History 8-12 education major, Alex Duran spent the better part of his summer getting first-hand teaching experience in the classroom when he taught for 8 weeks in a Breakthrough Austin program.
Designed as a data-driven, relationship-based program, Breakthrough Austin is an educational program that addresses individuals who are first generation students and that are in unique academic needs in a “do whatever it takes” environment. Over 500 students in grades 6-12 work through the program as they strive to become the first in their families to graduate from high school and go on to college. What follows are Duran’s thoughts on the experience, which he hopes to continue next summer.
At Breakthrough, I learned the importance of flexibility as an educator. Students have the keen ability to take a teacher’s objectives and to run with them in a whole different direction. And, for the first few days, I had no idea how to properly deal with this. I kept telling myself that I had to remain in control of every aspect of my lesson. If not, I would be doing a great disservice to my students.
But, after the first week, I realized that I was not helping my students by remaining in control, but I was restricting them from understanding the lesson in a collective manner. I had to learn to follow my students in order to ensure that, in the end, they understood the objective of each lesson--regardless if it was in the method that I intended. We all learned about important historical figures including Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Rosa Parks and Jo Ann Robinson and the perseverance the African American community as it fought against southern segregation.
Outside the classroom, I learned to “relinquish my control” in other ways such as when the students “pied” their teacher in the face during our outside enjoyment/play time. Prior to my time at Breakthrough, I would never have allowed a student to “pie” me (about 8 times during the course of the program!) Another way I demonstrated my newfound gift of flexibility was on the last day when the teachers on the team decided to have a water balloon fight. I allowed all of my advisees to stand in a semi-circle and pelt me with a water balloon each.
Because of my newly developed flexibility, I learned two different things: that not being in constant control allowed my students to be themselves and for me to learn the measure of who they really are, and that while I stood in front of my Harry Potter-themed classroom, I had accomplished my goal of teaching them many important lessons. All in all, I left Breakthrough Austin this summer learning more from my students than they did from me. For that, I’m eternally grateful to those 19 students.
(Photos courtersy of Alex Duran)