“At my interview, the program director asked me: how far are you willing to go for our kids? And I told her, I’ll put on a chicken suit if that’s what it takes to get them to learn. Later in the summer she told me that that was the moment when she hired me. And I thought, really? Because of the chicken suit? And I knew then that there was no other place like Breakthrough Cambridge.” – Anjali Nirmalan, Breakthrough Teaching Fellow 2009 and 2010
Hi, I’m Anjali. I graduated from Tufts University in 2010, and I taught at Breakthrough Cambridge the summers of 2009 and 2010. At my interview, the program director asked me: how far are you willing to go for our kids? And I told her, I’ll put on a chicken suit if that’s what it takes to get them to learn. Later in the summer she told me that that was the moment when she hired me. And I thought, really? Because of the chicken suit? And I knew then that there was no other place like Breakthrough Cambridge.
My first summer, I taught a course on the history of education in America. We re-enacted the Carlisle school that attempted to “Americanize” the American Indians, we debated school vouchers, and twice a week my 12-year-old students tutored 8-year-olds from the neighborhood in the finer arts of adding and subtracting fractions. When summer ended, I must confess – I had an addiction. Yes, I was hooked on teaching, and I knew I had to go back to Breakthrough the next summer. I took a leap of faith, and Breakthrough Cambridge took it with me: last summer I taught a Social Studies course on the HIV/AIDS global pandemic. Of their own accord, my students organized a fundraiser in Harvard Square – and took me along for the ride. They chose to donate the money they raised to the Boston Living Center – so there we went, across the city to hand over a shoebox full of $400 in quarters and shake the hands of Bostonians living with HIV. Sure, I lit the match – but those kids started a fire for learning that won’t be going out anytime soon.
As for me…I’m just getting started. This year I was a Teacher Resident, getting certified at the MATCH School in Boston. Thanks to Breakthrough, I already knew what it meant to shake my student’s hand at the door early in the morning, and to answer phone calls for homework help after midnight. I already knew how to get more students to raise their hands in class, or what it meant to balance rigorous questioning with achievable aims.
This fall, a failing middle school in South Boston is being turned around. It will serve the same 500 students, but demand so much more of them, and give them a boost up every step of the way. It will be called UP Academy, and I’ll be one of the founding English teachers. When I encounter the difficult times, I know I can rely on the training, the indomitable spirit, perseverance, sheer joy, and commitment to learning that I first encountered at Breakthrough