“Breakthrough is a collection of memories and lessons that I carry into my classroom each year – a constant reminder of the community I wish to build and the relationships I desire to forge with students.” – Kiara Boone, Breakthrough Teaching Fellow 2013 and 2014
In 2013, I was a frantic second semester sophomore at Skidmore College with only a few weeks left to declare a major. I had taken a variety of courses, but only one really stuck with me: School and Society. Still, I was not quite sure I wanted to be a teacher. Everyone I sought advice from quoted the same cheesy line: “If you do what you love, you’ll never work a day in your life.”
They could not have been more wrong. Teaching is by no means easy. It requires hard work, time, and an unfathomable amount of energy. Above all else, it requires love. This crucial lesson was one of many I learned during my two summers teaching with Breakthrough. And it was these transformative summers that launched me into my career as an educator.
Now I am a humanities teacher at the Eliot K-8 Innovation School. Along my journey I have attended countless lectures, seminars, and trainings that outline benefits and strategies for building positive relationships with students.
It is incredibly easy to walk out of these sessions thinking: “If I complete steps 1-5, do ‘x,’ ‘y’ amount of times my students will love and respect me. They will work hard and learn.” It all sounds great in theory, until you walk into your classroom, and there waiting for you are 20 plus students with unique challenges, strengths, passions, perspectives, and experiences.
As I have learned at Breakthrough, loving students is more than putting a smile on their faces or having fun together.
The authentic love of a teacher is expressed through genuine care, support, and high expectations.
Love is empowering Schneida, a shy, soft spoken student to write her personal narrative about immigrating to the United States. Love is reminding her that her story was worth telling and that her words were good enough. By the end of the Breakthrough summer Schneida shared her story on stage at a community meeting.
Love is sitting in faculty meetings week after week, advocating for a student that all would agree exhibited some challenging behaviors. Love is taking that same student aside day after day, listening intently to their frustrations, letting them know you hear them, having tough conversations about their behavior and what they needed from adults to feel supported and successful at Breakthrough. Love is watching that student’s face light up when they were recognized with a spirit stick before the end of the summer.
Love is truly believing in your students’ success and letting them know it ALL the time. I’m reminded of my second summer teaching with Breakthrough when we surprised our students with a staff song at Celebration. Through tears in huddled clusters of teaching fellows and students we belted, “When you get older you will be stronger. They’ll call you leaders. Waving your Breakthrough flag!”
When students understand that you genuinely care about their well-being, their thoughts and feelings, their interests, and overall success; they trust you. They understand that you’re a “tough” teacher because you truly believe in their potential to succeed and grow. And they love you more for it.
You could say that Breakthrough is my first love. It is the ruler with which I have measured every subsequent teaching experience. It is a collection of memories and lessons that I carry into my classroom each year. A constant reminder of the community I wish to build and the relationships I desire to forge with students. In closing, if I could revise that old adage I would rewrite it to say, “Because love is in what I do, the work I do each day is worth it.”