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Reflections by Irish Teaching Fellows

"Checking-in From Chicago"

on Thursday, 28 April 2016. Posted in Reflections by Irish Teaching Fellows

by Louise Travers















For the month of March, naturally my Second Grade class learned all about the story of St. Patrick and Ireland. The students were assigned poster projects at the beginning of the month that had to be completed by March 17th. These posters needed to have information about Ireland on them and designed so they had the Irish flag and map of Ireland on them. I was so proud of all my students when they brought their projects in to present! They all did a fantastic job and they seemed to really enjoy researching and learning about Ireland. We also did some salt paintings with symbols of Ireland and St. Patrick’s Day. My students also wrote paragraphs starting with the prompt “I am the luckiest person in the world because…” We then hung these up outside our classroom for the school to see. The students designed Irish and Cork flags and we hung them up as decorations in our classroom. On St. Patrick’s Day, the whole school dressed in green and in our class we made our own shamrock shakes and ate co

In Chicago, the city celebrated St. Patrick’s Day the weekend before the 17th of March. We went downtown to watch the parade and see the river however we could only get a glimpse of the tops of the flags in the parade as it was so busy! Thousands of people came out to watch and it was amazing to see so many people dressed in green celebrating Ireland! The river was a magnificent sight to see as it was dyed bright green. My community and I had a great day exploring the city and taking part in the celebrations.

My class celebrated their first Reconciliation on March 16th. They worked hard in the months previous to be prepared for the day and the night went very smoothly. Students had to learn what their conscience is and how to examine it before they confess their sins. They made mini books about Reconciliation that depicted the steps that will be completed on the night and also had some reflection questions for the students to think about and write. We then stapled them together as a keepsake to have. 

We had our first “Midwest Retreat” a couple of weeks ago where the communities in Chicago, Indianapolis and Peoria, Illinois met up in Michigan City for a weekend led by Father Lou, Father Joe and Pat Graff. It was a beautiful weekend by the lake and we enjoyed lots of relaxing time spent together. We stayed at a beach house and ate dinner and had mass together. It was a much needed break from the city and from doing work! okies.



"A Day at St Charles Borromeo Catholic School"

on Thursday, 10 March 2016. Posted in Reflections by Irish Teaching Fellows

by Ian Corbett

2nd year ACE Teacher Ian Corbett gives us a window into life in 3rd Grade at St Charles Borromeo Catholic School in Sacramento, CA!

"2nd Grade at St Sylvester's"

on Thursday, 18 February 2016. Posted in Reflections by Irish Teaching Fellows

by Louise Travers















Second-year ACE Teacher Louise Travers opens a window into her second grade classroom at St Sylvester's in Chicago!


To see Louise's latest update on her time in ACE click on the following:

"Preparing the Way of the Lord"

on Thursday, 07 January 2016. Posted in Reflections by Irish Teaching Fellows

by Soracha O'Rourke










As I sit in a bustling coffee shop in Chicago, people watching from my hidden perch, this scene is in stark contrast to the weekend of tranquility that has just passed where I, and 200 other ACE teachers, were tucked away in the countryside of Texas. December retreat, an annual focal point of the ACE programme’s calendar, marks a time where ACE teachers, who with winter break fast approaching, last minute assessments looming and deadlines creeping closer, are beginning to both physically and mentally wilt. The weekend offers an oasis where they can, in the words of Jesus, just “sit and rest” . With this year’s theme “Preparing the Way of the Lord” fresh in my mind, the meaning of this message seems entirely different to when it was first presented a few days ago. 

The aim of the retreat is to rejuvenate and replenish teachers, restoring the idealistic attitudes, creative passions and belief in their ability to be agents of change and transformation, which ACE do a fantastic job of instilling in each teacher over the summer period. I myself left Notre Dame in August oozing with a tank full of passion and energy towards this ministry which ACE had filled me with. However, after the initial honeymoon period of living in a new city, starting a new career and humbly attempting to model my practice on Christ the teacher, the practical stresses and requirements of any first teacher in an alternative education and cultural system can become overwhelming.  The door to self-doubt and homesickness can open, clouding that pathway to Jesus which ultimately affects our ability to prepare that avenue for our students. 

