A Day in the Life of a Mercy Ships Academy Teacher
When Carey Anne Dooley wakes up in the morning, she never checks the traffic. She doesn’t worry about beating rush hour, or whether there’s construction on her route.
“I have the shortest commute ever,” she jokes.
Once she exits the crew cabin she calls home, she walks the short distance to her workplace: a floating classroom on board one of the world’s largest civilian hospital ships.
Carey Anne, who was born in South Africa and then emigrated to the UK, has worked in schools for years. But they were nothing like this.
She smiles as she says, “It’s certainly a very different experience…”
A Volunteer Teacher’s Typical Day
For the past year, Carey Anne has volunteered as the first grade and lead elementary teacher on board the Africa Mercy® hospital ship. Mercy Ships operates fully equipped hospital ships to deliver free surgeries and medical training to port cities in Africa, partnering with local leaders and medical professionals to strengthen surgical systems. Volunteer crewmembers from dozens of nations keep the ships — and the hospitals — running.
Carey Anne’s classroom is filled with the kids of some of these full-time volunteers, hailing from all over the world.
“We have an amazing curriculum that is pulled from a number of different countries,” she says. “We’ve done a lot of research into different curriculums and different types of materials.”
On a typical Friday, the fully accredited Africa Mercy Academy starts with an assembly where everyone gathers to reflect on the past week and look ahead to the next.
Then for Carey Anne’s students, it’s onto Bible class, math, spelling, and reading. There’s technology and choir. Then the kids head out for music and art.
But it’s not just the classroom where she interacts with her students. Living in a tight-knit ship community, where crewmembers share meals in the dining hall or grab a coffee together in the midships café, means there are plenty of opportunities for connection.
“I get to see them at lunchtime and at dinnertime and engage with them as a family and be part of activities that are happening on the weekends,” she says. “That gives you such a rich picture as a teacher, and such an opportunity to build holistically into your students.”
The Curriculum Comes to Life
For students in Carey Anne’s class, a lot of the learning happens far from a desk.
She regularly takes her kids out to Deck 7, where patients spend time each afternoon resting and rehabilitating in the fresh air. Her class prays together for the surgeries taking place below in the hospital wards. For her, each activity is an opportunity to put the Bible into practice.
“We have the stories, and we have the lessons,” she says. “But then we also get to see the practical outworking of that.”
When the kids learned about having compassion for people who are sick, it didn’t take long to put it into practice.
“During that week, we got to go down and drop off notes and candies for people who are in isolation, because of COVID,” she said. “That’s such an incredibly unique opportunity, and one that allows the students to grow in their knowledge of the Lord and also in their love for him.”
What it Takes
Sometimes Carey Anne feels like this job was made for her.
“I love teaching when we sail,” she says. “Having classes out on deck, spotting dolphins.”
There are fire drills. There are pirate drills. Sometimes, the classroom itself is literally “rocking.”
“As somebody who loves doing life in a different way, it really speaks to me and brings me a lot of joy,” Carey Anne says.
There’s one more important component to this job, Carey Anne says:
“To know your ‘why.’”
She knows that the parents of her students have a “why.” And the students have their own, even if they haven’t identified it yet. Of course, Carey Anne has one, too.
“I really feel like God called me to be here,” she says simply.
That’s what she falls back on during the hard times — like spending a year on board a highly restricted hospital ship during a global pandemic.
“Seeing the patients, and just knowing the hope and the healing that we get to bring to them, is a joy and a privilege that I can’t even put into words,” she says. “And I think as well, the opportunity to build into my students’ lives… If I ever have a day where I doubt why I’m here, I just have to come in here and see their faces.”
Does this sound like the type of classroom that would make you come alive? Learn more about how to Make Your Mark as a Mercy Ships Academy teacher.