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Returning to the Classroom

Thursday, August 31, 2017 by Karen Gilmore - ACE 23, Baton Rouge

Karen Gilmore ACE 23 Return to the Classroom

Returning to my school after my second ACE summer felt like how I imagined Lucy felt when she returned to Narnia through the wardrobe after trying to relay her experiences to her siblings to no avail in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis. Ascension Catholic High School was a place where I experienced exciting and difficult things, where I forged relationships with people most of my friends and family were likely never going to meet, and where my worldview changed profoundly.

ACE 23 Karen Gilmore Baton RougeMy first year of teaching made Ascension Catholic a place beyond words, and my months away made my experiences there seem tentative and surreal. No matter how many stories I told, people who had never visited my school or met my students were unlikely to understand how teaching at Ascension Catholic was different from teaching at any other school in ACE or elsewhere. I wondered if experiences like Mardi Gras, historic flooding, sugar cane grinding season, teaching at a school that had been around since before the Civil War or helping coach our girls’ track team to a state championship really happened the way I remembered them or whether the role I played was significant.

My doubts were put to rest and my experiences were affirmed as soon as I stepped into my classroom for the first time after the summer away. Though it was empty of furniture and many of my decorations were covered due to the summer cleaning, it was familiar–it was still the place where my students and I were transformed by the grace of encountering Christ in one another through our relationships during the previous school year. Around campus, preparations for the school year were already in full swing: sports practices, uniform fittings, and student council activities.

"My return to my classroom made salient again all of the struggles and victories from my first year of teaching."

As I set up my classroom, a steady stream of students popped their heads in, excitedly rushing over to give me hugs, to ask about my summer, to tell me about theirs, and to let me know that they thought about me every time that they walked past the La Croix in Wal-Mart (“I still don’t know how you like that stuff, Miss G”) or heard “Despacito” on the radio (“Are you ever going to tell us what the words mean?”). The seniors stopped by, lamenting that they wouldn’t take any of my classes that year and sharing with me the joys of the summer, including improved ACT scores, job shadowing experiences, and using the Spanish they learned in my class during their vacations and mission trips.

My return to my classroom made salient again all of the struggles and victories from my first year of teaching–much like I imagine Lucy’s experiences were when she returned to Narnia after enduring the skepticism of her siblings, who didn’t understand that anything special had happened in the wardrobe in the Professor’s house. These conversations were the nourishment that I needed to start my school year. I was reminded of the relationships that I already had built over the course of the past year and grounded in my purpose to continue to minister to my students in Donaldsonville, Louisiana–a place that continues to be strange, welcoming, wonderful, and absolutely beyond words.

Learn more about ACE Teaching Fellows and request more information at ace.nd.edu/teach.