However, an intentional weekend seeped in reflection, prayer, music, hugs,  story swapping, reminiscing, surrounded by friends who are experiencing the same wonderful success as well as difficulties seemed to put all of the obstacles in perspective. Light was once again shone on the joy that is present in being a Catholic School teacher and the honour to be a part of a mission to walk with each student on both an academic and spiritual journey, helping nudge children towards the path to college and heaven.  All of a sudden the notion of “Preparing the Way of the Lord” seemed within grasp, an effortless task even, the struggles to this point merely had been due to a negative attitude and would be obliterated with this revitalised sense of God’s presence, fellowship and vocation.

When Monday morning rolled around I happily declined the offer of coffee from my housemate-come-chauffer declaring I didn’t need it as “I had the ACE high”. Stepping into my classroom and with the day off to its usual chaotic start, it became apparent that despite my naive rose-tinted expectations from the days previously, the same management issues, mounting paperwork, ever expanding to-do list and fast-paced atmosphere had not miraculously vanished. However, I had changed, my comprehension of what “Preparing the Way of the Lord” had transformed. Preparing the Way of the Lord was not strolling through an already perfectly paved track, it was here, in this moment, where every day we clear the pathway a little more by effectively negotiating the obstacles in our way. 

When clinging to the work of the Apostles as the over-arching example of discipleship it can be easy to fixate the romantic elements of their accomplishments: being filled with the zeal of the Holy Spirit and courageously and radically changing the world. But if this statement was placed under a microscope and dissected into individual moments, it is comprised of highs as well as lows, success in the presence of failure. Peter, one of the Faith’s most influential contributors has become my personal agony Aunt. It was in his constant teaching despite his repeated less than fruitful endeavours and downright mishaps that he managed in Preparing the Way of the Lord for all of us today. 

Preparing the Way of the Lord as a teacher in Chicago is both a heart -warming blessing and a startling responsibility. It is easy to realise we are achieving this in those math lessons where sudden realisation flickers across the eyes of a struggling student, the class meetings where infectious laughter resounds off the walls or when two tear-stained faces inform you they have taken it upon themselves to meet at the back table to independently talk about their emotions instead of taking the route of further conflict, as practiced in class. However, even on the more difficult days when lessons go less than flawlessly or when a once organised classroom resembles the aftermath of an atomic bomb and I ask myself what I am doing here, I have an answer. I am an ACE teacher. I am a part of a larger family of amazing educators with a united mission, preparing the Way of the Lord, putting our students on the road to college and Heaven. This is an ambitious mission statement. The inspiring statement John Schoenig, Director of Teacher Formation in Notre Dame, closed with in June at the ACE 22 opening retreat still rings true regarding this objective - “There’s a lot of work to do, so go do it”

"Ancora Imparo"

on Friday, 20 November 2015. Posted in Reflections by Irish Teaching Fellows

by Niamh O'Mahony

A peculiar bag of emotions accompanied my arrival in Notre Dame on a rainy Saturday night in June. Having spent the better half of my day travelling (trains, planes, and automobiles), there is nothing quite like the sight of the Golden Dome. With the goodbyes of family and friends still fresh in my mind, the presence of Our Lady atop of the Golden Dome gave me peace. As we drove down Notre Dame Avenue, I was struck by how at home I felt. This feeling transcends my experiences through ACE thus far. 

ACE summer began quickly. Practicum and classes became my daily life, but there were many opportunities to build relationships along the way. Although I was very busy, I enjoyed my eight weeks and look back fondly on my introduction to ACE. I arrived in Washington D.C. at the beginning of August and I was busy from the outset. ACE DC was in the middle of a move to a new location and it was exciting to be part of a  new adventure. We have since settled in Mount Rainier, MD which is on the border of Washington D.C. As a community of six, we live in a cozy family home. Although moves can be stressful, the amount of support we received from the greater ACE DC community was inspiring. This amazing group of people, many of whom have served in previous cohorts and ACE locations, truly embody the Pillars of ACE.  This outpouring of love and community spirit reassured me that I made the right choice: I am a part of something special. 

