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Letter to a Future ACEr: What I Wish I Knew

By Mary Grace O'Shea (ACE 28, Denver)

ACE teachers outside for a lesson

As another school year comes to a close, we teachers experience a vast range of emotions: joy, exhaustion, sadness, nostalgia, you name it. You grow to know and love a group of students so well and so deeply, and all of a sudden, they are no longer in your classroom for eight hours a day. It is a shift that can and will be difficult for both you and your students, as it marks the end of another year of your life, and invites in the anxious thoughts that say, “How does one start another school year again?” What a blessing it is, however, to spend nine months with remarkable kids, and then get to do it all again, knowing the ropes ever so slightly better. ACE gives you the gift of spending at least two years in your school communities, allowing you to grow in knowledge and love for the profession of teaching. There are many things that you must learn through experience (I could not count those on 15 hands if I tried…), but here are some suggestions to carry along the way:

1. Do your best to appreciate relationships. Some (many:)) days can be long for a teacher, but the year truly goes by in the blink of an eye. There is nothing more valuable, precious, and enjoyable about teaching than getting to truly know and love our students. From personal experience, the times that we show up for kids, especially when unexpected, are what mean the absolute most to them. Going to games, going out of your way to help a kid, or simply having a conversation about their life at the moment allow for teacher-student relationships to flourish, and remind them that your job, at the end of the day, is to make them feel cared for and genuinely loved. From there, all else flows.

2. Try not to take for granted the value of time. Time is of the essence! As mentioned above, your two years in ACE will fly by. Truly. While there were countless difficult moments over the course of my two years in ACE, I look back upon them with a grateful heart. Every minute of every day of every year matters when spent with your students. With hard work and joy, trust that the days will get better with time. Take breaks when you need them so that you can appreciate the gifts that surround you.

3. Be flexible and adaptable. Your lessons are not always going to go well. You might start to teach something and realize that you don’t completely understand what you’re trying to say (me, with 4th-grade physics). You may get some tough reviews from students about an activity. You may look back at a lesson and have no words. Be willing to listen, change, and adapt. Listen to the wisdom of your administrators, supervisors, co-teachers, community members, and students. Be willing to learn as much as your students are.

4. Keep what is meaningful to you, and reach out to those you love. Keep student notes, artifacts that remind you of classroom/community memories, and all the things that have brought you love. These can get you through tough days or months. One day, years later, I imagine we will appreciate having them. Reach out to those you love, especially those who are far away. Though you are busy, conversations with loved ones can really push you through.

5. Enjoy your weekends and sleep. Work hard, sleep for eight hours, and have fun on the weekends. Spend time outside with your community members, go out in your city, and meet new people. Even if you are doing work on a Sunday morning, take a trip to a coffee shop. Take time for yourself, so that you can be the best teacher you can be during the week; it is so important. Enjoy your early 20s, even when they are hard!

If you follow these five guidelines, I promise you'll get the most out of your ACE experience – not only during your two years in the program but also in all the years that follow!