Now 40, he's battling stage-four brain cancer. After three surgeries, 2 1/2 years of chemotherapy and 30 rounds of radiation, he is losing his battle against cancer. So in his final months, Menasche is doing what most teachers only dream of: He's traveling the country, visiting his former students and asking: Did I make a difference?
"I am at the end of my life," he said recently. "I don't know how much longer I have left, and I just wanted that sense of satisfaction that the time I did have I used well."
After a seizure this summer led to brain swelling that took away all but a sliver of his vision, Menasche realized he'd never return to the classroom again. The seizure also limited use of most of the left side of his body, forcing him to go on disability. But rather than sit at home, he got an idea for a "vision quest" to reconnect with former students. In August, Menasche put out a call on Facebook, asking if any Coral Reef alumni had couches to offer.
Within 48 hours, students in 50 cities replied.
Menasche, who's separated from his wife, says he has high hopes for a reconciliation by the time the trip is done. In November he boarded a bus in Miami and began what he hopes will be a wandering cross-country journey. The oldest of his former students are now in their early 30s, with lives and families of their own, and he hopes to "get caught up and see the results of my work." An online fundraising campaign is helping to pay for the trip. He's recording his interviews in hopes of writing a book.
A few former students have written on Menasche's Facebook page with the eternal qualifier, "You may not remember me, but ..." In fact, Menasche may not remember them. His treatment has brought "massive" memory loss, he said. "I don't remember my childhood at all. In fact, I don't remember anything prior to roughly 16 or 17 years old. And even the things that I was doing as a teacher are somewhat spotty."
So he's asking his former students "to share their memories, to refresh my own - and that leads to pretty interesting conversations."
As if anyone needed reminding, he says teaching can be disheartening. "You work hard every night to grade papers and do all these things - you come to the classroom, and you're not sure if you'd had any success."
Years later, he's finding he did.
Earlier this month in Atlantic City, N.J., he met up with Anjalee Khemlani, who took Menasche's freshman English class in 2001, and calls him "that teacher that everybody remembered."
"You may not remember anything about his class, but you remember him," she said. "You remember his enthusiasm; you remember his intelligence. You remember the fact that he just sort of created an environment where you wanted to learn."
Now a reporter for The Press of Atlantic City, Khemlani, 25, said Menasche got her thinking about journalism for the first time a decade ago.
"It sort of opened that Pandora's box for me," she said. "I don't want a desk job, even if I have the greatest view on the planet. I want to be doing things. I think he sort of started that."
A year later, Stephen Palahach sat in the same classroom. Now an aspiring screenwriter in New York City, he said Menasche was "one of the few teachers I felt who were really present. I've had great teachers in my life, but he was really present in the moment."
Last week, Menasche slept on Palahach's couch in Brooklyn. The two talked, watched movies, went out for coffee.
"There was a fleeting moment when we were sitting around a computer sharing silly Internet videos together and laughing," Palahach said. He looked up and there was Menasche, looking very different from the teacher who knew all the bands he and his friends did, who pushed them to prove their point in writing, who always urged them to be open-minded about what they read.
It was rough seeing him this way - nearly blind, a livid semi-circular scar across the right side of his head. But in that moment, Palahach said, "He ceased to be my old teacher, and he was definitely a friend."
So far, Menasche has visited about 50 alumni along the East Coast - they threw a party for him in Tallahassee last month and he planned to spend Christmas with family in New York City. If his health holds out, he'll head to Boston, Chicago, San Diego, Los Angeles, Portland and Minneapolis, among other cities.
After a dozen cities, he's feeling optimistic about his legacy. "It seems like it was not a wasted life," he said. "I wasn't so sure - I honestly wasn't."
Menasche's Facebook page: http://on.fb.me/VcHmPi
Menasche's Gofundme page:http://www.gofundme.com/10f18k
Scribblemap of Menasche's travels:http://bit.ly/UUiKwO
Google map of Menasche's offers from former students:http://bit.ly/TDQ1MQ
(Copyright © 2012 USA TODAY)