Stories from Summer Vacation: Caroline Pinkston and Teaching Teachers

Here’s a report from Caroline Pinkston, who shares some details about her job with Breakthrough Austin:

At first glance, my summer job might not sound that great. During the academic year, when I’m not haunting the halls of Burdine, I’m living a double life as a high school English teacher. My summer is therefore exceptionally valuable to me, as both teacher and student. And yet, instead of getting to take a break from teaching and learning, somehow I was tricked into working as an Instructional Coach with Breakthrough Austin. That means I’m spending my whole summer with a combination of 19-year-olds and middle-schoolers. I spend my days walking between buildings on the UT campus, literally covered in sweat.  Sometimes I run into friends or coworkers or former students, and I have to try to avoid eye contact because, again, I’m literally covered in sweat.

Breakthrough Austin

Breakthrough Austin

You might be thinking that this doesn’t sound like a great way to spend a summer. But you’re wrong. I have the greatest job on the planet. Here’s why:

  1. I’m working with an awesome program. Breakthrough Austin is part of a national collaborative working to support students who will be first-generation college graduates. Breakthrough begins working with these students in middle school, and continues to provide support all the way through college graduation. One fundamental part of Breakthrough is the summer program, which provides enrichment and summer learning opportunities to Breakthrough students entering 7th, 8th, and 9th grades. Breakthrough’s summer program at UT is part summer camp, part school, and part mentoring program. Students do ridiculous cheers, build model roller coasters, tour local universities, perform Shakespeare, and throw pie at each other. It’s good stuff.

  1. Middle school students are hilarious. If you don’t think middle-schoolers are hilarious, it could be because you’re remembering being a middle school student, which — in my own experience, at least — is often more traumatic than funny. Being around middle-schoolers as an adult no longer immersed in a sea of anxiety and awkwardness,* however, is a different story. I’m no mathematician, but I feel confident asserting that 65% of what 14-year-olds say is really, really funny (and often unintentionally so, which is even better).  I spend a lot of my day laughing, or trying not to laugh, or thinking about how funny this will be later. It’s a pretty good way to spend a day.

*Actually, this is still a remarkably accurate description of my life.

  1. I’m not the one who actually has to control the middle-schoolers. This is where things start to get really awesome. Breakthrough’s summer program is based on a students-teaching-students model, which means classes are run by college students (and a few high school students) who come to Austin from all over the country to try out teaching. My job as an Instructional Coach is to work with these young teachers and help them figure out what good teaching is all about. It turns out that brainstorming ways to stop Student X from doing whatever ridiculous thing he or she is doing in class is significantly more fun than being the one who actually has to stop Student X. It also turns out that spending all day watching energetic, motivated, insanely creative young people teach is the best way I can imagine to recharge my own teaching energy before I am running a classroom of my own again.

  1. I get to talk about nerdy education stuff all the time. Perhaps unsurprisingly, most of the people I work with are also really interested in education and its connection to various things American Studies-related, and said coworkers will talk with me about these things literally all day long! It’s great! The fact that I’ve found this outlet is a welcome relief to many of my other friends, I’m sure. It also means I’m going back into my graduate school life full of new ideas and energy and ready to read and talk about things again.

  1. I am finished most days by 2pm. This perhaps speaks for itself, but just in case, I will elaborate: most afternoons, I have plenty of time to read 1Q84, attempt to train my new puppy Thelma, and think about going to free Russian classes at Russian House, but not actually go. What more could you want from the summer?

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