According to my diploma, I became a Master of Education on Saturday, May 17, 2014. I hardly noticed. I spent May 17 as I have spent most Saturdays for the past two years: rising early for a run, grading papers, creating lesson plans, writing tests, responding to parent emails, and perhaps remembering to do household chores. In my life as a teacher, there was nothing particularly special about May 17.
At a beautiful ceremony on July 12, 2014, I actually received my diploma, and, once again, the experience was shockingly anticlimactic. Although it is nice to know that I have “so well merited as to be proclaimed publicly and solemnly a Master of Education,” this piece of parchment somehow does not quite capture the fullness of the ACE experience. But if the ACE Teaching Fellows program is not just about the advertised M.Ed., then what was all of that work for?
I found my answer not on the diploma, but in the people and events leading up to ACE’s commencement ceremony. On Friday, Joe Augustinsky spoke to our ACE 19 cohort and explained the ACE experience in terms of physics: just as the molecules in a mirror “shake up” the light they receive and reflect back new beams, ACE transforms its teachers such that they shed a new sort of light for the world. The life of an ACE teacher is truly “shaken up” in every possible way. ACErs live hundreds of miles from home, build a community out of strangers, embrace an unfamiliar culture, embark on a new profession, and learn to cope with the countless responsibilities of a Catholic schoolteacher.
Why would we sign up for such a crazy adventure? For me, this willingness to be “shaken” has to do with Jesus’ proclamation that “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:13). The distance and unfamiliarity, the hours spent writing lesson plans and grading papers, and the formidable challenges of first-year teaching are all ways that we lay down our lives and allow ourselves to be “shaken.” But why? We do this, Jesus says, for our friends – our students, communities, and the Catholic schools that we serve.
By offering my own life up to be “shaken,” I found love in countless ways: in the wonder of my students, the hugs of my colleagues, and the laughter of my community members. When ACE 19 gathered for our Commencement Retreat, we rejoiced in the friendships we had formed over the past two years of sharing in the “shakenness.” As I have witnessed the great love of my students, colleagues, community, and cohort, I hope that I, too, have learned how to love.
This is what we celebrated on July 12: giving up our lives to be “shaken” so that we can reflect a greater love in return. The M.Ed. is just a bonus.