Middle Schooling in New Mexico

Courtesy of Allison Mok

So, why teaching?

For all the talk involving education that  weve heard in the last several months, especially here in California, much of the debate seems to circle around the of funding. And while money definitely plays its part, lost among the debate is one of, if not the most integral component to education: the educator.

UC Irvine is among the leaders when it comes to preparing educators to enter the field of teaching. Its newly designated School of Education building  is already in a reputable position with its strong and diverse faculty and teaching programs. Among undergraduates, the Educational Studies minor is the most popular.

So, why not teaching?

Fourth-year math major Allison Mok would say that in this case, the road most traveled is absolutely not the easiest or most financially rewarding. It is sometimes the most challenging, emotionally and physically.

She would also say that there is no one single road. Every teacher’s path is different, and it is the individual teacher who  provides the passion and love to guide them on their way.

For Allison Mok, her path led  to her acceptance as a teacher in the Breakthrough Collaborative summer program, a non-profit eight-week intensive program geared for students in low socio-economic situations.

Students in Breakthrough Collaborative apply and usually enter the program in the summer of 7th grade and continue until they graduate from high school, which is the ultimate goal of the program — a six-year commitment.

As intense as the six-week program was for students, Mok would have said her 10-week experience as a middle school teacher was even more so.

“I began with a week of training — 7:15 a.m. – 5 p.m. every day,” she said. “One person left during this time because of the workload.”

Once the actual program began, each day was another journey and a half for the teachers.

“I would wake up at 6 a.m., get ready, and leave the monastery we stayed at by 6:30. At 7:15, we’d have a 15 minute faculty meeting. Students would arrive around 7:30 or so.”

When students arrived by bus, the teachers would go out to meet them, forming a “Gauntlet” at the door of the bus.

“We would stand in two columns, and the bus would park in front of the ‘Gauntlet,’” she said. “As the students got off, we would cheer for them the entire time. We would do this for all 60 students.”

Roll call was another morning exercise. Students were divided up into four families, and each family conducted roll call, making sure to focus on each individual student.

“We’d call out, ‘Adventurous [name]!’ and the teachers would run to the student and give them high fives, telling them, ‘I hope you have a great day!’ and things like that,” Mok said. “The energy level was just through the roof.

“We did this every day, and it takes a lot out of you,” she said. “Still, the tone we set for the beginning of the day holds through the rest of the day. We’re here for the kids, it’s all about the kids.”

Students had six periods total: math (Mok taught advanced algebra), science, reading and writing made up the morning, followed by lunch and two electives.

During lunch, the faculty would sit with the students and conduct “Attitude Checks” — cheers to keep up the energy for students. On good days, there would be up to 10 cheers in the 30 minute period.

Physical activities or arts and crafts followed lunch, and the last two periods for the day were electives, including public speaking, which Mok taught as well.

Students would finish off the day with “family time,” where they could receive help on work in groups of around three, and another meeting altogether to conduct more cheers and see the work students did during the day.

“As the students go onto the bus, we’d give them high-fives while other teachers would walk around the windows, giving those students high-fives,” Mok said. “As the buses left, the teachers would run after the bus. Why? It was tradition, and the kids enjoyed it.”

At their faculty meetings, teachers would encourage each other and give suggestions as they reviewed the day.

Teachers also had to keep in mind the students’ backgrounds and situations when discussing how to approach them.

“We knew about their pasts and their situations,” she said. “They’re only 11 or 12 years old, and they go through a lot. They’re so young, and they shouldn’t be worrying about parents abusing them or gangs looking to kill their family.

“It’s so hard — you spend so much time with these kids, and the reason we have ‘families’ is that they become family. They really look up to you, and they try to know everything about you. You fall in love with them.”

After making lesson plans and preparing for the next day, Mok said she found herself leaving campus around 11 p.m. every night.

“During the middle of Breakthrough, I had so many doubts about continuing teaching because it was so emotionally and physically exhausting. I was pulling nearly two all-nighters a week.

“Students told me that this was the first time a teacher actually cared about them,” she said. “I thought, how can this happen?”

“You want to do the best to help these kids, but you have to realize that you’re not their only hope. You will do what you can, and they will continue on through life.

“I put too much pressure on myself initially, but I realized later on that they will be okay.”

After her time with Breakthrough, Mok says her experience solidified her love for students and teaching, and she looks forward to hopefully returning to Breakthrough — this time, at the Hong Kong branch.

“When you’re looking for any program, you need to find one that will teach you how to be a great teacher,” she said.

Overall, Mok says, the program one chooses should help develop their own teaching philosophy and become the best teacher they could be.

“What do you want to get out of this?” she said. “You shouldn’t want to become a teacher just because you don’t have another path.”

So what type of path is teaching? It is your own, but it is never about being on your own.

“When we go to other schools, we’ll be able to spread our ideas to other teachers — ideas that work. We just want the best for the students. We’re always there for the students, and the students are number one. Always.”