By: Adrian Pachuca
Breakthrough Houston Dean of Students at HISD, Summer 2021
I knew it became a problem once Ma looked at me during a car ride and said, “when does Breakthrough start this summer?” My parents often don’t remember much about my life — work, bills, and every other adult responsibility soaked their mind–but they knew the start of June would be busy with meetings, drafting lesson plans, and decorating classrooms.
It’s hard to say when I became obsessed with Breakthrough; however, it’s even more difficult to say when I fell in love with it. But, I know it started with the kids. A memory: it was my first summer of Breakthrough. I was a Teaching Assistant. Sometimes I was able to teach for 5 minutes; sometimes it was for 10 minutes; other times I was only there to help students individually; but, at all times, I didn’t care. I was hungry to be with my students, to be with kids who reminded me what it meant to have a love for learning. It didn’t matter if I made a mistake rolling out a difficult lesson and had to correct myself; nor did it matter for them to make mistakes in the same lesson. We kept laughing and telling each other it was fine. I was reminded, among the soft moments of laughter, we were both there to learn.
“It starts in a week, and from then on I’ll be busy,” I began to explain. Ma got the general sense of the work and how much it meant to me; she also knew this year would be different since I was stepping into the role of Dean of Students. I remember her face when I told her: eyes wide and white, her smile spreading like a crack in ice, and her elongated “wow” that seemed to stretch on and on and on. A memory: I’m a full fledged Teaching Fellow at GLEC for my third summer with Breakthrough. It was debate day and the whole department planned a mock trial with all of our students. I carried my stress in my shoulders and lower back; a tight knot of anxiety and preparation. I prepared for the worst, but saw my students’ eyes glimmer just a bit when I told them to pack-up to move. They were prepared: all at once, my knots unraveled; all at once, I knew my hours of work were worth something; all at once, I realized this is the love that made the hours worth it.
“Are you nervous, mijo?”
“Yes, ma, mucho”
I will admit, moving up the ranks in Breakthrough always sounded glamorous. There was, however, a tremendous amount of stress that came with it. I found myself constantly questioning everything: am I doing enough for my students? Am I putting my entirety into this? Am I failing my students? These questions were never new — they marinated in my mind ever since I started pursuing a career in education. Ma knew this: she was with me every summer as I bounced from homestay to homestay. “Pero lo amas,” it was more of a statement when she asked her question. We both knew this: “Yes, I love it. Of course I do.” A memory: I was able to sit down and chat with two students. Less of a chat, more of a giggle-fest really. We joked about the holidays, debated our favorite SZA songs, and talked about the latest episodes of anime. And soon it was over: the students left and then began our faculty meeting. But, something was different. The questions that stewed in my mind quieted down just enough for me to see again: it was these kids that kept me going. Being able to see an honest, shy smile they try to hide; being able to see their excitement as they unraveled a tough question; all of these moments came back to me. I took a deep breath and stood up just a little bit straighter. The work is hard, but I can’t see myself do anything else. I think I have a problem: I’m obsessed with Breakthrough.
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