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A former grade-school teacher reflects on his Teach for America days

Michael Copperman | GOOD


The years since I taught fourth grade in the Mississippi Delta have taken me far from the uncertain future of those children born on the wrong side of the tracks. And yet, I can still feel the texture of those humid Delta mornings, hear the rhythm of the voices of black children echoing down the halls. I still remember the sense of purpose that I had each day, knowing that this, here, mattered: a child’s education, their best chance against bad odds to rise from those dusty streets and slumping tenements and find a better life.

I cannot shake the weight of that responsibility, have not been able to lay it down.

For four years now, I been teaching writing to low-income, at-risk students of color and non-traditional aged students at the University of Oregon. The job is not lucrative, but I stay because in the 18-year-olds I teach, I see the kids I wanted to reach. My decision to stay in education is not only about the conviction that all children deserve the opportunity for an excellent education. It is explicitly personal, about a deep need, given what I saw in the Delta, to offer more. And in a college classroom, teaching writing, instead of fourth grade, I can.

“I’m just gonna call you teacher.”→