I did not speak a word of English when I arrived in the United States from Cuba in November 1980. I was eight years old, in the fourth grade, and completely frustrated by my inability to communicate. School had always been very important to me and something I really loved, but no longer. Things changed when I was transferred to Cynthia Mairena's classroom. She was a young, passionate teacher dedicated to making a difference. Every single day, while the other students were working on their individual assignments, Ms. Mairena and I retreated to a corner of her classroom. She started teaching me first grade reading and writing. By the end of the 1980-1981 school year, Ms. Mairena had pushed me to cover first, second, third, and fourth grades. I was completely fluent in English and ready to go into the fifth grade at grade level. Ms. Mairena and I lost touch after I moved on to junior high school. When I was a freshman in college – well before Google – I moved heaven and earth to find her. I did. Ms. Mairena and I met for brunch, talking for hours. I thanked her and let her know what a difference she had made in my life. I would not be where I was at the time – or where I am today – had it not been for her patience and kindness. To me, Teacher Appreciation Week is synonymous with Ms. Mairena. It was sink or swim for me during the year I was fortunate enough to have her as my teacher. Ms. Mairena helped me swim.