As I think back on my decision to say “yes” to ACE nearly a year ago, so much in my life since that moment that has confirmed that I am where I am meant to be. When I started my final year of college, I found myself in a position that is familiar to many seniors with an interest in education: I needed to choose between the countless alternative teacher certification programs that dot the country. In the moment, the only thing that mattered to me was picking the program that would best prepare me to walk into a classroom sometime in mid- to late August for my first day of school. On these grounds, ACE stood out to me based on the qualities that have made it a world-renowned program (intensive summer coursework and practicum placement, excellent academic support from a team of extremely accessible faculty, ability to earn a free Master of Education degree from the University of Notre Dame–the list goes on and on).
While I still very much believe that ACE gave me a better pedagogical training in those eight weeks of summer classes, it was not until much later into my time as a graduate student that I realized just how narrow my perspective on teaching had previously been. I chose teaching to help students learn academic material; to do my small part to raise student performance, lessen the achievement gap, and prepare students for successful lives after high school and college. I am still doing my best to demand academic excellence from all of my students, but ACE has helped me realize that there is much more to this vocation of teaching than making sure that my students know how to apply kinematic equations to physical situations, that they know the difference between helping verbs and linking verbs, and that they know that the mitochondria is the powerhouse of the cell.
ACE prides itself on its three pillars of academic teacher formation, community life, and spiritual growth. I have grown to truly appreciate these pillars as I reflect upon my first six months in Mission, Texas, and have seen them played out in my own experiences. Teaching is not an exclusively academic endeavor. Nowhere else could I have grown in my faith by attending daily Mass with close friends on Notre Dame’s campus. Nowhere else could a conversation over community dinner range from theological arguments about the place of miracles in the Catholic faith to diocesan and district educational policies that would better serve students on the margins. Nowhere else could I meet such a dedicated group of young men and women ready to make their mark in this crazy world of education, a group that I have come to rely upon for support during my first six months of teaching. The academics, faith, and community are all important to my development as a teacher. You cannot just single one out to be your sole priority; you need all three working in conjunction with each other. I was not called to just be a teacher who happened to work in a Catholic school. I was called to be a Catholic school teacher. I was called to be a member of ACE.
Connor Bliss serves as an AmeriCorps member at Juan Diego Academy in Mission, Texas.