Cathy Jasso is a special education teacher who has spent over four decades bringing out the best in students with a wide range of intellectual and physical disabilities.
She instills within them a sense of confidence and normalcy. As a result of her dedication, hundreds of students have been able to maintain fulfilling lives in spite of their afflictions.
Given the sheer length of time she has spent within the field—and the fact that even at 68 years old, she continues to substitute teach—Cathy is clearly passionate about what she does. But what led her to becoming a special education teacher in the first place?
Cathy Jasso Discovers Her Passion for Working With People With Disabilities
As early as high school, Cathy had been volunteering at Misericordia, a well-renowned Chicago-based home for people with disabilities. Her passion for serving the disadvantaged was immediately evident, and before long, she was a paid behavioral technician at Misericordia.
Cathy looks back fondly on her time at Misericordia, saying, “I had a nursery of six children… I would come in after my college courses, and I’d get them out of their beds, get them ready for dinner, sing for them, give them a bath. When I die, that’s gonna be my heaven, as that was my favorite job. I was taking care of their primal needs, and I loved every minute of loving those kids.”
Cathy’s time as a behavioral technician was the seed that blossomed into her career in special education.
What Makes Cathy Jasso an Everyday Hero?
As anyone who works within the social services or education sectors will tell you, there is not a lot of money to be made in these fields; it is work that must be done purely out of passion, and this is something Cathy has in droves.
She is heroic because she has devoted four decades of her life to caring for an underprivileged sector of the population, putting them before any shred of desire for superfluous wealth.
“It’s incredible to bring out the best in people who came into this world with difficulties,” she says.
Because she works with children, Cathy’s influence is evident throughout her students’ lives. She meets them during their most formative years and tells them things that they may have never heard otherwise; she tells them that they are capable of great achievements, that they are of no less value than their so-called “regular” peers.
“Your childhood is always there,” she says. “It’s gonna shape you.”
What Impact Has Cathy Jasso Made?
It’s impossible to quantify the positivity that Cathy has brought into the lives of her students. While they are rarely shy to remind her how much she means to them, her impact is most evident in the many letters she has received from parents throughout the years.
“I have a big box of letters from parents,” she says. “The parents say things like, ‘I’m leaving my three year-old nonverbal child with someone else. I’ve never done that before, but when it’s with you, I feel comfortable doing so. Parents write me the most life-changing, beautiful notes.”
Additionally, many of Cathy’s students keep in touch with her well into adulthood, reminding her of her great influence when they are old enough to comprehend said influence: “It’s awesome watching some of the students with autism move on and see success in life,” she says.
What Are Some of Cathy Jasso’s Greatest Struggles as a Teacher?
While Cathy manages to be a role model for her disadvantaged students, her own life has never been perfect. A major obstacle she had to overcome was the passing of her husband; diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, he required constant care at the end of his life, a responsibility that Cathy took upon herself whilst balancing her career.
She is also a mother of four, As it is with any parent, juggling work and home life was no easy feat. However, she views her experience teaching as a necessary prerequisite to her experience as a mother.
“Looking back at my first job with those six children, I knew I was going to be a mother… I wanted to be good across the board. I didn’t want to take work anxiety home to my own kids, so I woke up every day, and I would choose joy,” she says.
To counter the many struggles Cathy has faced throughout her life, Cathy took up running early on in her career.
“I’ve been running for 38 years,” she says. “I run probably five or six miles a day. I look at it as my prayer time. Even after losing my husband, I run and thank God for all the gifts in my life. It’s kept me emotionally and physically healthy. I’m running slow, but I’m not in a race with anybody.”
Cathy Jasso on What People Misunderstand About People With Disabilities
Since her time volunteering at Misericordia, Cathy has honed her skill in working with people with a wide range of physical and mental disabilities.
She believes that there is a societal stigma against people with disabilities and has always sought to make them see their value, especially amidst the ridicule they would receive from mainstreamed students.
“People don’t appreciate the gifts they bring to the table,” she says.
To parents of people with disabilities, she offers the following advice: “View them and treat them as normally as possible. Once you start treat them as victims, then you’re treating them as an outcast. Get involved with parents’ social groups. The school district has to provide the best educational settings. There are all kinds of social services provided to parents.”
Cathay Jasso on Heroism
Having spent the majority of her life making both financial and emotional sacrifices for the common good, Cathy is more than qualified to define the word “hero.”
According to her, a hero is someone who helps others that no one else is coming forth to help. She says that one does not have to give up their entire life to be a hero, as giving whatever you can give is heroic in and of itself.
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“There is a hero in all of us,” she says. “No matter what, if you do great things, or little things with great intent, you’re a hero.”
She leaves her audience with the following advice: “Do not compare yourself to other people because when you compare what you don’t have to what they have, you become a prisoner of fear, and fear will hold you back. Joy is an inside job, and your joy is dependent on one person, and that is you. No one else is going to make you happy.”
Cathy Jasso Is a Hero
Even in her late 60s, Cathy continues to substitute teach, signifying her tenacity and undying love for her profession.
It is not for the money that she joined this career; she teaches because she cares for humankind, and she doesn’t see herself slowing down any time soon.
As evidenced by the overwhelming support she has received from parents, she has made an incalculable impact on the lives of her students, reminding them that, despite their disabilities, they are valuable and capable of achieving greatness.