Esther first thought about teaching as a fourth grader. That was the year when, for the first time, she didn’t learn very much. “I started thinking about how I would do things differently to make the classes more engaging,” she remembers. As she got older, she became more aware of the disparities in the American educational system. “I began thinking about how I could contribute to educational equity. How could I be a teacher who’s going to be there for the long haul and provide my students with a good education?”
During high school, she worked as a tutor. Then, as a first-year at UC Berkeley, she came across Breakthrough at a career fair and spent the next three summers as a Breakthrough Teaching Fellow. She recalls immersing herself in “learning how to lesson plan, doing all of the extra things that a teacher does, like leading committees and running events, and just being with the students, spending time with them, building relationships. I honestly think, day to day, Breakthrough was the hardest I ever worked. But it helped me realize that yes, this is what I want to do with my life. And I felt like, if I can teach at Breakthrough, I can do anything.”
Esther appreciated the entire community, from students to Teaching Fellows to Instructional Coaches – professional educators who observed her classes and provided constant feedback. She loved the feeling of collaboration and purpose. “We talk about the magic of Breakthrough and it’s so true. Being in this space where everyone is like-minded in wanting students to succeed, and doing everything we can to make sure that happens, is so powerful.”
After graduation, Esther spent two years as a math teacher at Fusion Academy in Berkeley, then enrolled in the Master of Arts in Secondary Education and Teaching program at Cal. While taking courses and student teaching at Skyline High School in Oakland, her vision for herself as an educator took shape. “I was learning what kind of teacher I wanted to be and what that looked like, how I could build my classroom and build my curriculum to reflect that.”
Esther is now in her second year teaching tenth grade geometry and twelfth grade calculus at Madison Park Academy in East Oakland. She appreciates that it’s a small school with a close-knit community and a student-centered approach – in fact, students provided feedback when she applied for the job. She’s working to actualize the teaching philosophy she’s developed over the years – like employing a project-based approach, making real world connections, and utilizing a standards-based approach to grading that encourages kids to keep trying until they get it. She plans to stay in the classroom for the long run, knowing that realizing your full potential as an educator takes years.