David Lopez was on track to drop out of high school, he said, when a succession of three great teachers turned him around.

He ended up in a vocational school after graduating and got a good paying job for a tech company. But he had a gnawing sense that he owed it to himself and his community to do for struggling students what had been done for him.

Listen to the podcast hereon Stitcher or on iTunes.

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“For a kid from my background, to be making a good chunk of change, at 24, 25, it felt nice, but really I couldn’t shake that sense of responsibility that at some point someone had changed my trajectory, that had made that success possible, and I wasn’t really doing anything to help others have those same opportunities,” Lopez said. “I couldn’t shake it. Just what happened is, the voice just kept getting louder.”

He went back to school, at UCSD, then to Houston as part of Teach for America, and eventually back to San Diego to launch the program here.

Mario Koran wrote a couple stories on Teach for America this week, so we had Lopez on the podcast to talk about how the program’s doing in its second year in San Diego and to address some of the criticisms it’s facing nationally.

Specifically, he said the idea that Teach for America isn’t responsive to local concerns weighed on him when he was getting San Diego’s program off the ground.

“Now I have a little bit more context on this whole situation, and what I recognize is just in general … we San Diegans are very sensitive about feeling like folks are coming into our community, and telling us how things should be done,” he said. “There’s something about us San Diegans that say ‘Hey, you’ve got to understand us, before you can talk about what’s happening here.’”

I also asked if he got the sense that some of the criticisms of Teach for America are often proxies for broader discussions about failings of the education system in general.

His response, in short, was that too often we discuss elements of the education system as microcosms of the system itself. In reality, classes, schools, districts, charter schools – whatever – are usually facing their own particular set of problems.

Give the rest of the show a listen. Lopez’s interview starts at 22 minutes.

If you’d like to sponsor the podcast, please reach out to Emily Tillson.

Andrew Keatts is a former managing editor for projects and investigations at Voice of San Diego.

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