Jeff Breau, a Googler in San Francisco, has been a personal supporter of Citizen Schools since 2011. Over the years as a volunteer Citizen Teacher he taught three apprenticeships to middle school students in the Bay Area including Rockin’ Robots, Train Your Brain, and Reading the News. Jeff was recently promoted and found himself with a busy travel schedule, making it hard to commit to a semester of teaching. Asking himself “How much am I able to do?” he switched gears and began inspiring colleagues to invest their time volunteering with Citizen Schools. His encouragement worked. Since last spring, Jeff has helped our California team recruit 32 volunteers!
Citizen Schools: Who or what inspired you when you were young?
Jeff Breau: An experiment my dad did with my grade school class comes to mind. He was a professor of microbiology and brought experiments into my class from time to time. I specifically remember getting excited about one where he brought petri dishes into the class. We all rubbed our toes in our dish and waited for the cultures to grow, and then looked at the different patterns they all made. That really awakened me to science and biology, the hidden micro world!
CS: Why do you think it’s important to provide students with real-world, hands-on opportunities?
JB: Kids aren’t always aware of what adults are doing, and what they could be doing when they get older. Citizen Schools is a way to expose them to more opportunities, creating a better chance for them to find what fuels them to succeed.
CS: What is one of your “aha” or “WOW!” moments from teaching?
JB: I taught an apprenticeship called “Reading the News.” I wanted to hook kids with topics that interested them, like music and sports, and transition them to bigger news stories on international and political levels. My “aha” moment happened when the students organically began debating Dennis Rodman’s trip to North Korea. They had a conversation about whether Rodman should have visited, if his visit was beneficial or not, and if his trip went against the wishes of the President. Making the leap from a basketball star to the political climate of North Korea with seventh and eighth graders made it apparent that these students were connecting to news stories at a deeper level.
CS: What was it that inspired your work as an organizer to engage more Google Citizen Teachers?
JB: My new role requires me to travel a good deal and becoming an organizer seemed to be a natural segue. My experience managing teams and organizing events paired with support from Google and Faith [Lin], the Senior Manager of Civic Engagement in CA, made it possible for me to expand my impact. If I recruited 10 Citizen Teachers who impacted 25 students each, I am still doing something good.
CS: How does Google support your involvement with Citizen Schools?
JB: As a Citizen Teacher I had a ton of support all the way up through senior the VP and Executive levels of the company from Christina [Christina Wire, Director Google Helpouts] and Claire [Claire Hughes Johnson, Vice President Google X] who share my excitement for Citizen Schools’ mission. It wasn’t just the luck of also having a great manager, although I did have that, but they recognize that 1-2 hours of outwork time was beneficial and it had only been encouraged. They were all truly supportive of me giving time to the community. Additionally, Google has a tool to log volunteer hours and they give money to your organization based on the hours you work. [Google also supports Citizen Schools as a National Leadership Partner, providing $3.25 million since 2011.]
CS: How did your time as a Citizen Teacher affect your professional development or growth at Google?
JB: Obvious and tangible benefits were that I was able to work on leadership skills and work with different people across Google. Increasing the number of people I knew and worked closely with was great. I found that teaching made my normal job easier to come back to, after teaching I felt rejuvenated and recharged returning to my desk.
Each week I was exposed to so many different viewpoints from kids and I spent time trying to get each of them excited. Making a subject interesting is a great skill to have, one that was shaped by the work I did with Citizen Schools. Bringing it back to Google, I was just applying it to a different audience.