Casey Flynn: Seeing the Grace of God in All Sorts of Spaces
By: Lauren Kloser
Casey Flynn thought that maybe the classroom wasn’t for her. A member of the 17th cohort of ACE Teaching Fellows, Casey had moved from her ACE city of Savannah to Chicago and felt a bit lackluster after her third year of teaching. She considered getting involved with educational policy since she still wanted to stay in the education field, so she enrolled in Georgetown University’s public policy program. To clarify and solidify her decision, Casey decided to teach during the day and go to Georgetown at night, ensuring that she could see both the classroom and the academic world more clearly.
In D.C., Casey was intrigued by Gonzaga College High School, an all-boys school. There weren’t a lot of female staff members at the school, especially in the math department, so Casey thought she might be able to have an impact on the boys. With a full load of seniors at every level from pre-calculus to linear algebra, Casey found herself uplifted by the energy of the boys in the school. Perhaps because they had no girls to impress, the boys seemed more able to be themselves at this important point in their lives. They were goofy, with the hallways flooded with hugs, friendly wrestling matches, and an abundance of jokes. Casey saw the boys sharing and getting serious about their passions, and she found that being in the classroom for those small, everyday moments energized her as well. She became very involved in the retreat program, especially in the four-day junior Kairos retreat, and she led a number of community service opportunities, like a trip to a Native American reservation in South Dakota. As she continued to teach at Gonzaga, she realized how much she enjoyed being in constant contact with the students and decided to put her studies at Georgetown on pause.
Then, during her second year at Gonzaga, a senior student passed away in a car crash. The faculty, the students, and the parent community worked to rally around the family. The day after the student’s death was a Sunday, and the faculty arrived on campus to open their church. Families and students came to talk, cry, and share their stories in a holy and reverent place. Together, as a community, they mourned the loss of one of their beloved students.
On Monday, Casey thought to herself, “I am not prepared for this.” She taught classes that had students from sophomore year to senior year, so while some students were reeling from the loss of a friend, some students didn’t even really know him. She didn’t know how to address this death in a way that would help the boys, but she thought that perhaps they might need a break to talk and share time together. She put her students into small groups, gave them some review sheets, took requests for music, and gave the boys time together. They talked, laughed about good memories, did a little math, and listened to music that spoke to their feelings. As she left that day, she thought that maybe she should have done something more structured, something that provided the students with a guided path for the emotions that were sure to be swirling.
But the next day, the religion teacher came to talk to Casey. The religion teacher had asked the boys in her class, “Where did you find the grace of God yesterday?” Several students had cited Casey’s class, telling their religion teacher that Casey’s class had allowed them to think about the events of the past few days without pushing too hard, that they had needed to do a little bit of school, but also couldn’t quite stop their thoughts about their fellow classmate. Casey had offered them space–space to remember their friend, to think of good stories, to mourn, and yet to keep sight of the school work and intellectual challenges that they were still immersed in. In that space, they had seen the grace of God.
In her own life, Casey too has seen the grace of God work in all sorts of spaces. The Holy Spirit moved Casey to stay in the classroom and to become more involved with her students, and Casey realized that while she did indeed want to stay in teaching, she also wanted to learn more. She is looking again at Ph.D. programs, this time at the University of Maryland, where she is interested in becoming a K-12 math specialist. She will study how to teach learning with a specialty in the STEM fields, as well as focus on data instruction and professional development. She will pursue this program while still teaching at Gonzaga and use her knowledge to help herself and fellow teachers become better in their classrooms. With space to pursue her own education and still help her students with their own learning, she will be finding new ways to recognize the grace of God every day.