Shortly after the move, I began my role as the third grade teacher at Saint Anthony’s Catholic School. Teaching in the United States is a unique opportunity, which is completely different from my previous role as a primary school teacher in Dublin. For example, the students’ curiosity over my accent spiralled into a spontaneous Irish History/Geography lesson and my “weird” Irish sayings quickly became part of their vernacular. The beauty about being an educator is that I am learning and growing every single day. 

These nineteen students have already had such a powerful impact on me. One particular highlight thus far, has been the improvements I have seen in the students’  reading comprehension levels. At the beginning of the school year, many students struggled with writing detailed answers to reading comprehension questions. Students even struggled to string words into coherent sentences. This week, all the students succeeded in completing  a full reading comprehension on “The Monarch Butterfly”  as independent learners. I shared joy in their success.

Community anchors the mission of ACE. Teaching all day can be exhausting, but it is comforting to know that at home, there are five community members who walk the same path.  During our summer courses, the ACE faculty provided a lens for us to understand our communities as vessels of discipleship. We come from different places, yet meet to witness our vocation as Catholic School teachers. Amidst lesson planning and grading, we come together in food, fellowship, and prayer. 

In anticipation of December Retreat, I cannot wait to reunite with my fellow ACE 22 Cohort. Although we are distanced across the United States, we share a common mission. This is something I have come to learn and take strength. I am far from my native home, but I have found a beautiful and inspiring family in ACE.

Fall in ACE Chicago

on Tuesday, 17 November 2015. Posted in Reflections by Irish Teaching Fellows

by Louise Travers

Fall in ACE Chicago








"Times Are A Changing"

on Wednesday, 21 October 2015. Posted in Reflections by Irish Teaching Fellows

by Soracha O'Rourke

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"Creativity and the Twelve Apostles"

on Wednesday, 21 October 2015. Posted in Reflections by Irish Teaching Fellows

by Ian Corbett
























As I embarked on my second year of ACE, I engaged in a curious conversation with a fellow ACE teacher. We spoke about how incredibly quickly we come to learn our students’ personalities, and how closely their temperaments are parallel with those of the Twelve Apostles. Whether it is the doubting presence of Thomas, leadership in Peter, or the ambitious studiousness of John, we can often see the Apostles’ personalities mirrored in our students... or can we?  

Much of our perceptions about students’ personalities, abilities, and creativity are usually propped up by our presuppositions, often based on what we’ve heard from others, a practice which stifles their flourishing talents and undercuts our own ability to truly know and love our students.

I’ve often toiled with the question “how do I teach creativity” as I encounter and react to the “organized” education that my third grade students have become accustomed to. Generally the universal education system, which Sir Ken Robinson spoke practically about, is increasingly focused on the brain, and in particular the left side.  As educators, we frequently neglect the “creative” side of our students’ inquisitive and thirsting minds, for the sole purpose of creating future academic achievers, emphasizing objective outcomes but ignoring growth. We want our students to grow into stereotypical academics, but we can often stunt their creativity by doing so! If we want to combat this trend, the pressing question thus arises: how can I expect my students to be imaginative and creative in an under-resourced Catholic school? 

The Apostle that I witness most in my classroom is Matthew. Although he was certainly one of the twelve, Matthew was different from the rest. In his eyes—and in the eyes of the world—it did not make sense for him to be chosen, yet Jesus saw more, seeing far past Matthew’s role as a tax collector and people’s disapproving opinions of his role in society. Matthew, like many of our students, acted in a different way, a way that was not “the norm” and, as a result, he was marginalized. Nonetheless, Jesus saw Matthew’s talent and, through Matthew, he glimpsed into the importance of his own salvific ministry. 

On the other hand, Peter, again like our education system, sought to create a particular type of person, a leader, an activist and a revolutionary- someone who was not Matthew. Like many modern educators, Peter wanted to impose his own ideal view of what Matthew ought to be—he wanted Matthew to fit into a prescribed role. In doing so, Peter overlooked something much more important: God’s will of what Matthew ought to be. Though many questioned Matthews’s presence as part of the twelve, they were simply blind to the innate potential of Matthew, a potential that only Christ could see. 

