Here & Now’s Jeremy Hobson to discuss the journey and what he learned.
On beginning the cross-country journey
“Without children of my own, my students were really my children. And I cared for them as such. And when I lost my classroom, I really didn’t have anything to fill the void that was left.”
“Initially they were feeling pity and sympathy for me, seeing me in the condition that I was in. But then when they realized that I was on this trek cross-country, that same sympathy turned to pride. And that just motivated me to keep going to further and further cities to see more and more of my students.”
On what he learned about his impact on students
“For instance, Mona. She was at the time she was my student an Iranian immigrant who spoke very little English and was not comfortable in the least speaking in front of a class and writing in English. But through my class, not only did she gain the confidence to speak in front of others and express her opinions, but she went on to become a PhD candidate and is a published author herself. And she credits my class with bringing her out of her shell, getting her in touch with what she wanted out of life and helping her to achieve that.”
On how his students helped him deal with having cancer
Being diagnosed with terminal brain cancer gave me a sense of urgency, and I realized if there are things I wanted to say, I had to say them now. Places I wanted to see, things I wanted to do — all I had was the moment to go and do it. And I’ve come to realize the only moment each of us are truly guaranteed, is this one. … I needed something like that to make the struggles of treatment worthwhile. I can’t tell you how many times I was sitting in the chemo suite, hooked up to an IV full of toxic poisons, wondering ‘Why I am going through this?’ And then every time I asked myself that question, a face of one of my students would appear in front of me.”
Throughout the week, Here & Now is looking at the impact a raise in the minimum wage would have on states, the federal government and workers.