By: Hannah Hsu

Teaching Fellow at Breakthrough Houston at SJS

I often feel like I’m in a kids’ TV show: Every aspect carefully crafted and planned with great intentionality, packed with movement and engagement, repetition of routines and structure, cheers, positivity, learning, and of course, loads of energy! Last week, one of my students told me, “Miss, we’re not as young as you! We can’t keep up!” And, I did a double take. “How are you defining young?” I replied with a laugh.

The first two weeks with students have come and gone so quickly! During the two weeks of orientation, I felt utterly exhausted, and the students had not even arrived yet! I remember asking some of my co-workers who are returning Breakthrough teachers, “How do you do this for weeks upon weeks? How do you keep your energy up for the students?” I never got a clear answer, but I realized the unlikely answer myself: our students. Everything we do at Breakthrough is for the kids. It’s one of the many mantras we say to ourselves and our co-workers to ensure our motives are truly in the right place. First of all, the students are so wonderful! Just being around them energizes me. These past two weeks of teaching have been incredibly busy but also invigorating in so many ways!

Here are a few things I’ve learned so far:

  1. Teaching is physically, mentally, and emotionally demanding!

From the more thoughtful, independent aspect of planning lessons and preparing one’s classroom space to the on-the-fly, in-class adjustments that we always have to make to help our students as best we can, teaching is a ton of work! One thing that I’ve really enjoyed is the positive, honest, respectful Breakthrough culture. The community norms we adopt create a safe space for all students and teachers to thrive in, and it’s amazing to see how quickly we’ve all come together as one community in just a few weeks, especially with our 7th graders!

  1. The importance of a growth mindset.

As a writing teacher, I not only get to interact with students at lunch and during our “Family Time,” but I also have the privilege of getting to know the students individually by reading their writing. Many of my students started out with fixed mindsets, valuing natural ability over hard work and perseverance, and putting limitations on themselves. In the past two weeks, I’ve seen the same students get out of their comfort zones and develop growth mindsets, recognizing the true value of grit. They are leaning into discomfort and are excited about a challenge! In my child and adolescent development education class at Trinity, one of the main concepts we learned was that all children move through the same stages of development, in the same order, but at different rates. Likewise, I believe in each of my students’ abilities to learn and grow so long as they have a growth mindset and work hard! My Instructional Coach told our department that our job is not to pull or push the students but to be there alongside them. We want to be the “meddler in the middle,” not the “sage on the stage” or the “guide on the side.”

  1. My students are teaching me.

Community Service Day was a great opportunity to bond with the students outside the classroom and see them do the same. We went to the Houston Czech Museum and helped them landscape the front of the building. Seeing students working together to give back to the community was really encouraging and uplifting. I was especially inspired when I saw how much zest and excitement they exhibited as they worked with minimal complaints about the heat (and, in the Houston heat, who wouldn’t complain a bit?). One of my students was pulling weeds out in the hot sun, without shade, but he was especially dedicated to the task he chose. After we went inside to take a picture, he asked me if he could go back outside and finish pulling a weed he was still working on!

These students are funny, sweet, and unique, and it makes every moment of serving at Breakthrough a joy. Even when things seem challenging, I’ve been inspired by our Program Director, Mr. Morris, to change my vocabulary and perspective: I strive to view these moments as opportunities to learn and grow rather than as challenges. I feel so blessed to be surrounded by such wonderful leaders and mentors, dedicated co-workers, and fantastic students! I’ve had so many impactful teachers in elementary, middle, and high school, especially English teachers–so to be able to pass on that passion and love of learning, especially in regards to writing, has been a dream come true.

Hannah Hsu is a rising junior at Trinity University, studying Music Education with a choral emphasis and creative writing. She specializes in classical singing, musical theatre, worship music, education and storytelling through mixed mediums of art. She loves painting, playing board games and making music with friends. Ms. Hsu teaches 7th grade Writing, and co-teaches Creative Writing, Choir, and Crafty Arts. This is her first summer at Breakthrough.


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