By Rachel Hamilton ’12
For ND Today
The best way to learn a new language is by immersing yourself in a place where that language is spoken.
The best way to learn a new skill is to practice without fear of error. The best way to understand a new friend is to spend large amounts of time, planned and unplanned, with that person. The best way to learn is to dive in. That immersion, to me, is what my first summer with the Alliance for Catholic Education’s Service through Teaching program has been all about.
To be honest, I did not know what to expect when I returned to Notre Dame after a brief, ten-day absence following graduation. I felt like, on some level, I might pick up right where I left off at the end of my undergraduate career. Yet as I moved into my five-woman room in Zahm Hall, surrounded by new faces, I knew that expectation was incorrect.
After an opening retreat focused on faith and community, we dove right into our academic experience, attending classes from 8:30 a.m. until 9:55 p.m., with a couple of very crucial breaks interspersed throughout the day. While the first two weeks of classes were intense, packed with academic hours and homework, they were still somewhat familiar. I have spent 17 years of my life attending classes. I know how to attend classes. It might be one of the things I do best.
Week three of ACE introduced an entirely new element: practicum. Practicum is ACE-lingo for a sort of student teaching. Each morning, we go into schools in the area (I am at Our Lady of Hungary in South Bend) and help out. In some classrooms this means teaching all day every day, while in others this means teaching certain elements from a given lesson. Regardless of the particulars, it means real experience writing real lesson plans for real students in real classrooms. Since the first day, ACE has been an enriching experience, but it was once practicum began that the spirit of the program really shone for me.
When I was about 17 years old, I read the book Everything Is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer. While it is not necessarily the best book I have ever read, it does contain the line that has perhaps stuck with me most. In a scene where a woman is describing her writer husband, she says:
“He was always in his room writing those things, and never with people. I used to tell him, what good is all that love doing on paper? I said, Let love write on you for a little.”
I have always thought that this is a wonderful articulation of what serving should be: an expression of love not restricted to words or paper. This is what I have found in ACE.
Besides being overwhelmed by the total immersion in new knowledge and new experiences, I have been overwhelmed by the amount of love demonstrated by everyone involved in the program, and the commitment to making that love, of God, of each other, and of our students, known. The pastoral staff and the leaders of ACE make themselves available to the ACE teachers at all hours of the day. The professors work tirelessly to ensure that the information we are learning, skills and methods which will be directly applicable in the classroom, are communicated as clearly and simply as possible. My fellow ACE teachers consistently show their love not only for each other (through spending time in community, doing favors for friends, and lending open ears when the days get stressful) but also for their students in the hours of work they put in daily to provide the best possible education they can.
I am currently about halfway through my summer of ACE. In the past four weeks I have learned more about serving and teaching than I thought would be possible. I could not be more grateful to be immersed in a program so committed to giving, loving, and serving, or more excited to see what growth the next two years will bring.