I draw comparisons between the life of Matthew and my experience as a second year ACE teacher. Matthew is represented in so many of my students. Like Matthew, many of them feel pressured to fit into society’s perceptions of them, hindering their own self-confidence and self-worth. Yet, despite the frustration and annoyance of the other apostles, Matthew’s creativity and purpose eventually came to fruition and he created something timeless and beautiful.

 Unfortunately many people today have no real concept of their capabilities or talents. As an ACE teacher I believe my role is to aid my students in discovering and develop their own latent capabilities and talents. Through ACE I have become acutely aware of the need to expose the talents that are bestowed on others, and the importance of doing my part, however small, to help bring them to fruition. Rather than counting our blessings and talents we must make them count to inherently “create new opportunities, meet different people, have different experiences and create a different life”. (Ken Robinson)

 So how does one teach creativity? You don’t; you foster it.

"ACE Year 2: Back at it Again"

on Thursday, 17 September 2015. Posted in Reflections by Irish Teaching Fellows

by Louise Travers

I have been back teaching Second Grade in Chicago for about a month now and it’s safe to say I’ve settled back into reality after a refreshing and enjoyable summer at Notre Dame. I found this summer to be very different from last summer. The classes made a lot more sense now that I had a year of teaching under my belt, and I was able to set a purpose for what I was learning. Even though we worked hard and had long classes, we had many breaks during the day to catch up on work or meet with friends. It was a nice change from being in the classroom all year. The classes included ENL (English as a New Language), assessment in the classroom, teaching Social Studies and Science in the classroom, teaching diverse learners and development and moral education in childhood and adolescence. These classes were extremely beneficial as we had to take one aspect of what either interests us or what was challenging in the classroom last year and present this during a conference. The presentation at the conference was forty minutes long and we planned, prepared, researched and gave the presentation with three other people. The ACE 22 cohort and also the professors in our courses came to watch and learn from our presentations. The research aspect was helpful because I found useful resources that I could use in my own classroom. My topic was “Classroom Management: A Tiered Approach for Various Motivation Levels.”

I have found the beginning of my second year teaching a lot different to last year. I have taken everything I have learned about the school, the students, and classroom management from last year and used it in these first few weeks. The students I have are extremely hardworking, like last year, and so it has been a joy so far to see their eagerness at starting a new lesson or a lesson that might be just that bit extraordinary. For example, we are studying chemistry and the Scientific Method in Science and they have been very enthusiastic about new experiments and questions, or we warm up in Math with Math races which the students enjoy very much. Our motto for the classroom is “I can do all things, through Christ who strengthens me” – Philippians 4:13. The student’s interpret this as we can always try and do our best when we have God to pray to and look after us. The children are extremely kind to each other and see Jesus in everyone, and everything around them. They make sure that each student is included in what we are doing.

As for my local ACE community we have had many events so far, one of my favourite nights of the week is “community activity night” where one person chooses an activity for us all to do. For example, so far, we have played board games, croquet outside our house on the green area. Other things could include movie nights or trips to the cinema!

I am looking forward to another year in Chicago and another year guiding the 2nd grade to succeed to their best ability.

Successful ACE Ireland Summer Initiatives Shine

on Friday, 24 July 2015. Posted in Reflections by Irish Teaching Fellows

Successful ACE Ireland Summer Initiatives Shine

Summer 2015 has been a busy time for ACE Ireland as four major initiatives kicked off. The four programmes were the Diploma in Catholic Education Summer School, the ACE Ireland School Partnership Summer Seminar, the ACE Ireland Summer Retreat and the ACE Ireland Haiti Initiative. 

Diploma in Catholic Education (DCE) Summer School

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The DCE Summer School was held from June 28th to July 11th in the Parknasilla Resort & Spa. During this two week 'Bootcamp' the DCE 3 cohort took four modules, took part in a weekend retreat and considered deeply the role of a teacher in a Catholic school. There was also ample time for a bit of 'craic' and community-building as well as they capped off their year-long journey with the DCE programme. 

