“No. No. No. I don't want to teach middle school. I don't want to teach all boys,” said Terese Hagerty, remembering her first reaction to the idea of teaching at Chicago Jesuit Academy, a tuition-free school serving young men in grades 3-8. “And here we are 10 years later. I love it.”
And why does she stay?
“I stay because, if any parent asked if they should send their child to this school, I would say yes,” Terese said. “No holds barred, absolutely, because of the care and the respect that the children receive. We never stop working with the students.”
That abiding and uncompromising commitment sets Terese apart and earned her the 2021 Michael Pressley Award for Excellence in Catholic Education. Two awards are given annually to graduates of the ACE Teaching Fellows program who have distinguished themselves in making significant contributions to the ministry of Catholic education. Erin and Phong Vu are also winners of the award for 2021.
Terese taught science, math, and religion at St. Jude Educational Institute in Montgomery, Alabama, as a member of ACE 17. She continues to teach and also serves as dean of programs at Chicago Jesuit Academy, and she has returned to Notre Dame’s campus this summer as a coach to the Trustey Family STEM Teaching Fellows. As a leader in her school and community, she earned the Pressley Award for her instructional leadership and enthusiastic mentorship, combined with her steadfast dedication to curricular excellence.
“I knew I wanted to be a teacher since I was in high school,” Terese said. She believes teaching and service to others is the vocation she’s been called to.
“I think it just routes back to my family. I'm the oldest of six kids and my mom is one of ten and my dad is one of six, Terese said. “So, in my family the most important things you could do were things for others. Period. End of story. Each individual was, and is, valued and supported so you can help other people and make our world better.”
After graduating from Marquette University, Terese said “yes” to the call from ACE, packed her bags, and headed south to Alabama. ACE had a deep history there with over 16 years at Montgomery Catholic and Terese’s school, St. Jude Educational Institute. She leaned on the three pillars of ACE—teaching, spirituality, and community—and especially community.
“My students’ life experiences and my colleagues’ life experiences were quite different from mine, so I was constantly becoming more culturally aware,” she said. She remembers a kind community, including the Hills, her adoptive “ACE parents” who took the ACErs under their wings and introduced them to the wider Montgomery school and church community.
Terese also made lifelong friends in her roommates and throughout ACE. After graduation, it was through the wider ACE network that she was asked to join the faculty at Chicago Jesuit Academy. The school’s mission as a “loving and academically rigorous tuition-free Catholic elementary school for students and families from resilient communities impacted by historical disinvestment” resonated with Terese. Now in her tenth year there, she continues to teach science, and as the dean of programs, she supports students’ interests outside the classroom.
“We call them co-curricular programs, not extracurricular, because we hold their importance alongside the importance of math and science and language arts,” Terese said. “I help connect students with what they love or want to explore. It's fun that the guys have the ability to really flex that part of their identity—another part of themselves that makes them proud.”
Terese doesn’t stop there. “We have a college persistence office which helps students through high school, through college, through careers or whatever twists and turns life takes,” she said.
As a science teacher and a former STEM Trustey Fellow herself, Terese was recruited to support the current cohort of Trustey Fellows as a coach. “What a great, new professional experience, both to help me be a better practitioner for the students but also to help me support our science department better going forward,” she said.
As a leader in her school and community, Terese is a powerful witness to other advocates of Catholic education, and she shows no signs of slowing down.
“Service is fulfilling. My family taught its significance, but I internalized that the most important thing is building community,” she said. “Whether that is a classroom, colleague, or whole school community. I get fueled and energized by my connection with other people.”
“I am so appreciative of this honor,” Terese said. “As teachers, we don't do what we do for a pat on the back. And then there are times when we do get them. A kid will say, ‘Hey I remember when you taught me this thing.’ I hope every teacher out there is open to feeling those moments when they happen, and open to tucking them inside their hearts.”
Learn more about the STEM Trustey Family Teaching Fellows at stemeducation.nd.edu/trustey.
Learn more about ACE Teaching Fellows at ace.nd.edu/teach.