Mentorship, Radical Accountability Propels First-Year ACEr to Teacher of the Year Award
“English class is an opportunity for students’ voices to be heard,” stated Joe Crowley, an ACE 26 teacher at Archbishop Shaw High School in New Orleans, Louisiana.
“That is really important, and I think the only way students experience that is to have a teacher who is willing to journey with them.”
It would appear that Joe’s students and fellow educators agree that he is one such teacher, as they honored him as their Teacher of the Year for the 2019-20 school year.
To his knowledge, Joe is the first first-year teacher to receive the Teacher of the Year honor at Shaw, an award that is determined by a vote of both the faculty and student body.
"Joe is innovative, energetic, and a leader,” said Mark Williams, the principal at Shaw. “The kids know he is tough, but they know it is for their own good."
If you were to ask him the aspect of his teaching approach that led to his nomination and ultimate selection for the award, Joe’s reply would be two words: “radical accountability.”
“Our students are capable of so much, as long as we journey with them and hold them accountable to what it is we know they can achieve,” Joe said.
“One of our classroom rules is ‘We work, learn, and act with a fervent sense of urgency,’” he continued. “We don’t have a minute to waste. I only have these students in class for seven-and-a-half months. That’s not a lot of time when you really think about it.”
Joe attributes this sense of urgency and accountability to his own academic journey, dating back to his senior year of high school when he took an AP Literature class with Ms. Kathy Ryan—whom he still meets for coffee and book discussions when he’s back home in Lansing, Michigan.
“Ms. Ryan was the first teacher who really challenged me on my ideas,” Joe said. “She would say, ‘Ok, that’s one way to interpret this text, but maybe not the only way...or the best way.’ She helped me see the big picture, and that’s so important for high school students because then they can work across a number of different texts.”
In addition to his high school experiences with Ms. Ryan, Joe also gives credit to his college professors and mentors at Notre Dame for guiding him toward teaching and forming him into a better educator. As a political science major with a minor in education, schooling, and society (ESS), Joe uncovered his passion for education during John Schoenig’s Education Law and Policy class through ESS.
“I saw how policy decisions have major consequences for kids in the classroom,” Joe said. “I also realized how individual teachers can vastly impact the quality of a student’s education—and that really renewed my fire for education.
“Professor Andrea Christensen’s ESS classes were phenomenal as well,” Joe said. “We looked at education in so many different ways, from the beginnings of the American education system to looking at how brain development happens and then switching to a capstone project that focused on how we can get students to read—something which has really helped during my time in the classroom.”
“Joe was a dedicated, thoughtful, and creative student who cared about his fellow students and his community,” noted Dr. Christensen. “In short, he had all the makings of a great teacher, so I am not at all surprised that he has been honored as Teacher of the Year.”
It was not only Joe’s ESS courses that left an indelible impression from his time at Notre Dame. His other coursework and experiences—such as a Liturgical Internship with Campus Ministry that put him in contact with ACE grad Allie Greene—also played a role in discerning his path to ACE and Archbishop Shaw.
“I took three classes and conducted my thesis with Professor Margaret Doody in the English Department,” said Joe. “She taught me never to be satisfied with just working with a text one time because there is always something new to discover. One of the joys of teaching English is this wonderful element that you don’t know exactly what the students are going to take away from a text.”
In addition to his English classes, Joe also teaches AP English Language and Composition and AP US Government, and he has emulated the many mentors from his own journey by immersing himself in other aspects of his students’ lives, such as coaching cross country and directing the music ministry program.
“The community here at Shaw truly believes in the mission and charism of teaching, and the idea of walking with the students,” Joe said. “The students love it when you love what they love, and it’s just a wonderful place to be.”
Joe has enjoyed his time at Shaw so much that he has even entertained the thought of staying at the school after his two-year commitment with ACE, in addition to the prospect of further graduate studies.
“I’m open to a lot of different opportunities in the future, but for now I’m glad to know that I’m right where I need to be.”
Learn more about ACE Teaching Fellows at ace.nd.edu/teach. Applications are open for our next cohort!