The NBA season is well underway, and as a native Philadelphian now teaching in Sacramento, I do my best to keep up with both the Kings and the Sixers. While watching the Sixers string together a couple wins recently, I started to think about how the team’s development over the past few seasons highlights some of the best lessons I learned about myself during my two years in ACE. As the Sixers closed out a win over the Miami Heat, it made me think, “Record aside, there are actually a lot of similarities between my ACE experience and the Sixers’ development over the past few seasons.” The motto in Philadelphia is “Trust the Process,” and I have found much about this theme that overlaps with my own ACE experience.
Embrace and celebrate the small gains
Sure, they are not the Cavaliers or the super-villain Warriors, but after following the Sixers through the most difficult of times, I have found much more appreciation for the beauty of the game of basketball and the small victories. Has a player developed a mid-range jump-shot? Are rookies gaining confidence? These are exciting moments when you follow a team night to night.
Similarly, ACE had reminded me to have fun and celebrate the joys of the day to day even when I might not fully see the totality of the work that we are doing at Cristo Rey Sacramento. I often think about those moments during my own ACE experience when I feel most alive and joy-filled—it exists in those moments that do not come up on the “stat-sheet.”
For instance, working with a student on using both commentary and evidence in a paragraph is a joy. I think about a student who writes to me about “not being good” at history, and by the end of March having a conversation where she shares that she can think like a historian. That might not show up in the data or an immediately measurable test score, but it has become the core of my ACE experience.
Be patient–especially with yourself.
Sixers fans everywhere are waiting for a fully healthy Joel Embiid, but if his first half season after two years of injuries is any indication, the future is bright. First overall draft pick Ben Simmons? Also injured for the season. Alas, the change and the results that you might expect will come, but they will take time. Trusting the process is key.
It is easy as a first-year teacher to get frustrated in your own efforts, especially if you do not see the type of immediate results that you would like. When I first came to Sacramento, I naively thought I would be able to accomplish a laundry list of content and skill-based gains in student outcomes. In reality, many days and experiences have humbled me. Every class, day, and week reminds me that I have so much room to grow as an educator.
In my first days, the energy and passion was there, but the experience was not. I did not yet know how to “see the court” and have a vision for the classroom; how to respond to particular student behaviors, how to ask the right follow-up questions in a socratic seminar, or simply how to admit that I did not have all the answers to difficult student questions. Over those first few months in particular, but more still during this second year, I am constantly reminded about how much more I need to grow as an educator. I had to become comfortable with being uncomfortable and patient with myself. When I found myself behind on content, or still needing to address certain writing or reading skills that I could not anticipate before starting teaching, I had to simply take a step back and realize that I needed to be patient and focus on one task at a time. Over the course of a year, or now in the second year, certain practices come easier, certain skills are developed, and there is still so much room for growth. I am now comfortable being in a growth process.
Surround yourself with the best people possible.
ACE surrounded me with intellectually and spiritually inspiring individuals from across the country, and it has been the best possible way to spend two years. I consider my housemates, who remind me every day of the dedication and flexibility of teaching elementary school, and my fellow Cristo Rey teachers, who are incredible witnesses in serving our students. I think about my summer roommate and other ACE teachers that pushed me over the last two summers to constantly celebrate and also reflect on my faith, and will never forget feeling the palpable energy in the Dillon Hall Chapel mass at 9 o’clock each summer night. And I think about the faculty and staff of ACE, who are some of the most selfless people one can find anywhere, modeling what it means to be a great educator and facilitating opportunities for their ACE students to succeed by making themselves available to read over a lesson plan or provide a piece of advice by phone or e-mail at practically any time of day. So did I think I wanted to be in education? Yes, but that is only the start of what makes ACE special. The relationships fostered and the lessons about how to be a member of a community and family are what transcend just being an educator.
Ok, so I exhausted the NBA analogy. ACE has so much more to offer, but if there is a story about ACE that the Sixers helped illuminate, it is to trust the process even when the day-to-day challenges might seem overwhelming. Find joy in the small moments. Be patient. Surround yourself with the best people possible. Teaching might never win anyone a big trophy, but growth of our students makes every day of the challenge worth it.
A large part of Sixers’ plan was to acquire as much talent as possible, regardless of the exact position the players played. In a similar fashion, when I was thinking about what I wanted to pursue after college, I was not quite certain about the career as much as I knew that I wanted to surround myself with the best people possible. And as Iona Hughan more eloquently spoke to (https://ace.nd.edu/blog/the-decision-more-important-than-your-career), you become an amalgam of the five people you spend the most time with day to day. In a similar fashion, I knew that I wanted to surround myself with the best people possible.