By: Marie-Anne Barron

Breakthrough Houston Teaching Fellow at Connect, Summer 2019

When I look back on this summer, I think about the friendships I strengthened coming back from college. I think about the time I spent with family—teasing and loving them enough to last me all of the upcoming fall semester. But mostly, I think of my students and coworkers at Breakthrough. I have never met a more supportive and incredible group of people. I found family in my co-teachers, the people I met at our welcome dinner, and all of the staff. As I’m writing this, I can’t help but feel like the summer ended as quickly as it began. I can’t believe it’s been two months since I met these people, and six weeks since I first met my students. We’ve built such a strong and loving culture at Breakthrough in such a short amount of time, and for that, I am so grateful.

People always say a teacher’s job is to touch the minds and hearts of their students. I think that to some degree, that’s true. If I don’t connect with my students, they won’t learn from me. However, what’s much more important is allowing your students to reach your mind and your heart. On Celebration Day, we did a final bridge and a final affirmation. All-day, I felt a little disconnected from my students because they weren’t being super emotional about their last day, and neither was I. I think it was denial, more than anything. But during our final bridge, I started to cry so hard that I couldn’t even chant with my fellow teachers. I just cried and clapped to the beat. My kids were crying, too, and some of them hugged me tighter than I have ever been hugged before — as if holding on a little tighter could make time stop and not let them slip away. Family Five students, if you’re reading this, please know that you were the reason I woke up every day at 6 am and didn’t get home until 7 pm. Seeing your faces and hearing your thoughts and discussions made my heart so happy, and you guys taught me more in six weeks than some professors have taught me in fifteen. You were experienced beyond your years, and I want nothing more than for this world to give you everything you deserve.

I’ve learned a lot from my time at Breakthrough. Firstly, I learned that education equity requires much more than just hiring and supporting good teachers in low-income areas. It requires a good space children can come to and feel safe in. It requires transportation. It requires giving students support for whatever they bring into the classroom so that they can focus on learning, having people who are willing to dedicate at least fifty hours a week to their kids, and teachers being willing to treat each student a little differently to make sure they grow based on their needs and abilities. In previous jobs I’ve had in education, I was told to treat each child the same. Then, I was given a classroom with three special needs students and fifteen neurotypical students. Automatically, I knew each one would require something different from me. This shouldn’t have to be said, but I’m surprised by how often we forget. The second thing I learned was kudos culture. Every day, in our afternoon huddle, we would dedicate a certain amount of time to giving kudos to one another. Sometimes, we would pile kudos onto a specific person or committee because they had just pulled off a huge event, and we wanted to let them know how grateful we were for their work. Other times, the kudos would be a lot simpler: “thank you for telling me my shoelaces were untied before going down the stairs” or “thank you for always bringing a positive attitude to the classroom.” Dedicating time in our busy days to be grateful and to acknowledge and recognize each other’s hard work is something I absolutely love from Breakthrough, something that I want to incorporate into my day-to-day life, too. We also gave our kids kudos before they left on their last day. Watching their smiles widen when we thanked them for something they may not have realized we noticed about them absolutely melted my heart. Also, in modeling kudos culture for them, they, too, learned how to write meaningful kudos. I have a bag full of kudos from my kids, and when I say that almost each one of them made me tear up, I am not joking. Gratitude is such an important part of our lives and health, and I’m glad the message was not lost on them. A third thing Breakthrough taught me is how to support other people. Whether it’s asking students how they like to be praised or reminded to stay on task, or our instructional coaches asking how we want feedback when they observe us, there was always a focus on intentionally learning people’s differences and preferences so that we could help them grow. I know that talking about varying Love Languages has been popular in the media lately, but we’re not used to asking people how to support them. We often just do what we would like ourselves or what has been modeled for us in the past. Learning how each person wants our help and then accommodating our behavior to match that is something I had forgotten how to do, but have started to intentionally insert into my relationships. It’s similar to the different learning styles we discussed during O-Week, but just a little different.

Ultimately, this summer has taught me so many things. The people I’ve met have all taught me something different, and just the culture of Breakthrough has reminded me that I still have a lot of growth to do. It’s also reminded me that there’s already a lot we’re doing right. I’d like to give a final kudos to my Breakthrough family (staff and students, because we’re all one)—can I get a thank you for everything on two?

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