Cooking has been a source of joy throughout my life. While cooking feels like a daunting task to many, I was fortunate enough to grow up in a home where I learned my way around the kitchen. At an early age, I picked up the fundamentals of cooking from my dad, and we still enjoy cooking together when I am home. When I learned that community dinners would be an essential part of the ACE experience, I saw this as another stepping stone on my path toward culinary greatness. Teaching middle school math and science would just be my day job (just kidding, Sister Gail).
During my first month in Indianapolis, when I was up to bat to cook for community dinner, I felt enormous pressure to make an amazing meal. I felt like I had to perform not only as a new teacher in a classroom of middle school students, but now at home, too. I didn’t want to let my community members down with a sub-par meal after many of them probably had tough days at school. After fielding suggestions from several family members, my sister sent me a recipe for stuffed bell peppers. I rushed to the grocery store after school that day, meticulously picking out each ingredient for the meal. At home, I slaved away in the kitchen, putting lesson plans and grading on the back burner (cooking pun intended). The stuffed peppers were delicious and my community was impressed, but I realized in hindsight that I was putting my time and energy into the wrong part of the meal.
I have learned over time that the purpose of community dinner isn’t about showing off– it’s about showing up. This became clear to me when my community moved houses this year. In the chaos of the move, community dinners fell to the wayside. After several weeks, though we still had boxes to unpack and lessons to plan, we decided to have an impromptu community dinner. My housemate Itzxul and I went to the grocery store with no plan in mind and walked out with several frozen pizzas. While far from gourmet, these frozen pizzas were the first thing to really bring our community together in our new house. These pizzas were better than any meal I could have whipped up because my focus was on being present to my community, not on crafting the perfect meal.
Too often as teachers, pulled in a million different directions, we forget the importance of sitting together around our dinner table, sharing stories and laughter. It isn’t about the quality of the food. It’s about the quality of the time we spend together, and the privileged place we share in one another’s lives as community members. It’s what these two years in ACE are all about: showing up for our students each and every day, and going home to be present in our community.
When we gather to give thanks and break bread, we’re thankful for the food on our table and for those who share it with us. It’s the relationships in community that feed us, strengthen us for service, and sustain us in zeal for our mission. Gathering doesn’t have to be gourmet, as long as it nourishes us to share our lives with those we serve.
Learn more about ACE Teaching Fellows at ace.nd.edu/teach