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How Poverty Can Make Students 'Ephemeral'

An editor in Minnesota recalls his time working as a volunteer in a struggling inner-city Minneapolis high school and what it taught him about the difficult odds teachers face in working with impoverished students. There is a great deal going on in poor students lives, he stresses, that is almost nighmarishly out of educators' control:

In a sense, the reformers are right: Teachers are often the most important people in these kids' lives -- no one else is helping. But I felt these kids slipping from my grasp one by one, even when they were sitting right in front of me. Stronger forces were pulling us apart: homelessness, depression, in utero setbacks, lack of parents or computers or transportation. Everything that had nothing to do with school had everything to do with school. When we did make progress, when our eyes would meet and we would acknowledge a moment of achievement, it always felt ephemeral, in passing, as though we were glimpsing each other across a great and growing chasm.
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