A Breakthrough Teaching Fellow, Twenty Years Later
“The type of educator I became came from the people that I worked with at Breakthrough.”
Matthew Tossman has dedicated twenty years to being an educator, and it all started at Breakthrough of Greater Philadelphia.
When did you work at Breakthrough?
It was the summer between my Junior and Senior year of college… that would have been 2001. I taught 7th grade science.
Why did you decide to join Breakthrough?
I was gearing up to apply to Teach for America, and I thought this (Breakthrough) was probably a good litmus test to make sure this was something I'd be really interested in.
So you planned to be a teacher?
No, I was going to teach for two years and then go become a religion professor. That was my plan, when I was a junior in college. But then I fell in love with teaching and I’ve been in public education since. This is my 22nd year.
What impact did Breakthrough have on you?
There was one Germantown Friends School teacher, Matt Zipin. He was pretty instrumental in the type of teacher I became. He gave me really great feedback and helped me think through things. He was a great role model in how he interacted with students; he just had a very authentic relationship with them. He gave me a piece of advice that I always give to new teachers I work with: don't try and be the teacher that you think you should be; just be yourself. It’s a fundamental pillar of what I think about myself as an educator.
Any other Breakthrough memories that you recall?
When I was teaching seventh grade physics, we were doing project based learning where we were building mousetrap cars and bridges and all sorts of things. There was one day that I came in dressed as Isaac Newton and basically answered questions as if I were him. I was carrying an apple around, throwing it up and down all day. It was probably pretty corny, but it was a lot of fun. I still do stuff like that even now; I am constantly looking for ways to have fun. Somebody from Breakthrough took a picture and gave it to me in a little frame at the end of the summer and I still have it.