Summer 2013 was absolutely life-changing for me. Like I mentioned earlier, I taught summer school. Breakthrough is a different kind of summer school in a few ways. According to the mission statement, "Breakthrough Silicon Valley launches high potential, underserved middle school students on the path to college and inspires high school and college students to pursue careers in education." It's a six year program for middle schoolers to ensure that they get to college, as well as an internship opportunity for older high school and college students. It was a really fulfilling experience for me to work alongside people 6-7 years older than me, and I learned so much from them, in terms of getting through high school, applying to colleges, and just life philosophies in general.
I've learned that life is a pathway, and everything that happens to us is to keep us on our own pathway. Like so many others in this area, I had never considered teaching to be a viable career path before Breakthrough. I knew it was important, but 6 weeks of lesson planning, making Powerpoints and notes and coming up with synthesis activities alongside the brightest and most motivating colleagues on the planet have given me a whole new respect for what teachers do. Seeing a student finally break through and understand a difficult concept after not getting it for so long, because of your creativity in finding a new way to teach it to them is probably one of the best feelings in the world. Every teacher has the ability to change a student's life, and I really respect that now.
At Breakthrough, every two teachers partnered up and commandeered a crew, a group of 8 kids (both future 7th and 8th graders) who did everything together outside of classes. We were our own little families! Getting to know my crew kids and learning what some of them go through, and how they keep their heads up every day was definitely an eye-opening experience for me. The idea that my kids trusted me enough to share such personal stories and problems after knowing me for only a couple of weeks with me is amazing, and I am inspired by them every day.
At the graduation ceremony at the end of summer, I was filled with pride watching my students walk up onto the stage and receive validation for their hard work. I loved meeting their parents and being able to brag about what wonderful individuals their kids were. What I thought was interesting was that I really meant it; I wasn’t just saying it as a nice gesture- I truly believed that my students were the most capable and hardworking kids I had ever met. When the 7th and 8th grade speakers, whom I had mentored throughout the summer to speak, both gave thanks to me in their speeches, I started crying. I truly understand what it felt like to be proud of someone, and to want the absolute best for them with all your heart.
At home, I read my planet (the theme was space), that the students had written messages on, and I teared up again. I had no idea of the impact that I had on some of the kids, and I loved knowing that I had been a part of a program that changed their lives, and lead them to like learning. The student who gave me the most trouble in biology, Omar, is a pretty stereotypical cool kid. He is always teasing girls because he is secretly crushing on them, he thinks he’s amazing at sports, and he is the sassiest little seventh grader there ever was. On the first day of classes, he wrote me a letter saying that he didn’t like biology and never would, but on my planet he wrote “I don’t know how u did it, but u talked me into loving biology! Thx soooo much. I will miss u!” Of course it was in text language.
Reading this message validated my entire summer’s work: all those late nights lesson planning and grading, all of those missed parties and social events, and all of those times I had to deal with his sass without yelling at him.Omar showed me why teachers teach. Despite the long hours, low pay, and endless pile of grading, teaching is one of the most rewarding, honorable, and important jobs in the world.
Thoughts? Similar experiences? Let me know!