Pondie Nicholson’s Booyah Bash Speech 2018
I am a teacher. All my life I have been a teacher. When people ask me how long I have been teaching; I always say since I was three when my brother was born. In undergrad, I studied Psychology knowing that I would always go back to education for a career. After my Junior year in college I knew I wanted to work in MN for the summer… and that’s when I became a teaching fellow at Breakthrough Twin Cities in 2005, Breakthrough’s first year.
When I read the Breakthrough teaching manual I cried. Seriously. It was everything I believed education was about. Connecting. Bridges. Giving under-resourced students a chance to achieve their highest potential. It’s what I believe. It’s why I’m an educator. I wish all children could have the opportunity to reach their goals and dreams; and if I can help them get there as a teacher – I can’t imagine a better job.
I never worked as hard as I worked the summer for Breakthrough. (Actually, having a two-year-old and a newborn was a little more work than my summer at Breakthrough…) I was at Breakthrough before 6am some days and didn’t leave until 6pm most days. I was ready to work, learn and grow with the students. We were all ready. That first year we were 8 teachers and 40 students. We did it all. We told the students to embrace whatever made them feel uncomfortable and we did the same. But all that hard work paid off in some life changing lessons.
Lesson number one, teaching has a lot to do with improvisation. You never know what will happen on any day and you have to be ready for anything. When I write my teaching handbook it is going to be called, “Yes and…” If you are not familiar with “yes and…” it is an improv game. Any time someone says something you have to reply with “Yes and…”
For example – Will you write a speech for the Breakthrough Booyah Bash? Yes, and I will use jazz hands. Yes, and we will smile. Yes and I will tap dance. Yes and you will sing. Yes and it will be fabulous.”
Lesson number two: laughter is the key to learning and risk taking. Every morning all the students and teachers gather together at All School Meetings. Teaching Fellows encourage our bright, motivated, shy and hesitant students to share what they are learning through public speaking, dancing, drama, and songs. Breakthrough students take huge risks and everyone is cheering them on. Sometimes they make mistakes and then we laugh and still cheer them on. Together we are all learning and growing.
Lesson number three: the summer confirmed my commitment to education. We, Teaching Fellows, made it through the summer and we felt strong. We could do anything. We worked so hard because we loved the students, we loved the mission of Breakthrough, we were committed to one another to create the best program we could. If the Breakthrough model could be in every school or if every teacher had the opportunity to experience Breakthrough – education would be transformed.
After Breakthrough, I received my elementary and social studies teaching license. Since then, I have been teaching at a charter school in St Paul called, Saint Paul City School. Breakthrough gave me the drive to teach. It introduced me to the diverse community in Saint Paul and definitely led me to the career path I am currently on. I personally think Breakthrough rocks!
I also want to thank all of you for saying YES and I WILL generously support Breakthrough Twin Cities!