I always thought that a teacher’s job began and ended with the school day. They wake up around 6, get to school by 7, teach back-to-back classes until the final bell at 2:30 in the afternoon, go home after an hour of grading or a faculty meeting, and then spend the rest of their evenings how any other person would – perhaps a workout, a nap, family time, or TV time.
With nearly one full academic year of teaching under my belt (ahh!), I can easily confirm that a teacher’s job does not exist exclusively between the hours of 7 a.m. and 3 p.m. The daily logistics (planning, grading, meetings), ever-expanding to-do lists (emails, class newsletter creation, more emails), and emotions (joyous celebrations, occasional heavy-heartedness, and, this year, frequent Zoom fatigue) that characterize the beautiful busyness of education cannot be confined to eight hours each day.
Let me walk you through what I mean:
4:40 a.m. | Good Morning from Oaktown
Yes, my daily alarm goes off at 4:40 a.m. (I believe it was Doug Lemov who taught us about “strong starts,” right, ACErs?!). For me, those 60 to 90 minutes before the sun rises and housemates begin bustling are the only minutes that I have enough energy and motivation to workout. Get the heart pumping, blood flowing, mind and body awakening and ready to tackle the day!
7:09 a.m. | Off We Go
A shower, a breakfast, a few waves and “good day!” wishes to my fellow housemates, a coffee for the road – and we’re off! I spend my half-hour commute to the North Bay listening to my daily scriptural podcast, quieting my mind and praying for the strength, grace, and (Lord knows) patience I’ll need to make it through the rest of the day.
8:30 a.m. | Attention Divided
Connect laptop to Apple TV, project Zoom screen onto front board, ensure speakers are working and can be heard among the socially distanced desks, take attendance on the desktop computer, keep headphones accessible to check in with Zoom students while in-person students chat amongst themselves, try to engage all students (6 in-person, 20 online) equally so as not to favor the few classroom students over the many virtual ones. The modern teacher’s workday is a balancing game, to say the least.
9:55 a.m. | Shakespearean Drama
It’s third block, and my seniors come rolling (or logging) in to class. We’re just starting our Hamlet unit, and they cannot get over the fact that (*spoiler alert*) Hamlet’s mother married his uncle. Murmurs of “Ms. C, that is so crazy” and many “😮” Zoom reactions color the classroom as I try to recenter the students’ attention on our close-reading activity. At least they don’t think Shakespeare is boring!
11:05 a.m. | Friendly Faces
After successfully navigating the first half of the day, my in-between-class time is filled with quick, sweet interactions: one of my seniors pops his head into my classroom to tell me that he was accepted to his dream school last night; a group of sophomores stop me in the hallway to show off a TikTok they just made; in the faculty break room, my department chair asks if she can send me any resources to help with unit planning; my mentor teacher tells me that he just left a homemade baked good on my desk. I like to think that I’ve always been attentive to and appreciative of little moments like these in my life, but especially after a semester+ of online teaching, I am immensely grateful to be on campus and to have this time with students and faculty. These “in-betweens” – these relationship-building moments – are undoubtedly the best part of the job.
1:15 p.m. | The Homestretch
A day that started with Shakespeare with the seniors ends with To Kill A Mockingbird with my sophomores. Always impressing me with their maturity and enthusiasm, the students thoughtfully discuss the ways in which the concepts of prejudice, justice, and morality appear in the novel and our modern world alike. I proudly observe and listen as they all participate, either unmuting from the screen or boldly chiming in from the classroom. I end the school day with the humbling sense that they are the ones teaching me.
3:15 p.m. | A Quiet Commute
Spirits high from engaging Socratic discussions with my students, voice tired from projecting through a mask, heart happy to be heading home to my beloved community, and brain a little fried from Zoom fatigue, I drive home in silence. Despite the traffic, I appreciate the scenic drive along the San Francisco Bay. I process the school day’s events and add to my mental to-do list for the rest of the evening. These 35 minutes are some of my most cherished from the day: 35 minutes for deep breaths, reflections in gratitude, and introverted resetting.
4:30 p.m. | Parking Lot Walks
Twelve hours after my day begins, I tie up my walking shoes and hit…the parking lot. The iconic Oakland ACE convent is located at the top of a very large hill, sharing a parking lot with the neighboring church. I have walked many laps around this lot throughout my time in Oakland – walking with housemates, calling family and friends all over the country, listening to podcasts and audiobooks. I add to that lap count today, getting steps and catch-up chats in before retreating to the convent for an evening of community time.
6:13 p.m. | Sunset & Decaf
The Oakbabies begin to gather in the kitchen – we bustle around, some of us grading, some sipping decafs, some emailing parents and organizing planners – all of us sharing in the post-work work that consumes most of our evenings. No matter what we’re working on independently, though, we’re chatting and laughing and loving being in one another’s presence. We’re together. We’re home.
7:00 p.m. sharp (…give or take a few) | Community Dinner
Blessed by a household of fun-loving master chefs, Oakland community dinner is something to look forward to for both conversation and food purposes. Maybe tonight we’ll have Isabel’s lumpia, or Dash’s buttered chicken, or Mary’s turmeric cauliflower, or John’s eggplant parmesan, or Caroline’s salmon pesto rolls. No matter what we’re eating, though, we’re chatting and laughing and loving being in one another’s presence. We’re together. We’re home.
8:37 p.m. | Back to Work
Once the dinner has ended and the dishes have been cleaned, we clutter the table up again with nighttime teas, laptops, textbooks, journals, and planners. Again, we lesson plan, we grade, we email (pre-scheduling them to send early in the morning so the recipients don't know how late we're up working, of course). We vent about our high schoolers' missing assignments, laugh about our middle schoolers' Flipgrid videos, and ask one another for advice on how to best phrase Bellwork and discussion questions. We work independently, but as a community – a community that supports one another emotionally, creatively, and logistically. At this table, in this community, we're together. We're home.
9:40 p.m. | Prep for Round 2
My head falls heavily onto the pillow. The past 17 hours have been filled with so many great conversations, moments, and people. It's been a good day, a full day, a long day. Tomorrow, I’ll do it all again!
My first year as an ACEr has taught me that time management is perhaps the most essential skill a person can have. A teacher’s job does not begin and end with the school day; as teachers, we instinctively think about school upon waking, we talk about lessons in response to the general question, “How was your day?” and we take home the thoughts and emotions involved in this deeply rewarding, and, at times, deeply challenging job. Our care for the students, our interest in the content, and our zeal for serving the Church through Catholic education do not and cannot exist solely within the confines of school hours.
Being an ACEr has taught me that teaching is constant. And teaching is hard. Teaching in the midst of a global pandemic is particularly hard. But it’s possible. With the support, guidance, and love of a community, it is possible to not only make it through 17-hour workdays, but to genuinely look forward to having another one come morning.
Learn more about ACE Teaching Fellows at ace.nd.edu/teach.