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Teaching Fellow Profile: Mele

Sunday, October 15, 2017


When Mele was a fourth grader, her mom became an elementary school teacher. Mele remembers getting to school early, when the halls were still empty, to lend a hand. But her own career path became clear only later, as a high school senior, when President Obama put out a call in his State of the Union address for young people to enter the education field. Mele remembers excitedly discussing the speech with her mom.


That fall, Mele enrolled at the University of San Francisco, and subsequently earned a spot in USF’s Dual Degree in Teacher Preparation Program - a rigorous five-year program leading to a bachelor’s degree, master’s degree, and teaching credential. She did field work at a number of schools across the city and interned at non-profits, but wanted the experience of leading her own classroom. As a senior, she applied to Breakthrough’s summer teacher residency.


“Breakthrough seems like the perfect opportunity to hone the skills I’ve acquired over the past four years,” Mele wrote in her application. “It’s an opportunity to gain more experience with children and work with like-minded people. I think it’s wonderful that both teachers and students benefit, learn, and grow at Breakthrough, and I would love to be a part of that.”


Mele spent the summer of 2015 immersed in the experience. Two years later, she can’t forget the intensity of the work during that eight-week period - learning to craft lesson plans, manage a classroom, build relationships with students and family members, and so much more. She remembers the conversations about social justice with her colleagues and the ongoing feedback from her Instructional Coach. She remembers discovering how positively her students responded when she got to know them as individuals. And she remembers how much fun she had - greeting students with cheers first thing in the morning and dressing up in costumes at STEM Olympics - and the unique, supportive community that she is still connected to.


Mele subsequently spent two years as a Teacher Apprentice at Presidio Hill School, working with first and fourth graders. And this year, she has her own class of first graders at Tom Matsumoto Elementary School in San Jose - the same school where her mom used to teach. While it’s challenging work, Mele feels ready. “I feel so prepared, and it’s because of that summer. I have a strong foundation and I don’t feel overwhelmed. I’m still trying to get to know my students as human beings, teaching the whole child - even now I eat lunch with my kids and I try to talk with them about their personal interests and experiences. And I’m trying to teach with the same sense of accountability, holding myself to a high standard, just like at Breakthrough.”


I still wear my Breakthrough T-shirt because I’m very proud of it,” she adds. “When I look back in ten years,  I know Breakthrough will have added so much to my journey as an educator.”