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As I entered into my senior year at Penn, my career plans centered around two words: law school. My whole life had been planned around going, and nothing was going to stop me.

LSATs, transcripts, recommendations and personal essays in hand, everything was all set. But, as a senior, I began to see the impact that recent college graduates could have on our education system. I began to see that law school would have to wait.

One year later, I'm writing this statement as an ESL teacher for IS 143 Eleanor Roosevelt Junior High School. The 60 eighth-graders in my three classes routinely find a way to keep me smiling, while I routinely find a way to keep them learning. I know that no other job could possibly bring the moments of glory that one feels when a student grasps academic content, realizes that education is the most important part of his or her world or simply realizes that you care, and that you will always care.

Those moments are only found in the classroom. As you consider what job you will take next year, remember that you are about to graduate from a world-class institution, and that you have a world-class opportunity to truly have the most meaningful job in the world. I ask you to consider impacting the lives of students as a teacher.

To be fair, the job is not easy. For example, once I had decided to teach as a Teach For America corps member, I became very excited about the possibilities. My students and I would have philosophical conversations about metacognition and read Shakespeare. My class would dominate the New York State exams as I prepared them with an LSAT-styled prep course. What I found were students with a very limited ability to read and write. There were students whose confidence in their ability to succeed was zero to none, and who hid their insecurities under the facade of apathy.

While I had been somewhat prepared for the grim reality (and I use the word somewhat loosely), nothing gets the message across better than an eighth grader who cannot read a book at a second-grade level.

There are many variables in this equation, and to say that there is one reason that educational inequity persists today in public schools throughout the country is to oversimplify a complex problem. Much of my time has been spent coaching my students toward success, instilling belief that they, too, have the ability to achieve academically and in life. However, through all of problems, one thing is certain: It will take a mass effort from educated leaders for true change to occur.

Let us look at the facts.

Nine year olds growing up in low-income communities are three grade levels behind their peers in high-income communities. Half of these students will not graduate. The average student who does graduate will be on the reading level of an eighth grader in a wealthier community. Is this the type of opportunity we want for American children?

As educated thinkers, the lack of opportunity that accompanies a lack of education should be readily apparent. Blessed as we are, we must not forget that there are others who have not been given a fighting chance.

Seniors, as you choose what the proper course of action for you will be next year, remember that you have a chance to make an immediate impact in the classroom. In a country that prides itself on equality of opportunity, we have an obligation as recipients of an exceptional education to equalize the playing field for all students in this nation regardless of their background.

Consider being a leader in the classroom.

Guest columnist Pierre Gooding is a 2006 College alumnus and now teaches English at Eleanor Roosevelt Junior High School in New York. His e-mail address is

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