Jasmine Costello

"Despite my best attempts to avoid the world of teaching, I have fallen whole-heartedly into it, and am now able to admit that teaching was meant to be my path. I get no greater satisfaction than transferring knowledge to a younger generation, helping to instill in them a sense of power and drive. Through teaching I have found that I am not only able to help students write a proper paragraph and more effectively express themselves through their writing, but can also challenge them to pursue their passions and meet their goals."

Hello everybody! My name is Jasmine Costello and I am one of the writing teachers at Breakthrough’s Drexel High School site. I grew up in Western Massachusetts, but have been living in Philly for the past four years. I am a rising senior at Temple University majoring in Political Science.

 I have always said I will never be a teacher. Both of my parents are teachers, and I was determined not to spend my life overworked and underpaid. As a teenager I remember thinking my parents were fools for working such late hours and exhausting themselves with how much they cared about their students.

Despite my best attempts to avoid the world of teaching, I have fallen whole-heartedly into it, and am now able to admit that teaching was meant to be my path. I get no greater satisfaction than transferring knowledge to a younger generation, helping to instill in them a sense of power and drive. Through teaching I have found that I am not only able to help students write a proper paragraph and more effectively express themselves through their writing, but can also challenge them to pursue their passions and meet their goals. Preparing students academically to be successful in the future is clearly an important piece of the job, but the impact you can have from building personal relationships with your students is what makes teaching truly powerful.

I first realized the potential of building personal relationships with students when I was eighteen years old, working full time as a City Year corps member in Kensington high school. For anyone who is unfamiliar with City Year, it is another non-profit organization that recruits young people to work in low-performing middle and high schools as tutors, mentors, and classroom support. I spent a year between high school and college in the heart of Kensington, determined to push underprivileged students towards high school graduation. I met Kenny sometime during my second week there. As he approached my table in the lunchroom the first thing that stuck out to me were his carelessly tattooed arms covered in skulls and flowers. The acne covering his face made me remember he was still a kid as he asked me for help with his English. He was failing and his teacher told him I could help. Kenny and I spent lunch together every day that semester working on sentence structure and vocabulary. As Kenny’s reading and writing skills began to dramatically improve, so did his confidence and desire to use writing as a form of self-expression. Through the connection we built, I was able to share my love of writing and poetry with him. Kenny passed English and went on to graduate high school.

A few months ago I went to speak at a City Year Alumni event, and as I entered the room my heart dropped as I locked eyes with Kenny. His face had cleared up, and the sleeves of his red City Year jacket covered his tattoos, but his smile was unmistakable. I hadn’t heard from Kenny in over two years, but that evening he told me I was the reason he was standing in that room.

Experiences such as this are what have led me to Breakthrough. Eager for another opportunity to connect with youth and work for an organization dedicated to equalizing educational opportunities for disadvantaged students, I accepted the position. At the beginning of Breakthough I was excited to meet my students and work with the other motivated intern teachers, but I was still set on not becoming a teacher.

My Breakthrough experience has squashed these expectations I previously held, and forced me to confront the hard fact that teaching fulfills me in a way that is incomparable to anything else. Breakthrough has provided me with incredible tools and support to confidently take on the challenge of operating my own classroom. This experience has shown me that as a teacher I can inspire students to meet their full potential both through academic instruction and personal relationships.

My position as the writing teacher gives me the opportunity to get to know my students on a deeper level through reading their material. This has fostered strong relationships with many of my students. One of my students, Alexis, has stuck out to me in particular. Alexis is one of my mentees as well as a student in my third period writing class. She first struck me as a very poised and dedicated student, yet was always very reserved. During check-in time in particular, she was hesitant to participate and share her thoughts and feelings about her life outside of Breakthrough.

Our first unit in writing this summer was writing memoirs. Through the medium of writing, Alexis began to open up to me about significant, and often difficult, life experiences that have shaped her. Alexis and I have begun to develop a meaningful connection based on trust. Through our relationship I am able to provide her support and encourage her to express herself through her writing.

 The memoir unit allowed me to incorporate key writing skills while teaching my students the value of personal expression. I witnessed my students connect to their work and invest themselves in their outcome. The growth I have seen in my students in just five weeks is remarkable. Whether they are now able to implement sensory detail into their writing, have showed increased focus during class time, or are able to effectively express their feelings and emotions, they are becoming the voices of their generation.