If you had told me after my first year of ACE that I would return to my ACE placement city of Corpus Christi after I had completed my teaching, I wouldn't have believed you.
My two years at St. Anthony School in Robstown, Texas, (near Corpus Christi) started off with spitballs and continued with raps about plant and animal cells, dances to the Water Cycle song, and a couple of instances in Dominican habits. I struggled at times, just as many beginning teachers do, but I saw students progress with their skills and level of knowledge. In reality though, it was my students and community who taught me during this time. In my two years, I came to one truth: If you give love, you will get love in return.
A whole lot of love.
When I returned to Robstown the fall after ACE graduation, I attended the wedding of the mother of two of my former students. A great, selfless wonder woman, she raised five children on her own after their father passed away. She had recently reconnected with her fiancé, a high school friend who helped to bring even more love into their family. As I left the wedding, the newly minted husband thanked me for being influential in his stepchildren's lives. I was amazed that on the day of his wedding, he made the time to share his love, in the form of a thanks and a hug, with me.
I received love from one of my former students, whose dagger-like stares and sassy comments during class made me think she didn't particularly enjoy our time together, but who gave me one of the biggest and best hugs I ever experienced when I surprised her at school during my return. The hug might have been precipitated by her relief at finding out that I was the reason for her summons to the principal's office (as a teacher, you still have to find ways to scare former students), but as she told me how she still uses her old notes from our class and how those skills have helped propel her to the top of her class, I couldn't help but feel that love again (I am definitely going to fact check the claim about our old class notes).
As I look back on my ACE experience, I realize how much love I received on a daily basis. I was loved by secretaries, my students, younger students I saw in the hallway but never actually taught, parents, coworkers, priests, nuns, and friends. To simplify: I was loved, each and every day, by the people who became my family.
That shared love is exactly what Christ calls from us. We are called to give our gifts and talents, to give of our best selves, and to make a family of love all around us.
I know the amount I have learned from the daily lives of these incredible individuals is more valuable than anything I have gained from a textbook, the newspaper, my Notre Dame education, or the Internet. My Robstown family gave me knowledge on how to treat people; how to make your faith the core of your being; how to cherish one another; how to love freely; how to care about what truly matters; how home is formed in the connections between human beings, not the place or location you inhabit. And, most importantly, as a science teacher in Robstown, Texas, I came to see how family does not always have to entail shared DNA, but can come in the form of shared hearts.