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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”

“Mr. Corbett, thank you for telling me not to give up, so you don’t!”

on Friday, 21 November 2014. Posted in Reflections by Irish Teaching Fellows

“Mr. Corbett, thank you for telling me not to give up, so you don’t!”

This is the first sentence of a note that I received from a student, one month into the new school year.  This message is my motivation for each day in this roller coaster ride that they call your ACE experience.

In ACE, you quickly realize that teaching is only one part of being an ACE teacher. My job title can drastically fluctuate on any given day, from third grade teacher, to music instructor, to librarian, and then IT technician, all within an hour. I have laughably limited experience in most of these roles, but, in ACE, you quickly learn to go with the flow; you learn that to be an ACE’er means to serve in a multitude of ways.

Whether it’s rushing home to help lift a fallen ACE teacher after a bad day or raising the spirits of a third grader who had a difficult morning, you become more than a teacher; you are a counselor, a role model, a guide, and an inspiration. Even though you may be having concerns, troubles or anxieties, you sacrifice them all, always remembering that your life is measured by how you serve those around you. It’s your job to love; to love as Christ the Teacher did; to love selflessly.

ACE is, and will continue to be, a personal battle. The need to constantly adapt has changed me deeply. Each and everyday I ask myself,  “Why was I chosen? What do I have to offer? Am I really good enough?” I remember the early days of ACE, when I was paralyzed by fear of the unknown—not knowing where this rollercoaster would lead. In those times, I needed to find and rely on a deep confidence and assurance to ride this roller coaster and to appreciate that I am good enough, that I can do it, and that this is truly God’s path for me. Every day, I challenge myself to renew that confidence so that I can be the teacher that my students deserve.

ACE has started me on the path to becoming a great teacher. I know that this path will not always come easily; fear and doubt are my erstwhile companions. And although this fear and doubt have proven to be formidable adversaries, I take joyful solace in my realization that, with hard work, a hurley and sliothar, and the grace of God, I can overcome anything.

I have long known that I have wanted to be a teacher. ACE has helped me come to appreciate all that this noble vocation entails. To be a good teacher you need to have talent, but it will come to a point where talent fails you. To be a good teacher you need to work on your skills, but your skills will often need sharpening. And that’s the beauty of ACE; it requires you to always push yourself, further than you ever thought possible--academically, socially, spiritually--to become a better version of yourself; to become a master teacher.

Welcome to the world of Ms. Snowe

on Friday, 21 November 2014. Posted in Reflections by Irish Teaching Fellows

Irish ACE teacher, Hannah Snowe, who is a Fifth-grade teacher in Santa Anna, California gives us a photographic insight into her world as an ACE teacher!!

November Photo Essay

Embracing His Beautiful Chaos

on Monday, 20 October 2014. Posted in Reflections by Irish Teaching Fellows

Ciara O'Brien, ACE 20, reflects on the beautiful unpredictability of being an ACE Teacher

Embracing His Beautiful Chaos

Late last Tuesday afternoon, I stood outside the door of our school auditorium listening in awe. What I was hearing through the door was the sound of our school choir singing in harmony for the first time. While this might not seem like a big deal, for me, it represented real evidence that the choir I had been conducting for the past year and a half had progressed since I had first taken charge. That might seem strange considering I was standing outside the door listening instead of standing in front of them conducting. An after-care emergency meant that I had to substitute for another teacher. This translated to staying in school until six in the evening with children whose parents were unable to pick them up until then. I had left my choir for one rehearsal in the trusted hands of a parent volunteer who also acts as our accompanist.

I tell this story to illustrate two things that impact my life as a new teacher. The first of these is unpredictability. Nothing about my job as an ACE teacher or my life as a graduate student living in community is predictable. I applied and was accepted into ACE Teaching Fellows fresh out of college and was assigned to teach Fourth Grade in Petersburg, Virginia for two years. I had to look it up on Google Maps the first time I heard where I was being sent!! That was just the beginning of the unpredictability that has now become a recurring theme in my life. Live with four people I’ve never met? Sure. Teach Virginia History without a working knowledge of American History in general? Why not? Work for a Master’s degree over two years while teaching full time? Sounds like a great idea. Substituting for a teacher in after-care barely scratches the surface of the beautiful chaos that faces me every day. I’m sure that to some people this unpredictability would be unbearable. It can be at times, but I take comfort and strength from the knowledge that God has a plan for me and knows where I’m going, even when I haven’t a clue. Before I started ACE, I too, was afraid of unpredictability but so many things in my life that bring me joy have come as a result of embracing this. 

The second thing that the story illustrates is one of the most challenging things about teaching – how difficult it can be to observe progress in your students. And how frustrating this can sometimes be. At the end of my first year, I berated myself constantly that my students would have been better off with anyone else as their teacher. How could they have possibly learned anything from me? Had I made any difference in their lives? Yet, even after two months with a new teacher my former students still remind me that they know how to bless themselves in Irish and remember the novel we read as a class that they loved. I still wonder sometimes if my current students are learning anything. Although I see their grades fluctuate as they learn new concepts and know they can now multiply in their heads thanks to numerous drills, I hope that I am teaching them the important things too. Like how it’s necessary to love all their classmates, especially the ones who perhaps annoy them the most. And that while it’s nice to be important, it’s more important to be nice. And ultimately, that my job as a Catholic school teacher is to learn and grow with them, teaching them to love and serve the ultimate teacher – Christ.

