When 90 first-year graduate students in the Alliance for Catholic Education (ACE) Teaching Fellows program came together for a group photo this summer, there were noticeable changes from the previous year. Physical distancing was in place, and everyone wore masks. Most importantly, the class of second-year graduate students from the year before was absent. ACE is yet another program affected by the coronavirus pandemic.
ACE is a two-year fellowship where participants teach in under-resourced Catholic schools across the country while also earning a cost-free Master of Education degree. If conditions were normal, the second-year cohort (ACE 26) and this year’s new cohort (ACE 27) would have been on campus at the same time for eight weeks. The new teachers would typically be teaching summer school at different local public and Catholic schools. This year, ACE 26 completed their work online and ACE 27 came on campus for two weeks, July 18–31, after completing six weeks of work online. All teachers stayed at the DoubleTree hotel in downtown South Bend. In the past, they would have stayed in residence halls on campus.
“Our teachers were very responsible and disciplined about staying in their carpool groups that would go from the hotel to their student teaching sites — this year at St. Adalbert Catholic School and Holy Cross School in South Bend, Saint Vincent de Paul Catholic School in Elkhart, as well as courses at St. Joseph High School in South Bend and Mishawaka High School in Mishawaka. Then they returned to campus for lunch,” explained Theo Helm, director of communications and advancement ACE and the Institute for Educational Initiatives.
“The teachers then would go to classes held in the DeBartolo Performing Arts Center and the Morris Inn, wearing masks and physically distancing. It was just a whole different way of doing things.”
In one class, as a tribute to the missing cohort, and to help with physical distancing in the auditorium at the DeBartolo, the ACE team placed photos of the teachers from the ACE 26 cohort on vacant seats.
ACE teachers come from all over the country and teach in 35 communities using varied instruction, including in-person, e-learning and hybrid teaching instruction, all of which may change as schools navigate their new year. The ACE curriculum anticipated this ever-changing landscape.
Sister Gail Mayotte, S.A.S.V., the academic senior director of ACE’s Master of Education Program, explained that the summer course work for teaching fellows gave the new teachers opportunities to discuss planning and teaching in various settings.
“As is typical in ACE summer course work, ACE faculty modeled technology programs, lesson activities, instructional approaches and assessments that ACE teachers might in turn use with their students,” she said. “In addition to virtual approaches, ideas for engaging students in classroom settings mindful of physical distancing were also introduced.”
Even with the current curriculum addressing different forms of instruction, teachers did not come without concerns about teaching during the pandemic.
“As you'd expect, the ACE teachers surfaced a number of questions about what the year ahead would look like — both with regards to their work with students as well as their lives in ACE communities,” said John Schoenig, senior director of teacher formation and education policy for ACE. “The reality, of course, is that it's extremely difficult to make firm predictions given the uncertainty surrounding the pandemic. We used the two weeks we had with the ACE teachers on campus as an opportunity to model some dispositions and routines that we believe will serve them well moving forward.”
While the summer session on campus was cut short, and the previous year’s cohorts were not on campus, ACE teachers still made the most of their time at Notre Dame and in the local classrooms.
“Just the ability to be able to come together and have this shared experience, as different as it may be from what it used to be in a typical summer, forged a sense of community that may be different, but is so important to them,” Helm said.