When Madison Zeitvogel signed up for her first summer as a teaching fellow with Breakthrough Birmingham in 2021, she had no idea how profoundly it would shape her future. What started as a leap into the unknown soon turned into a transformative journey that spanned three summers and led her to a career with Teach For America Alabama (TFA), a partner of Breakthrough Birmingham.

Breakthrough Birmingham’s teaching fellowship aims to prepare high-impact college students for the classroom, strengthen the teacher pipeline, and help reverse education inequity. 

Madison’s initial experience with teaching was during the height of the pandemic, and her first summer at Breakthrough Birmingham was entirely virtual. “I was scared and way out of my comfort zone,” Madison admits. Encouraged by her sister, a former teaching fellow herself, Madison persevered despite her reservations. “Teaching on Zoom was a huge challenge. Engaging scholars and getting them to participate was tough, but I formed meaningful connections despite the virtual barrier.” Encouraged by her new support system and beaming with a new-found confidence, she persisted.

One of her standout moments from that first summer was seeing her scholars progress. “Watching scholars like Chloe, who was just starting sixth grade, grow and eventually graduate from Breakthrough was incredibly special,” she recalls. This sense of achievement and connection only deepened in the following summers when she taught in person.

By the way, we are still accepting summer applications for scholars! Share this with someone who could benefit!

In her second summer, Madison faced new challenges. She had the largest class of seventh graders, a group brimming with energy and extroverted personalities. “I had to learn quickly how to keep their attention,” she says. “Feedback from my scholars was crucial. I changed my teaching style based on what they told me, and by the end of the summer, every single scholar was engaged.”

Madison’s transformation was visible, and her training paid off.

A significant turning point came thanks to Breakthrough Birmingham’s Instructional Coach, Ms. Andrea Johnson. “She was my rock,” Madison says fondly. “During a particularly tough breakdown, she taught me the value of accepting and using feedback constructively.” This experience taught Madison resilience and the importance of seeking help—a lesson encapsulated in her favorite saying, “Closed mouths don’t get fed.”

By her third summer, Madison had become agile in navigating the unique dynamics of each new group of scholars. “Every group is different, and I learned I can make a big impact,” she reflects. One memorable lightbulb moment occurred at the end of her second summer during the closing celebration. “The kids ran up to me to say goodbye. I realized the positive seeds I’d planted throughout the summer.” At this point in Madison’s journey, she realized how much she enjoyed working with the older kids, something she expressed she had no idea about before her summers as a teaching fellow.

Madison’s journey with Breakthrough Birmingham didn’t just hone her teaching skills; it also prepared her for her future role with TFA Alabama, a partner committed to strengthening the teacher pipeline. “Breakthrough taught me to find moments to connect with each scholar, not just through teaching but by showing genuine care,” she explains. This holistic approach to education, focusing on relationship-building and affirming scholars, has become a cornerstone of her teaching philosophy.


Now, as she prepares to teach at Hudson K-8 through TFA, Madison feels a mix of excitement and nerves. “Breakthrough has equipped me to build classroom culture and foster peer relationships,” she says confidently. The professional development and support Madison will receive from TFA, including mindfulness meditation and continuous feedback, are tools she eagerly anticipates.

She expressed gratitude and confidence in the immense support system she gained at Breakthrough Birmingham and looks forward to building relationships with her new students and peers.

Reflecting on her time with Breakthrough, Madison is clear about its impact: “I wouldn’t be where I am today without Breakthrough Birmingham. It not only made me a better educator but also a leader.” Her story is a testament to the program’s mission of empowering underrepresented students and developing future educators. Through her dedication and growth, Madison embodies the spirit of Breakthrough Birmingham, illustrating how one summer can change a life—and many others in turn.


Breakthrough Birmingham works with highly motivated, traditionally underrepresented students to achieve post-secondary success while empowering aspiring leaders to become the next generation of educators and advocates.”

Written by: Caroline Kendrick, Communications Associate

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