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.