ACE Ireland School Partnership Summer Seminar

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The ACE Ireland School Partnership Summer Seminar was held from July 5th to July 9th. This Seminar kicked off the two-year partnership that ACE ireland is entering into with four Catholic schools in Ireland: the Le Cheile Secondary School, Holy Family Secondary School, Loreto Senior and Junior National School in Crumlin. Each school has nominated three staff members to be the "Culture Formation Team" that will lead their school communities through the process of building a distinctly Catholic culture. This is an exciting an initiative that was equally matched by the enthusiasm of the participants. 

ACE Ireland Summer Retreat

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Seventeen members of our ACE Ireland Advocate Community joined us in Parknasilla Resort from July 2nd - 5th for a weekend retreat experience. On the Thursday night the retreat participants began their experience with Mass and dinner, which gave an opportunity for prayer and to strength the bonds of fellowship. On Friday the group spent the day on Pilgrimage to Kilarney Cathedral and Innisfallen Island. On Saturday the group joined the DCE 3 group for a retreat in Kenmare led by Amalee Meehan of CEIST.   

ACE Ireland Haiti Initiative

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On June 28th 2015 Claire Ni Chanainn and Muireann Banks embarked on a six-week experience representing ACE Ireland at the Basile Moreau School in Port Au Prince in Haiti. During this experience both Claire and Muireann will be working with US graduates of the ACE programme and Haitian teachers to deliver a summer school to the students of Basile Moreau School.

Would I choose ACE again?

on Monday, 25 May 2015. Posted in Reflections by Irish Teaching Fellows

by Ian Corbett

Would I choose ACE again?

As I swung lazily on the hammock in the back garden of our convent, I reluctantly turned the last page of my book, sad to see it come to an end.  The book, The Alchemist, was recommended by a community member and the adventure of its protagonist, a boy named Santiago closely parallels my ACE experience. In reading it, I reminisced of the past year, from its triumphant highs, to its dismal lows; to those moments so beautiful that one cannot question God’s divine involvement. 

Our only obligation in life is to find the path God has called us to. He will do all in his power to aid, challenge, push, and confront us along the way. During ACE, my path has become more apparent, and the grass much greener. I know my purpose, my goals, and as Santiago himself discovered, I have learned that “when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it”.

Let’s flash back to a Friday evening late last May: I was terrified, sitting in O’Hare airport, awaiting the beginning of my first ACE summer. I had sacrificed a lot to even get to that point: a teaching position, friends, music, Gaeilge, sport, and family. How would I last two years in a foreign country, let alone one? Yet here I am, successfully finishing my first year as an ACE teacher and eagerly waiting my return to Notre Dame to begin the second. Would I do it again? Would I still choose ACE? I’ve frequently pondered these questions and to answer them truthfully, there are parts of my ACE experience that I want to reflect on and share with you.

My ACE experience has certainly brought its difficulties, but my fondest memories are its virtues, from the people I have been graced to meet, to the relationships I that have forged with the my follow ACE’ers and the ACE staff. I think of my first game of American football, my failure to throw a good baseball pitch, my first trip to Wal-Mart, and my first taste of peanut butter. It is these precious memories that will stay with me long after my time in ACE comes to an end; it is these beautiful moments that I will treasure forever.

I have also developed professionally, and grown as a teacher. ACE does a fine job at plucking you from your comfort zone and testing your capabilities, pushing you further than you ever thought possible, far beyond your personal boundaries. In the moment, it can be frustrating, stressful and strenuous but I have always found my path and overcome the trials. ACE has taught me that what is important is not how many times you stumble and fall, but how many times you get back up to continue on the journey.

ACE community life can vary for many and, coming into ACE, I had no idea what to expect. Perhaps no one can fully anticipate how rich and intimate community life will be, with a set of diverse personalities living under one roof and sharing two goals: to teach and to serve. Community life has made me a better listener, communicator, and cook. Yes, an ACE community, to the outsider, may appear to just be a group of teachers who eat together, pray together, and regularly vent about students but my community is so much more than that: it’s my family.

