Florida teacher’s cancer diagnosis not enough to keep her out of classroom
Teapots are everywhere.
On shelves. On bookcases. On desks and corners and in between plants. There’s over a hundred of them, of all shapes and sizes and designs. There’s one that looks like a beehive, one that looks like an elephant and one that’s actually two stacked on top of one another, daintily painted with pastel purples, yellows and greens.
And in her hands, New Smyrna Beach Middle School teacher Pamela Raquet held a clay “dragon teapot” from China, showing her sixth-grade class how a small dragon head and tongue pops out of an opening when it’s poured.
The world history teacher passed it around, talking to students about what they do and don’t know about ancient China. Wednesday was introduction day, and on that day, Raquet always shows interesting items from the culture her students are learning about.
Raquet is being featured in The News-Journal’s Amazing Teacher series for January for the care she pours — like a cup of tea — into each and every one of her students, despite being diagnosed with cancer just five months ago.
“The whole idea here is that every child deserves an education,” she said. “If you’re not passionate about (learning), your kids aren’t going to be passionate, either.”
Principal Michael Leader said that passion is obvious in everything she does.
“She’s a phenomenal teacher,” he said. “When I ask kids what their favorite classes are, it’s almost always her class.”
It’s Raquet’s passion that keeps her going. After being diagnosed with breast cancer in September, she said she feels like everything has been on cruise control, and if it wasn’t for her love of her students and her job, she’d take a break.
When she first got tested through ultrasounds and mammograms, the tests came back clear. She still had a bad feeling about it, though.
“I didn’t have peace,” she said. “I knew it wasn’t right.”
So she went and got a second opinion, and her fears were confirmed: Doctors conducted four biopsies on several masses, and two were cancerous.
In early December, Raquet had surgery. It was a bilateral masectomy, and she said it was extremely difficult.
She’s determined, though. With the recent news that she doesn’t have to go through chemotherapy or radiation, and instead faces reconstructive surgery and a pill once a day, Raquet said she’s overjoyed. The margins were clear by a mere 2 millimeters, but it was enough to make things a whole lot easier.
“I was crying, I was so happy,” she said. “I’m winning this fight.”
She doesn’t shy away from sharing her story to her students. Raquet said although it’s hard, it’s still a teaching opportunity for younger kids. They ask honest questions, sometimes blunt, and she does her best to answer them just as honestly.
“I don’t just teach history, I teach life skills,” she said. “I want them to see that you can fight and that life is worth living, even when it’s hard.”
In turn, Raquet said it helps build a two-way relationship. Leader described it as being “in charge of her class but not bossy.”
Students will come to her with their troubles, whether it be hunger or anxiety and she’s there to listen. She has a snack cubby for those who go without food and stuffed animals for those who are having a bad day. And on top of that, she gives all her students her cellphone number in case they need someone to talk to.
“Sometimes it’s just nice to have someone,” Raquet said. “There’s so much coming at them from every direction.”
It’s just another reason why Raquet likes to keep things lively in her classroom. From plants and teapots, to posters and the “museum” in the corner of the room where she keeps antique items from cultures around the world, there’s a splash of color wherever the eye wanders.
Raquet is lively herself, too. Spending long hours before and after class, she works hard to “stay fresh” and find newer, more interesting ways of teaching curriculum.
Entertaining her students with raps about history she finds on the internet and dancing along herself, she said she doesn’t mind the silliness of it as long as her students learn something.
“I’ve never been normal, honey,” she said. “And the hours aren’t so bad when you love what you do ... I’m more of a mom than a teacher.”
After working at New Smyrna Beach Middle School for 20 years, Raquet tries to teach students what she’s learned in her own life: Things are going to be OK.
“You don’t have to be afraid,” she said. “No matter what it is, we’ll get through this.”
This story originally published to news-journalonline.com, and was shared to other Florida newspapers in the new Gannett Media network.
About this series
As part of an effort to honor the work of teachers in Volusia and Flagler counties, The News-Journal and All Aboard Storage are sharing stories of educators who have made an impact on students’ lives with a different story each month.