My alarm clock is set to the same time this year as it has been for the past four years -- 5:30 AM. Walking into my dark classroom at Cristo Rey Dallas is a lot like walking into the dark locker room to get ready for morning practice. Similar to my years as a college athlete, most days I find myself taking a deep breath, having a sip of coffee, and saying a quick prayer before I turn on my classroom lights and say yes to the grind of the day ahead. When I chose to swim at Notre Dame, a lot of people told me that being a college athlete would be the hardest thing I would ever do. They were right! When I chose to do ACE, move to Dallas, and teach high schoolers for the next two years, several others told me being a first-year teacher would be the hardest thing I would ever do. They were right, too!
People also told me that both would be so incredibly rewarding. And they were right as well – though both come with moments of difficulty. Swimming in college and being a first-year teacher have also been completely challenging and, honestly, at some points felt unfulfilling. In both cases, one is asked to put in the work with no guarantee of ultimately reaching their goals. What a beautiful and constant test of humility and patience! As ACE teachers, we are asked to fully immerse ourselves into this commitment, unsure of the impact of our own efforts and the ways in which we will grow. The only thing we know is that we won’t see the full effects – good or bad – of our work. And yet, we work.
I would argue that there are few things more important, in being a college athlete and a teacher, than recognizing that this life is a choice. I chose to swim at Notre Dame because I loved the sport, my team, and the work that went into being a better athlete. I now choose to teach because I love my kids, my school, and the work that goes into creating a more equitable society through education. Being a college athlete prepared me to make teaching my whole world and to fall in love with a life that is hard.
In college, my teammates and I worked with each other towards a common goal of winning races and meets. This year, my coworkers are my teammates, which means I have a responsibility to know my strengths and rely on others in my many areas of growth to best serve our students. I’m not fighting every day to win a race or beat Ohio State in a dual meet; my teammates and I are fighting for our students, against the discrimination they face from historical and current inequities. I’m fighting the most important battle against the voices in my kids’ heads that tell them they are not good enough. I get to push Anthony to know that any college classroom would be lucky to have his insights, to tell another student that her mind is beautifully made even if it takes a little longer to understand concepts, to show Carolina her outstanding improvement by pulling her work from the beginning and end of the year. Relying on my coworkers, my community members, ACE faculty and staff, and my own support system, my work is to joyfully prepare for this battle each day.
The love that I have for teaching is a lot like the love that I had for swimming in college: it is really challenging, emotionally draining, and incredibly empowering. The love that I have for my angel students is also different from my love for swimming in a special way: it is led, ignited, and inspired by Jesus. I love Alexander because he holds me accountable for being firm, fair, and consistent in my treatment of students as Jesus reminds of us when he drives the money changers from the temple. I love Wendy because she places her trust in me and shows Christ-like vulnerability. Stay here and keep watch with me, Jesus asks in the Garden of Gethsemane -- and Wendy bravely asks in her emails for a meeting. I love Michael because he brings his classmates along with him on his journey to learn, just as Jesus invites his friends to accompany him in his greatest joys. This work and this love are not about me and my goals; they are wonderfully, beautifully, and rightfully centered around my students and their dreams.
Learn more about ACE Teaching Fellows at ace.nd.edu/teach.