The Teacher Who Listened

Meet the amazing teacher who stopped a high school massacre.

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Rachel Jupin saw her fair share of tough times growing up in the projects of New Bedford, Massachusetts. Her father left her and her three siblings when she was 9. The family barely scraped by financially, let alone emotionally. “Let’s just say listening to my problems wasn’t high on Mom’s list,” Rachel says.

Fortunately for Rachel there was one person who really cared. “I could tell my Aunt Laurette anything,” Rachel fondly recalls. “She always had the time to listen. If it wasn’t for her, I really don’t know how I would have turned out.”

Rachel promised herself she would give her children all the attention her mother never gave her. She graduated from high school in 1966 and went to work for the phone company. There she met her husband, Michael, a telephone lineman. They fell in love and were married six months later. She quit her job, and the couple had four sons and two daughters. She showered them with love and attention. “I never wanted my kids to have to turn to someone else because I wasn’t there,” Rachel says. “So I became very involved in their lives, especially with their education.”

She was happy being a mom, but in her 30s, tough economic times forced her to go back to work for the phone company. But she had bigger dreams. An avid reader and writer, she decided to go to night school to earn an undergraduate degree in English literature. It took her eight years, but she finally graduated magna cum laude from the University of Massachusetts in 1995. Within a year, at the age of 48, she became a substitute English teacher at New Bedford High. “It’s the best job I ever had,” she says.

Rachel loved the job so much she went back to get her master’s in education, so she could teach full time. By 1998, she had her degree and the full-time job she’d dreamed of. She’d finally arrived. Or had she? As a full-timer, it was soon clear that teaching was not always the noble profession she had dreamed it would be. The job required her to be a disciplinarian, surrogate mom, and at times a referee. And the stories she heard were shocking. In her first semester, a student confided she was being physically abused at home. Another, when asked to write an essay about heroes, told Rachel she had none. The girl confided she was all alone in the world, shipped from one foster home to the next. Rachel took the girl under her wing, allowing her to hang out at her house when things got too tough at home, and helping her to realize she was loved and worthy of being loved. Till this day that girl visits Rachel and thanks her.

Our story could easily end here—the inspiring tale of an inner city child beset with hardship who not only made good, but did so by devoting her life to others. Instead, the story continues, as Rachel would play a part in preventing a national catastrophe. This second act of Rachel’s amazing story concerns her relationship with another young, troubled girl named Amy L. Bowman.

Just like Rachel, Amy came from a fatherless family, with a mother who didn’t have time for her. She’d been shipped from school to school and town to town. Like so many others, she found refuge in Rachel. It didn’t take long for Rachel to realize Amy needed someone who cared and was willing to listen. And it didn’t take long for Amy to realize that Rachel was that person.

“If you could sum up Rachel in a few words, it would be she is someone who sees the good in people,” says Amy.

Before long Amy was spending a lot of time with her new favorite teacher. And she had plenty to say. Rachel discovered a neglected, misunderstood, and terribly troubled teen with a whole lot more on her mind than school. “I had a lot of demons back then,” admits Amy.

“She came from a very dysfunctional family,” says Rachel. “Amy was abused from about four years old. She was looking for someone to talk to, and I was willing to listen.”

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