For all my life, I’ve wanted to be a teacher. Growing up in Puerto Rico, my fourth-grade teacher, Mrs. Morales, was my biggest inspiration. She made learning a fun experience for us, and her approach to teaching encouraged me to pursue the profession. Through the years, I remained on that path, which has led me to where I am today.

The School District of Lee County has been my home for the last 31 years. I was a classroom teacher at Lehigh Acres Middle and Paul Laurence Dunbar Middle, then transitioned to a role at the district office to continue enhancing ESOL resources for area students. While I have loved every moment of being a teacher and administrator, this summer, I decided it was time to close this chapter of my life and retire. Soon after, I received a phone call that changed everything.

My loving family threw me a party to celebrate my retirement. During the festivities, I received a facetime call from a previous student, Jose Palma, who is now pursuing acting in England. He expressed the impact I’ve had on his life and how grateful he was. He said, “Thank you for being a second mother to me. I am so proud of you. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for what you’ve done for me. You have been one of the most influential mentors I have ever had.”

As teachers, we never expect to hear such a heartfelt thank you from our students. We do our job because we love it and want to see children succeed. Still, he reminded me of how my teaching contributed to his accomplishments, and those of all my other former students. When Jose shared this experience with me, he made me realize that I’m not ready for my teaching career to be over. I know I can still make an impact on more students’ lives.

Teaching has been the most rewarding experience for me. I started my career impacting students’ lives, and I now know that is how I want to end my career too. The classroom is my home, and I’m so glad I’ve made the decision to return.

Through these past 31 years, I have seen the district change and grow so much. Our students come from all over the world with different language proficiencies and academic levels. Seeing them succeed is so rewarding. My former students are doing some incredible things and I’m so grateful that I am able to witness that. Watching my students grow into adults who are positively changing the world with their different talents is one of the biggest blessings I will ever know.

If you are interested in making this type of impact, I encourage you to learn more and explore opportunities at The School District of Lee County. The district has a variety of positions open, allowing you the chance to discover your passion. A job in the district could turn into a life-long career like it did for me. Teaching has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life, and I truly could not imagine myself doing anything else.

Dr. Evelyn Rivera has led a 31-year career as an educator in Lee County and is a teacher at Paul Laurence Dunbar Middle. For more information on careers with The School District of Lee County, visit

This article originally appeared on Fort Myers News-Press: How a former student called me out of retirement