Jess Zlaket (Fort Worth) and Peter Spalitto (Atlanta) are finishing their second years as ACE teachers as they transition to become part of the Teaching Fellows’ pastoral team. They joined ACE 28, the newest members of ACE Teaching Fellows, on their annual April Retreat and reflected on both sides of their journey.
My two years as a Teaching Fellow have been jam-packed with new experiences. Some moments have been grueling and others beautiful beyond words, but regardless, a LOT has happened. My cohort’s April Retreat in 2019, for example feels like a lifetime ago: I was still a senior at Notre Dame, COVID wasn’t even remotely a thing, and some of my now-closest friends in ACE were mere strangers to me as we sat at circular tables in Remick Commons. This month, I had a crazy “full circle” moment as I attended yet another April Retreat – but this time, as a member of the pastoral team welcoming ACE 28.
On Friday evening, when I looked at the sea of smiles in Zoom gallery view and laughed as the ever-enthusiastic participant chat box popped off, I was truly and utterly struck by the sheer zeal of ACE 28. Scrolling through the pages of the meeting room, I remembered that many of our newest teachers have had their undergraduate years dampened by COVID protocols in the last year. College (for many) didn’t end nearly as it was planned, and yet there they were, ready to pursue this hard, messy, uncertain thing anyway. Against incredible odds, these amazing young people eagerly agreed to put aside their comfort and use their talents to serve those on the margins – and have done so, already, with admirable joy and flexibility. Sure, I might have gotten a two-year head start on the ACE experience, but I have a lot to learn from these new teachers about resilience, gratitude, and hope.
It was really special for me to peek behind the scenes of an ACE retreat, and I am eager to get to know everyone even better when I join the team over the summer. Preparing for a new job and working out the logistics of a big move has taken up a lot of my headspace, but April Retreat reminded me that my first mission – teaching second grade at St. George Catholic School, living in community in Fort Worth, and finding God in all of it – is the most important. Right now, the best way for me to support the mission of Catholic education is not through my recruiting efforts, but rather through the energy I pour into the students in front of me. Similarly, before I work to establish new relationships within the wider ACE community, I must nourish the ones I already have and cherish these last days with them. We’re in the home stretch, but both groups still need my time, my attention, and my commitment, and April Retreat gave me the spiritual boost I needed to finish as strong as I started.
As I wrap up my second year of teaching middle school math and science at St. John the Evangelist in Atlanta, I couldn’t help but feel like one of those elderly figures in the movies who always says something to the effect of “don’t blink, or life will pass you by” during April Retreat. But, seeing as how I am only 24, I decided to refrain from saying that. In any case, it really is hard to believe that my cohort is about to graduate in July – and yet, while I am wrapping up, others (looking at you, ACE 28) are just beginning to enter into the extraordinary journey that we call ACE Teaching Fellows.
Going through April Retreat, I took comfort and inspiration from seeing that another ACE teacher will fill the beautiful role that I have had the honor to undertake these last two years. To see these talented, driven, enthusiastic men and women gather together for the first time was a remarkable experience – remarkable because, in many ways, saying “yes” to ACE requires immense faith and bravery. No matter how you spin it, a lot is going on in the heads of an ACEr on April Retreat: moving to a new city, entering into a challenging profession with little experience, living with strangers (who they meet for the first time on retreat), and all of this while tackling a full M.Ed. curriculum from Notre Dame!? I am deeply honored to be joining the pastoral team this upcoming year and have the privilege of supporting them through this journey.
As I hopped around to the different small groups, I heard the 28s discuss their thoughts, concerns, anxieties, and hopes with one another and their future school and archdiocesan leaders This experience transported me back two years ago to that same time of uncertainty and anticipation in my life. And yet, knowing now what lies before them, I am once again left with strong feelings of anticipation. Why? Because I am so eager to see the many gifts that each of these ACErs will pour out selflessly to their communities over the next two years. Even more than that, I am excited for them to experience the endless grace and love that will undoubtedly be poured back on them as soon as they step foot into their schools.
Learn more about ACE Teaching Fellows at ace.nd.edu/teach