A Day in the Life of a BTH Teacher:
Summer 2017 Teacher Blogs

New Things Happening At Breakthrough Houston in Summer 2017

By: Kathy Heinzerling, Executive Director


  • Largest student body and cohort of teachers – 180 students and 36 Teaching Fellows and 6 Teaching Assistants.
  • New parts of orientation for teachers – 3 hour training from Mental Health America to help teachers identify students with needs; also a 2 part leadership training with PAL (Peer Assistance Leadership) to train our teaching fellows and teaching assistants to be able to lead leadership activities on the 9th grade camping trip the weekend of June 23.
  • Improved camping trip as a result of a grant from Bridge- Up at Menninger – includes our trainings with PAL, 2 charter buses to take us to Brazos Bend State Park and better food and equipment.
  • Improved BPI (Breakthrough Pals Initiative) including more activities for the BPI groupings between 7th and 9th graders.
  • A school counselor to come 2 times a week during a non-academic period, to speak to any of our students who might need some counseling help; the licensed counselor comes through UH ADAPT and is as a result of our Bridge- Up at Menninger grant.
  • Improved ACT/College Knowledge 2 week workshop for sophomores and juniors; an updated curriculum and added College Essay writing for 30+ students. This is also a result of our grant from Bridge-Up at Menninger.
  • We are very grateful to ALL of our donors for making Breakthrough Houston possible for both students and teachers.

“The best teachers are those who show you where to look but don’t tell you what to see.”



Week One – Summer 2017 Teacher Blog

By: Kathryn Powell


My first week of Breakthrough and teaching in a classroom setting has been a whirlwind of papers, schedules, cheers, and kudos. I rush from one class to the next, multitasking by setting up my PowerPoints and directing students, sometimes crossing my fingers and hoping the copier didn’t cheat me on the handout count. The days are a slow blur. It’s a tough learning curve for someone with no prior teaching experience.  And yet, in each day there are many moments of joy. Students trade high fives with teachers in the Morning Bridge, Flores Hall echoes with Breakthrough cheers, and Teaching Fellows lead the way with encouraging messages and Spirit Stick nominations during the All School Meetings.

These joyful moments are some of what I appreciate most about Breakthrough. It’s hard work. It’s dedication. But, it’s also fun. The support Teaching Fellows receive from the Breakthrough community is also something that encourages me and keeps me going. From Instructional Coaches who give specific advice for the classroom, to A-Team members who answer every question, to fellow TF’s who lend their laptops, advice, and friendship, everyone at Breakthrough keeps the program afloat with thoughtful support.

So far, this summer I’ve learned a few lessons:

  1. Never, ever, judge a first-year teacher ever again.
  2. Every moment matters, both in and out of the classroom. My time is no longer mine–it’s the kids’. It’s both an intimidating and wonderful opportunity and responsibility.
  3. Hole punch everything.


I’m sure in the coming weeks there will be many more lessons to add to this list, which is so exciting. I look forward to settling into the classroom as a teacher and getting to know my students. I am excited to see where the summer will take us. Breakthrough gives both students and teaching fellows space to grow, and I cannot wait to see who my students and my co-teachers will become in the next few weeks.










Week Two – Summer 2017 Teacher Blog

By: Helen Li


As my second week at Breakthrough Houston begins, I am rejuvenated (of course, a bit exhausted as well) from chaperoning a camping trip. For the past few years, Breakthrough Houston has been fortunate enough to receive grants to allow the 9th grade students to go on a 2 day camping trip. The camping trip allows the students an opportunity to bond and reflect with their cohort as well as engage in leadership and team building activities. It also gives teachers a glimpse of how students take on leadership roles outside of the classroom.

One of the most memorable moments from the camping trip was gathering around the campfire on the last night to hear the 9th graders say their “farewells” to Breakthrough. Each member received a glow stick and had a turn standing in the middle of the circle, recalling their most memorable Breakthrough memory and what they will miss most after they leave the program. Afterwards, they broke their glow sticks and then throw them into a culminating pile. Many of the current 9th graders talked about their first days here, walking through the morning “bridge” and breakfast cheers; some were shy while others initially dreaded giving up their summers. However, the same students were now teary-eyed as they realized it was their last summer at Breakthrough.  Throughout the past 3 years, these students have been able to make lasting friendships and learn from their teachers. They have pushed their own intellectual boundaries and have worked hard to get into their top high schools. Most importantly, Breakthrough was a place where they felt like they fully belonged.  “Breakthrough is like family,” they said, as they smiled and hugged each other.

