Showing up for these Kids: Interview with Ms. Taylor

brilla_after_school_10.03.18-6

Courtney Taylor is a current Seton Teaching Fellow. She serves as a Learning Specialist at Brilla College Prep Elementary School in the South Bronx. Prior to becoming a fellow she served 3 years as a FOCUS Missionary, two at Boston University, one at University of Maine. She grew up on Long Island, NY and studied Physical Education & Special Education at the University of Vermont. She loves the NY Giants, skiing and Ben and Jerry’s ice cream.

 

I’ve had the pleasure of seeing you in action Ms. Taylor, but I’ve never actually heard you talk about what you do. How would you describe what you do here?

Right now or next week, because things are going to look a little different.

That’s right you just got a heck of a promotion! How about we focus on what you’ve been doing at Brilla up to this point.

Great! I am part of a Department in Brilla called Student Services. I’m a Learning Specialist for 1st and 2nd Grade. I’ll usually start in 1st Grade teaching a Skills Class with [Seton Teaching Fellow] Miss Vo, and [Brilla Teacher] Miss Sheridan. After skills, we move to reading. We’ll either read something together or go over comprehension questions, like ‘Why did this character do this?’ or ‘How did that character show that?’.

Later in the day I’ll do what’s called Pull Out Groups, and that’s really the main part of my job as a learning specialist. We take kids who have IEP’s [1]  and give them help in their ELA, (English Language Arts), their math or their writing. These are scholars that have been evaluated with some kind of learning disability and have it in their IEP that they need a certain amount of time and help learning particular subjects or content.

I tell them all the time. These are lessons that are going to touch your heart in a different way.

What would you say is the biggest difference between your Brilla day and your Seton, El Camino Day?

A big difference is that during the Brilla day the lessons aren’t really my own. I mean I’m teaching them but…I didn’t write those lessons, they aren’t really my own. With ‘El Camino’ those lessons are totally my own, I get to decide what happens and what goes on, ya know?

I’m also with 22 kids for El Camino rather than 3 kids which is a pretty small group.

And then obviously the content.

I’m way more passionate when I’m teaching my El Camino classroom because I love teaching the Catholic Faith. This is content that means a lot to me, and I know means a lot to these kids once they really understand it. I say it to them all the time, “These are lessons that go beyond what you learn during your Brilla day. These are lessons that are going to touch your heart in a different way. This is all about God, and about God loving you, and your relationship with Him.” Which is really easy for me to be passionate about.

Are there ways that your time as a FOCUS Missionary has impacted your work as a Seton Teaching Fellow?

Absolutely. Many, many ways.

The first thing I think of is Community. I mean we learn so much about community while we’re in FOCUS. The ways to be really good in community and build one another up in team life, which ties in to me interacting with my current community, and really loving them. I feel like I am so much better at that because of FOCUS.

Formation as well. I’m more comfortable teaching scholars our faith because of the formation that I received at FOCUS. I’m not an expert but I think I have a deep understanding of what I’m talking about in class because I’ve received so much formation from FOCUS.

This school really emphasizes relationship. I think that’s what’s so beautiful about it. It has impacted me so much in my teaching to emphasize relationships.

Teaching is different though. I feel like I was doing one on one ministry a lot with FOCUS. I’m really good working one on one with our kids as well. