English professor Dickson Lam reveals passion for teaching


Louis Cano / The Advocate

English professor Dickson Lam authored a book that will be published in March 2018. It is titled “Paper Sons: A Memoir.” Lam said he thought it would be easy to complete the book after being inspired by another project, but ended up taking seven years to finish it.

By Alondra Gallardo, Opinion Editor

English professor Dickson Lam has always wanted to make an impact on the world and believed the best way to do so was to become a teacher.

Lam first went to the City College of San Francisco and earned his associate degree, then received his bachelor’s in ethnic studies from UC Berkeley.

He went on to complete the master’s program at Columbia University in New York.

While studying away from the West Coast, Lam received a masters of fine arts in creative writing at Rutgers University in New Jersey.

Initially Lam wanted to become a college counselor, because when he was attending CCSF he had a very helpful counselor.

“I thought oh, OK, I can impact the world this way. You know, you have a nice office and it’s very peaceful,” he said.

He then realized he actually wanted to work with students one-on-one and make an impact on students’ lives through teaching.

Lam began his career as a high school teacher.

“Teaching high school is very different than college,” he said. “The students there will let you know if your lesson plans sucks right away. Here in college students will maybe look out the window or go on their phone, so it is more direct feedback in high school.

“Teaching in high school is much harder because you teach so much more. Here, if you are teaching a full load, you teach 12 hours per week, so it is a lot more relaxing.” 

Professor Lam is also co-coordinator of the Puente Project program at Contra Costa College.

“You can really see the passion he has for teaching and it makes everyone want to learn. His passion reflects on us,” Puente student Anayancy Zuniga said. “I did not understand much about the program at first, but it has helped me a lot professionally. It is really eye opening and very useful being able to put yourself in someone else’s shoes.”

Lam knows the experience earned from the Puente program benefits more than the professional careers of students. It also brings them closer to different communities.

“You learn a lot from working with different communities. In the Puente program everyone is already kind of like family. I really like it because it feels like a community, like I am part of something,” Lam said. “It is so helpful because students are connected and they feel connected to me.

“Before I taught Puente, teaching was a lot more isolating for me. However, when I am with Puente, I feel like I did when I was teaching high school.”

Former student Melissa Merino said, “He is so easy to relate to and is very understanding of his students and their individual lives and struggles. You can tell he lives his profession by the time and effort he puts aside to help his students, whether they be former or current.”

Not only is Lam a professor, he also helped start a public high school in San Francisco with help from other educators.

His love for teaching and expanding young minds led him in a direction that he never would have thought possible.

Especially when, at the beginning of his career, all he wanted to be was a counselor.

In 2003, Lam and his fellow educators founded the June Jordan School for Equity.

“At some point after that I decided to write a book,” he said. “I thought it would be really easy and would just need a year off to do everything — it took me seven years”   

Lam never envisioned himself as a writer, he just wanted to teach for a while.

“I was going through a lot of family issues,” he said. “I did not really have anyone to talk to about them.”

Writing a book about his life, and his rocky relationship with his father, was sort of his way of dealing with his emotions.

Lam’s book, “Paper Sons: A Memoir,” will be released in March.