Though I was not there when these students entered the program as 7th graders, I can safely say that I witnessed some “Breakthrough magic” that camping night. More than just an extra school program, Breakthrough Houston gives students a supportive community that is there with them for 3 summers and then throughout high school and beyond. Watching these 9th graders emerge as leaders, I know that they will go on to do great things.



Week Three – Summer 2017 Teacher Blog

By: Tara Narang


In the blink of an eye, this summer is halfway over. This experience has been an opportunity of a lifetime. I have worked hard and learned more than I thought possible. Every day at Breakthrough is new and exciting. Though we have a daily schedule, the energy that flows within my coworkers and students makes each day a new adventure. Waking up early is not a problem when I have the Bridge and Breakfast Step to wake me up. We cheer, we laugh, and we learn all day. Just when you think you are exhausted at the end of the day, we fill ourselves with energy and cheer for every bus and car passing by. Every day is truly a great day, because it is a Breakthrough day.

Though I already have built so many great memories with my students and peers, I will never forget community service day. Family 2 went to SHAPE and sorted old photographs from the center. I loved seeing how interested each student was and the wonderful questions they came up with. It was such a joy to hear them using inferencing skills to help them sort the photos. I remember walking around and thinking how special these kids are. These students have continued to surprised me in the classroom with all the advanced questions and deep journal entries. I am eager to continue to see their growth and read their amazing pieces of writing.

As the third week comes to an end, I am already filled with so much gratitude for getting this opportunity. Thank you to the directors for believing in me and giving me this opportunity. Thank you to my IC for answering my millions of questions. Thank you to my coworkers, my new friends, for keeping my energy up. But most of all, thank you to my students for being the reason I come to work each day.


Week Four – Summer 2017 Teacher Blog

By: Nikita Dias


I’m so in denial that this summer is halfway over. For someone who isn’t a morning person, it surprises me that I somehow manage to wake up at 5:41 every morning. It’s okay though. The adrenaline and thought of getting to see my kids gives me butterflies and makes me excited for another day of learning something new about them, myself and the world around us. I know everyone says it, but this experience is truly for the kids. They have no idea, but they’ve made such an impact on my life in the past month I’ve gotten to know them.

Every morning at 5:41AM, I wake up in awe that this is my job, this is my summer, and this is my life. It’s such a blessing to be living out my dream of being someone’s favorite teacher at just 19 years old. There are so many demanding tasks that come out of being a Breakthrough Teacher Fellow- so many hours of leadership training, classroom management, and one too many workshops on being a team player.

There’s also so much I was never told about when I was interviewing for this. I was never told that these kids would latch onto my heart and bring me so much happiness that it physically hurts sometimes. I was never told that a weekend chaperoning a camping trip would result in me discovering in a tent at 3am– covered in more ant and mosquito bites than I could count- that I would find my forever friends. I was never told that my TA Ana would be one of the most reliable, responsible, loving and supportive 17 year olds I’d ever have the privilege of knowing. I was never told that I’d have the greatest support system in my 8th Grade English Department (or that one of their group hugs could make all of the stress of a long day go away). I was never told that my instructional coach Annie would be my biggest cheerleader and that I would lose my mind without her. I was never told how bored I’d be on weekends without the crazy stories of my 13 year olds keeping me company. I was never told that I would fall so in love with this job, my staff, my kids and Houston.

To me, being a Breakthrough Teacher Fellow is more than just assisting my kids in getting ahead in school. It’s about taking the time to listen to the incredible stories that they have to share. It’s about sitting back and letting them teach me about life from time to time. It’s not just about being their biggest fan when they struggle, but also about being their loudest cheerleader when they soar. It’s about Saturday nights at Michael’s spending way too much time deciding which sticker pack to invest in. It’s about Sundays spent at Kung Fu Tea inserting memes and gifs into every lesson plan, and midnight runs to Target to indulge in all of the school supplies that black hole has to offer. It’s about the 21 text messages and 6 missed phone calls I receive every day from my kids before I even leave work. It’s about making an impression on the future graduates of MIT, future veterinarians, engineers, doctors, and pop stars so that when my ambitious 13 year olds are off living their lives and pursuing their big dreams the way I’m doing right now, they’ll always remember the little people like me, and the best summer I’ve ever had because of them.