Back to choir. I started the choir last October and only a handful of students initially joined. We worked through the year, acquiring a wonderful accompanist and extra children along the way. This year we started off stronger than ever until finally we were able to harmonise our music. It’s something so small yet so momentous. It’s taken a long time and a seemingly arduous amount of work for this to happen. But through this, God was reminding me that through all His beautiful chaos, it’s the smallest things that I’ll do that will impact the lives of my students. And the smallest actions on their part will impact mine. Like notes after a sick day asking me to never get sick again. Or a student asking me to pray for their grandmother whose dog passed away and in return asking me if I had anyone that they should be praying for. These small moments are never planned or expected but are always the ones that leave the greatest and most lasting impact. Embrace the unpredictability and Christ will take care of the rest.

October Photo Essay - Louise Travers and her 2nd Grade Classroom

on Friday, 17 October 2014. Posted in Reflections by Irish Teaching Fellows

Louise Travers - ACE 21, Chicago, invites us into her St. Sylvester 2nd grade classroom

louistravers-2Here is a small selection of various lessons that St Sylvester’s Second Grade have been working on this past week or two. The students worked in pairs with colored construction paper to solve a Math subtraction problem. The aim of this lesson was to get students thinking “outside the box”, enabling them to work together to come up with different ways to solve the problem. They then presented what they did to their classmates, allowing for questions. This shows the students the importance of discussing how they are working out a problem, and especially how they are breaking it down. We also played a new phonics activity where the students passed the ball to complete a consonant-short vowel-consonant word. We are also learning about Baptism. The children had to work with their groups to write three things that they noticed from a Baptismal photo. Everyone enjoyed the surprise at the end when they found out that these pictures were actually all of a baby Miss Travers. The last photo is one of my community. This was after our community dinner on a Monday and during our community meeting. We have a meeting each week to check in with our housemates, make plans, or discuss a concern for that week. 

October Photo Essay

September Irish Teaching Fellows Reflection

on Wednesday, 24 September 2014. Posted in Reflections by Irish Teaching Fellows

Hannah Elizabeth Snowe, ACE 20 - Santa Ana, offers a September reflection

September Irish Teaching Fellows Reflection

There are very few people who can say that they truly love their job. I am one of those fortunate enough to say just that. School has only been in session for just over a month and if I have not already expressed my love for this profession out loud I’ve certainly thought it. You see the beauty about teaching is that no two days are ever the same. You never know what you’re walking into or what path a lesson will bring you down. It really is an adventure.

The start of the year in any school is always a special time, filled with excitement and a renewal of spirit. Students come in to the classroom as waves of potential waiting to be evoked through interactions with their peers and teachers. Even though this is my second year at St. Joseph’s I still had butterflies in my stomach on the first day this year as I waited for the bell to ring.

There are big changes going on in our school this year with the continued implementation of the 1:1 iPad program. Every student from grade 5-8 has their own IPad. It has revolutionised the way I teach and the way my students learn.  Every morning my students come in and get to choose the order of their day. The learning material for each subject is then presented to them through the app Edmodo. It not only allows me to differentiate the content with ease but also promotes self-regulation in my students.

At times things can get quite chaotic as we try to work our way through all the kinks of the program and this period of change. But my students never fail to show me how chaos is in fact a field of opportunity and potential. Whether it’s by making brilliant connections to God from the text that they are reading or just telling me to take a brain break, they show me how order can in fact come out of chaos.

There is something unique and beautiful about the start of the year in a Catholic school. Nothing forges the bond between teachers and students, teachers and colleagues and students and their friends like receiving the Eucharist together.  It creates a sense of belonging to our school and community. We are united in a shared mission. We strive to love, think and serve the Lord in all that we do. This is something which I promote in my classroom by having my students not simply learn religious teachings but see how they can be applied to their daily lives.

Not so long ago I used to believe that faith was about reverence until I joined ACE and began teaching in an intentional Catholic school. I use the word intentional here because as I walk through the rooms of my school I know that I am in a Catholic school. Not by the crucifix in each room or by the prayers we say but by an unnamed presence that permeates the building and the people in it. We all share a common mission, to teach as Jesus did. Not an easy task by any means but I think it keeps us grounded as a faculty and places are faith in the present. Something that myself and my students can relate to and work with instead of something static and far removed from our daily lives. As I move into this new school year I am excited to see watch my students grow physically, academically and spiritually.

September - Photo Essay

on Wednesday, 24 September 2014. Posted in Reflections by Irish Teaching Fellows

Ian Corbett, a member of ACE 21 in Sacramento, offers the first of this year's photo essays.

Ian Corbett, a member of ACE 21 in Sacramento, offers the first of this year's photo essays.

September Photo Essay