by Erin and Vijay DaCosta
Earlier this fall, Erin had a seemingly simple exchange with a student. He lingered behind after class and was looking at the framed photos Erin keeps on her classroom bookshelf.
“Mrs. DaCosta, you and Mr. DaCosta look so happy together in this picture.”
“Liam, that’s because we are happy together!” Erin told him in response. It was a brief, seemingly meaningless exchange, and Liam left her room moments later. Yet this short conversation has stayed with us over the past few months.
This past fall, we began a unique journey together as we were simultaneously hired to teach religious studies at an all-boys Catholic high school in Connecticut. Previously, we had both worked in Catholic education, but never at the same institution, let alone the same department. Our decision-making process involved many factors, but a point we kept coming back to was the potential power of our witness to the Sacrament of Marriage to our new students.
How often do students in this day and age get to see a normal, healthy marriage in real-life? Sure, some of them have their parents’ marriage as a model, but even then, many of our students come from single-parent or turbulent home lives. Parents can be great role models, but what potential could we have, as a young-ish married couple, both devoted to our faith? We know our marriage is not perfect, but it is real, authentic, and rooted in the Catholic faith that has been and will continue to be a cornerstone of our relationship.
Our students get to see this day in and day out. Sometimes the boys aren’t sure how to handle this. They are, after all, goofy teenage boys. They can be awkward, silly, and unsure how to navigate the fact that two of their teachers are married. They joke about “who’s the better roommate” and speculate that all we do at home is talk about Church Doctrine and Morality (false). But there is also something deeper stirring in them, and in the course of the past few months, we’ve been able to see moments of this shine through.
In the middle of October, Vijay decided to talk about his own faith journey with his junior classes. As students have always seemed very curious to know who we are and sometimes ask questions about our lives and our relationship, he found this to be a golden moment in helping his students in their own faith formation. Moving from the usual setting of his classroom to the school chapel for a day, Vijay spent an hour talking about the highs, lows, ebbs, and flows to his discovering faith in his own life. From speaking about the influence of his lay and Jesuit teachers in high school, to his year with the Capuchin Franciscan Volunteer Corps, to the discerning a religious vocation, to our courtship and marriage — it was a chance for students to see their teacher in a fully human light not often expressed within the confines of a classroom. Several students had questions about dating, parental relationships, and even why both of us chose to work at the school together.
However, not all experiences of reaching students are as idyllic. In our first semester, Vijay was given a very challenging class of seniors made up mostly of athletes. Often very guarded when it comes to conversations about emotions and feelings, they usually tune him out by putting their heads down or chatting with someone near them. Feeling helpless and anemic in his teaching abilities when he has them, he often wonders if they actually listen to anything he says, much less care about anything that he tries to teach them.
However, teaching has its surprising positive moments that are unforeseen. One day, a student in that senior class sought him out immediately after school and told Vijay that his lessons on friendship changed his life and made him realize who truly cares about him and who doesn’t. He also said that it made him realize the kind of friend he wants and needs to be to others. The whole interaction was about 20 seconds, whereafter he scampered off to football practice. It was a small experience, but it has made an impactful and lasting memory for this first year.
As we continue on this journey together, we will continue to form new and enduring relationships with our students. We will have our ups and downs, and explore what it means to minister in a new community, both as a couple and as individuals.
Erin and Vijay DaCosta work together at an all-boys Catholic school in CT. They have been happily married for two and a half years. Previously, Vijay has worked in numerous all-boys Catholic schools. Erin has worked at co-educational and all-girls schools. They enjoy cooking, exploring new towns, and spending time with family.