Written by: Emily Gilloon
“Would you rather live forever with a bucket on one foot or five bottles on your fingers? Would you rather be a giant hamster or a tiny rhino? Would you rather be able to stop time or fly?”
These and many other peculiar scenarios hummed throughout Ryan Schwab’s fifth grade classroom as 16 pairs of our Little Flower and St. John’s students timidly (and awkwardly) participated in a get-to-know-you icebreaker. Like so many of the best ideas in teaching, Ryan and I had decided on a whim to bring our two classes together before the exciting ACE bus celebration took place at St. John’s in Pensacola. As both of us quietly observed our classes, I couldn’t help but feel undeniably joyful, blessed and grateful.
Just about two years before I learned Ryan would rather fly than be able to stop time, I accepted a post-ACE job at a company in my hometown of Dubuque, Iowa. That June I packed up my life in Pensacola, took a 17-hour road trip back home to Iowa, and officially left behind a community of teachers, housemates and students whom I had come to love during two of the most professionally and spiritually fulfilling years of my life. I left Pensacola with a heavy heart, but I was excited about the prospect of starting a new job and spending more time with my family.
Six months later, my longing for my ACE friends, job and life hadn’t faded as I had hoped it would. I started to question my decision to leave Pensacola at all. I daydreamed about moving back to the Sunshine State and being near my ACE housemates and former coworkers. More importantly, I craved working in a place where I could pray freely, say the words “Merry Christmas” at work and attend Mass weekly as part of my job. The time I spent outside the classroom helped me to realize I craved the sense of purpose and joy that comes with teaching in a Catholic school. In February of last year, after months of prayers, doubts and indecisiveness, I emailed my former ACE principal and asked if it was too late to apply for the fifth grade position I knew would be open in the fall.
She wrote back that day and told me she received my email only a few mere hours before she was going request a new ACE teacher for the job I wanted. At that moment, I knew God had been right beside me the whole time, guiding my thoughts, the exact words I wrote to her and my final decision just to press “send” and see what happened.
A year after sending that email, I stood next to my 16 giggly students in the sunny St. John’s parking lot, waving my “Catholic Schools are Good for America” flag, and smiling to myself as Fr. Lou DelFra and the ACE bus rolled in. Would I rather be working a job with a bigger paycheck, fewer responsibilities and more free time on the weekends? Absolutely not. Instead I thank God every day for surrounding me with curious students, devoted teachers and friends and for allowing me to grow as a Catholic educator.