Week Five – Summer 2017 Teacher Blog

By: Ana Greening

As my high school career was ending, I was faced with the question of what do I want to do. The answer pretty much my whole life has been teacher, but as I saw my future coming closer, it didn’t seem as clear. My friend did Breakthrough Houston last year and couldn’t stop giving glowing reports about her experience. That’s when the lightbulb went off. What better way to decide if teaching is really for me than actually getting a chance to teach! Looking back this was the best decision I could’ve made!

Everyday I get to come to a place where I feel welcomed and supported by my fellow TA’s and teachers. Also I am surrounded by amazing kids who love to learn and just love being apart of Breakthrough! Who wouldn’t love being in an environment like that? On top of the experience, I have also gotten great tools to use in my future teaching. My instructional coach has given me a good foundation for my career and has become someone I know I can always ask questions to if I have any.

Years from now when I’m reflecting on my time at BTH, I will remember when Family 4 won the Family Spirit Stick for week 4 and how happy the kids were, when the kids told me I was a good teacher, and when the 8th grade ELA department bonded over a funny Mariah Carey video. I am so thankful for the chance I was given to spend my summer with talented kids and fellow young adults. This unique opportunity showed me how much I enjoy enriching students and forming relationships with them. Also I know that my coworkers will be my support system when the time comes to get into the teacher world!



Week Six – Summer 2017 Teacher Blog

By: Ashley McDonald

As a Breakthrough teacher, every week you’ll learn something new about teaching…

Week 1: You’ll spend more time at school than at home (and whether or not you’re cut out for camping)
The first week is when you are teaching for the first time and realizing what it’s really like to be in the classroom. You’ll also realize that you need to make copies and grade homework and prepare for the next day. This means that you’re at school from about 7 AM to about 5:30 to 6 PM. Home then becomes a place where you spend more time UNconscious than conscious.

Week 2: That there are a million different ways the same concept can be explained
By week 2, you are realizing that the concepts you’re teaching need to be broken down and explained thoroughly. This means that you’re going to have to break it down in various ways and explain it in various ways because every kid understands things differently.

Week 3: The phrase: “For the kids”
This week is rush time. It can be a shorter week due to the 4th of July, which means you don’t get to see your kids as much, which is sad. It also means that your schedule will get messed up and you’re going to have to keep it together (or at least make it look like you’ve got it together) for the kids. You realize that you wake up in the morning because you want to make sure that everything is ready to go for your kids.

Week 4: What the word “busy” means
This week will have you staying at work later than you thought was possible. Why? Same reason as last week, it is FOR THE KIDS. You will be pushed to your limits and you will be working 99.9% of the time. You might even think about your lesson plan as you fall asleep at night. You are also getting ready for the dance, talking about college, and showing them about life after Breakthrough through a field trip. You. Are. Busy. But you’ll handle it will all the poise of a 50’s housewife.

Week 5: Your silly (and competitive) side
THIS IS THE WEEK WHERE OLYMPICS GETS REAL. Friday is OLYMPICS DAY (get pumped) and the entire week is spirit week (get creative). You will dress in a wacky way, you will discover your twin, you will also decorate your kids’ shirts for OLYMPICS DAY (get pumped). You want your family to win, you want to win that cheer battle, you want to win points. It’s an entire week dedicated to bonding with one another, learning that you all are one big family, and finding the kid within you.

Week 6: I never want to leave my kids
Easily the MOST emotional week. By this point, you are attached to your kids. You care for them and you care about their futures. You know their strengths and weaknesses and you know what strategies they can use. You’ll wish there was more time. You’ll cry as you write your goodbye letters to your kids and your coworkers. Most of all, you’ll know that while you have made an impact on their lives, they’re the ones who made a bigger impact upon you. You’ll learn that every single second of being a Breakthrough teacher was worth it.