Rachel (Lalji) Deochand '11, a Latin teacher at the Bronx School of Law and Finance, recalls that she was always inspired by the presentation of the Gideon Hawley Teacher Recognition Award at Founders Day.
“When I heard the student talk about their high school teacher and the impact they had, it was so moving,” she said.
This year it was her turn to inspire a future teacher.
She was nominated by her former student, Juan Valdez ’24, an economics major at Union. Valdez said his teacher, after helping him through the application process at Union, has continued to guide him at Union. “She went from being my teacher to also being my mentor,” he said.
From an early age, Deochand thought she had a future in teaching. “I was always the teacher when I played with my brothers and their friends. I was the one writing on the chalkboard.”
But when she arrived at Union, she was considering a career in law.
Her passion for teaching was re-ignited after she met Prof. Stacie Raucci and Prof. Hans Mueller of Classics at a first-year registration session in the Nott.
“They knew me right away by my first name, they answered my emails immediately and they were always available,” she said. “It’s so important to have that connection with students as individual learners.”
Before long, Deochand was taking her share of classes in Lamont House. She did a term abroad in Greece through the Classics department, a mini-term in India with Prof. Hal Fried, and did her senior thesis on classical roots of rhetoric in modern political speeches with Prof. Matthew Scherer of political science and Prof. Raucci. She graduated as a double major in political science and classics.
She earned her master’s in teaching from Union Graduate College and was a student teacher at Bethlehem High School.
Deochand, who stays in touch with Valdez through email, has urged him to get involved in all that Union has to offer. She was president of U-Program, a member of Student Forum, a member of the African and Latin Alliance of Students and AUM Hindu Association. She was an advisor of Symposium, a theme house that programs dinners and discussions with faculty. She worked with Judith Ainlay on U-Bloom, which recycled flowers from Union events. She worked all four years in the College’s Records Office. For three years, she tutored a third-grader at St. John’s School who went on to graduate with honors.
Deochand is just as active at her school. Besides teaching Latin, she is the yearbook advisor and college advisor. Recently married, she had a baby boy in September, Jaxon Jai Deochand. When she’s not teaching, she is with family. COVID, she notes, has been a blessing in disguise for a new mother. “I can experience all the milestones plus more.”
Recalling her time at Union, she thinks of the connections she had with her professors. “That’s what I have now with my students,” she said. “It’s what makes teachers so valuable. They have compassion and can really build those connections with the students that carry through beyond the classroom.”