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A Love Letter to the Butterflies

Monday, October 10, 2016 by Abbey Dankoff - ACE 23, Richmond

LoveLetterToButterflies (1)

So, here we are. My calendar tells me we’re six weeks in, though I think twenty seems closer to capturing the reality of how full this time has been. I’m sitting before a Richmond sunset (#RichLove #RVACE #VirginiaIsForACErs), sipping rooibos tea out of my favorite purple mug as I write these words—a beautiful evening, no doubt. Today was, as always, a whirlwind; as always, a crash course in adulting; as always, a miracle. This morning, like all others before it, began the same way: a skilled execution of the classic “three snooze n’ roll,” fumbling for glasses from table to ground to face, the quickest bedside reading (one page a morning, try it), and, like clockwork, one singular thought has moved into my mind.


Today was, as always, a whirlwind; as always, a crash course in adulting; as always, a miracle.

Each morning, they race into my heart—after six weeks of school, this hasn’t changed. Each morning, as my carmates and I make the 32-mile trek to St. Joseph School, the butterflies are my constant. Their presence sends my mind whirling through the day’s lesson plans, through the desk arrangements I’ve been meaning to try, through the different BrainPop and Flocabulary and Pixar videos I need to pull up on my laptop before 7:45 assembly. They urge me to ask Ethan how his karate class is going, Michelle how she likes Harry Potter, and Juanita if she’s getting excited for the Hispanic Heritage Festival coming up. They remind me to replenish the prayer intention slips, as my class likes pretty much nothing more.

Eventually, as my thirteen pile into my classroom (no joke, occasionally there’s a pile involved), the butterflies fade to the back of my mind. My day fills up and requires my attention. Yet, without them, this class, this day, this 8-hour journey and this 24/7 life, wouldn’t be nearly as beautiful. They remind me each day of why I am here, in this specific school with these specific students. In ACE. God calls us each to a life of sacrifice, of emptying ourselves entirely of allowing the Holy Spirit to fill us and guide our words and steps and deeds. For me, God speaks through these butterflies—my daily reminder that I am working for something (in this case, 13 somethings) greater than myself and my impetus to go further, do more, love fuller. Despite the ever-present difficulty in the life of a first year teacher, I can’t imagine another reality; despite how overwhelmed I am at times of what they represent, I am in love with these butterflies.

Fall in love with confronting difficult topics, because your students deserve the truth.

If I could offer any advice to myself (or any first year teacher) in the moments before opening the first day door to a freshly-decorated-yet-soon-to-face-the-incredible-destructive-powers-of-eight-year-olds classroom, it would be the following: fall in love. Fall in love with the butterflies that wake you up every morning and greet you as you turn your key in the schoolhouse lock as the first to arrive at school day after day—they’re the proof you care so deeply for your students that you still strive to give your all, despite failure. Fall in love with that feeling you get in your stomach that’s telling you to turn back, that you’re not ready, that nothing you do can prepare you to handle what lies ahead (aka the emotions of 8-year-olds hyped up on powdered sugar from the waffles on breakfast-for-lunch day). Fall in love with the grace that comes from humbly accepting help—if you’re like me, this’ll start on day one as a group of third graders, after having watched an immensely blurry half-screen video of Kid President, offers to help you focus the projector. Fall in love with the tears that come from knowing every heartbreak in your students’ lives outside of your four classroom walls—they’ll help you see more clearly what you can be doing to meet them exactly where they need you to be. Fall in love with feeling completely and utterly drained then completely and utterly renewed—your students will cause this phenomenon daily, most likely within the span of five minutes. Fall in love with confronting difficult topics, because your students deserve the truth. Fall in love with mistakes and push off from them steadier than before.  

Friends looking into ACE: as you seek post-grad plans, fall in love with the butterly flapping its wings in your heart. And as you spend these coming months discerning how exactly you’ll be filling out that post-grad survey that universities are so keen on sending to seniors, I urge you, in the words of Ron Weasley, to ‘follow the butterflies.’ They’ll be there, waiting to lead you to the Forbidden Forest exactly where you need to be. I can promise you that these next months will be some of the most trying you’ve ever known, but there’s a grace that comes when we accept these overwhelming difficulties as opportunities for love and self-exploration. Explore fully every option you have before you, enjoy a hot chocolate with every organization that peaks your curiosity even a little, stay yourself and stay open. Fall in love with uncertainty coming your way, which travels a path akin to that of the butterfly—hapless and wayward and, at times, messy. It’s a messy path, yes, but oh so good.

Fall in love with your own butterfly, and believe that love (and God!) will find a way to get you to where it may lead. 

Interested in becoming an ACE Teaching Fellow? Applications are now open! Start yours today! ace.nd.edu/teach/apply