School and education are my passions. Just as the Alchemist was in search of his treasure, “remembering that wherever your heart is, there you will find your treasure,” so too do I tirelessly seek my ultimate treasure: the success and happiness of each and every one of my students. The classroom is the place where my labor finds its reward. I count myself blessed to be involved in a school community that is dedicated, motivated, and loving. But mostly importantly, I have worked with students who enrich my life so deeply and so fully. I have learned more from my students over the past year than I could ever teach them. Having such a diverse classroom has given me an insight into a variety of cultures. Surprisingly, my students know me better than I know them, or for that matter, than I know myself. On one Thursday evening before dismissal, I asked them to record what, in their opinion, constitutes “a good teacher” and to honestly assess what I need to do to be better. Of course, many of their responses included less homework, fewer tests, and “more games”. But several responses revealed some profound insights about my teaching that I had never before considered. One student wrote, “Mr. Corbett, you are patient, kind, and fun. You’re a good friend. Stay the same”. It is in moments like this that I realize how blessed I am to work with such beautiful young minds and such thoughtful students.

So, would I still choose ACE?

Without a doubt.

Learning by Doing

on Monday, 25 May 2015. Posted in Reflections by Irish Teaching Fellows

Learning by Doing

Irish ACE Teacher, Hannah Snowe, gives a window into the Fifth Grade's exploration of the American Revolution!

Photo Journal

ACE Life in Virginia

on Friday, 17 April 2015. Posted in Reflections by Irish Teaching Fellows

by Ciara O'Brien

ACE Life in Virginia

Take an opportunity to visit with ACE 20 teacher, Ciara O'Brien, as she leads us on a video reflection of her life in Virginia!!

Video Reflection

Spring in Chicago

on Friday, 17 April 2015. Posted in Reflections by Irish Teaching Fellows

by Louise Travers

Spring in Chicago

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The Melting Pot

on Wednesday, 25 March 2015. Posted in Reflections by Irish Teaching Fellows

by Hannah Snowe

The Melting Pot

The smell of stew permeated the upstairs of St. Joseph’s School on St. Patrick’s Day this year. It was the talk of the school. What was the smell? Where was it coming from? Was anyone else suddenly hungry? Anyone who stepped into the fifth grade classroom that day had all of their questions quickly answered.

A sea of green met the eye from head to toe. Students, staff and teachers all sat together eating homemade Irish dishes and drinking tea.  Sharing stories and food made us all realize how much our two cultures have in common. A visiting second grader (mistaking my Irish flag for the Mexican flag) even asked what was missing from the Mexican flag! That day my kids were mesmerized about everything to do with Ireland. I couldn’t help but feel an overwhelming sense of pride when they asked if I had really seen all of these places in the video and I could respond with “yes I lived there!”  My hope is that from seeing the pride that I have for my home country and culture my students will be encouraged to continue to feel the same pride towards their own culture.

I always try to share as much of my life as possible with my students so that they can truly get to know me. I feel that I have such a wonderful relationship with my students. A relationship that respects two cultures which have more in common than I thought. It touches me how much respect my students have for my culture and how proud they are to be part Irish through me!

The amount of students who I heard saying that they want to travel was amazing. As teachers we always want to ignite that spark in our students. That sense of curiosity that will drive them to greatness. Days like this may not be purely academic in nature but they are certainly still educational in my book. It is days like this that give us a true chance to teach our students something about the big picture that’s life.

I think that this kind of multicultural education is the way forward. Students learn to see the beauty in every culture and how they all deserve the respect that we give to our own culture. How can we create classrooms rich in such diversity and beauty? It all starts with acceptance and I have experienced such acceptance in the Hispanic community at St. Joseph’s. They welcomed me with open arms and have taken the time to learn about my culture, as I have done for them. It is on a day like St. Patrick’s Day when your community joins together to acknowledge a day special to your culture that you realize how blessed you are to be there. Since arriving at St. Joseph’s the sense of family and community has always been prevalent. There are those few distinct moments when I stop and contemplate the close attachment that I have to my school. It’s quite simple really; they are my family and always will be. 

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