By: Nazirah Ahmad
Breakthrough Houston Teaching Fellow at Connect and Junior at Howard University
For the past two weeks, I have had the amazing privilege of teaching 8th grade Writing with Breakthrough Houston at Connect! At the end of my high school career, I realized my purpose in life was not to physically save lives but to socially save them. However, I always struggled with answering how I would actually “socially save lives.” As a communications major, I envision myself working in public relations, directing community relations and specifically focusing on equity in education. I have always desired to be in an environment that will nurture my gifts as an advocate, and Breakthrough Houston is helping me achieve this goal!
More than a Teacher
Going into Breakthrough, I knew my role would be more than teaching rising 8th graders expository writing and how to insert evidence in their paragraphs. Growing up in a single parent household and as a low-income, high achieving student myself, I knew my role this summer would consist of being a mirror for my students, revealing that I grew up exactly like them and how, because of educators and supportive family members, I arrived where I am today. A mirror is a story that reflects your own culture and helps you build your identity. Serving as a mirror this summer allows my students to see themselves in me, to understand that they will graduate high school because they are capable and prepared, and that this preparation makes attending a four-year university 100% attainable.
I knew the students would have a large impact on me. So far, they have taught me a lot about myself, and I have learned a lot from the other Teaching Fellows. During orientation week, we did a privilege walk. The moderator read different scenarios where we either stepped forward or stepped backwards. What I noticed at the end of the walk was that the majority of Teaching Fellows landed towards the middle or back of the group. Reflecting over this activity left me very humble and thankful. I have completed this exercise several times in the past and am always one of the few individuals towards the back because the spaces in which I usually complete this activity are not filled with people that look like me. However, being in a space this summer surrounded by coworkers that resemble me and have lived a life just like me humbled me and made me very grateful. Even though we were towards the back, we all made it here! Here at Breakthrough, we have the privilege of pouring into our kids and serving as mirrors for them. After that lesson, I was almost in tears because I understood my purpose and the charge that Breakthrough Houston has given me as a Teaching Fellow.
When students read books where they see characters like themselves who are valued in the world, they feel a sense of belonging. Similarly, when students have educators and teachers who are successful and look like them, they feel represented in the world around them. Growing up, I didn’t have a lot of teachers that looked like me and, if they did, they didn’t grow up like I did. It was not until my senior year of high school that I had an African American teacher that attended Howard University and that was invested in the education of his students. Just having his genuine support and representation in the classroom made me feel so important and made me feel like I could achieve my wildest dreams. I am more than excited to continue serving as a mirror for my students this summer and being their biggest cheerleader!
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Thanks so much for supporting our mission of success for every student. We look forward to continued growth and future partnerships.