The word “teacher” comes from the Old English, meaning to “show” or “instruct.” You could read 100 books on the classical etymologies of similar terms. Still, it’s unlikely you would get an idea of what it really means to be a teacher in every sense until sitting down with Mickey McCown, a now-retired math teacher of 31 years and mentor with United Way’s Achievers For Life program.
McCown’s volunteer journey began with recognition of the need for committed adult mentors to invest in the lives of students at a local middle school. He saw the potential of putting caring people in the places where they were needed most to encourage young people to be all they can be.
“I began mentoring two years ago,” McCown said. “I didn’t expect that I would be so fulfilled.”
After training with Communities in Schools, McCown was paired with Tierney, sixth-grade boy at Fort Caroline Middle School.
“He and his mother had been moving from state to state to escape a tough family situation,” McCown said. “The educational foundation just wasn’t there. He didn’t even know his multiplication tables.”
McCown’s background came in handy, and he did what he could to help Tierney catch up academically during his first year.
“It was more than that, though. It was about building a relationship, a friendship,” McCown added.
“When I returned the following school year to continue mentoring, he had moved again. I asked if he had moved to another part of the city; I wanted to go to whatever school he was at if I could.”
McCown was able to get reconnected with his mentee, who had moved across town. When he showed up for the first mentoring session Tierney’s 7th grade year, McCown teared up with his mentee’s words.
“He said, ‘I thought you’d never find me again.'”
Tierney’s response speaks powerfully to the impact that quality time can make in an person’s life. With just an hour a week, McCown turned that old adage on its head, and showed that teaching — whether math, reading, or how to cope with unexpected struggles — is about doing.
“All we have to do is walk into the situation. But you must have the heart for it; otherwise, it just becomes a job.”
McCown now volunteers with AmeriCorps Learn to Read, mentoring nine middle-schoolers at Ribault Middle School — as well as his first United Way AFL friend at Jefferson Davis.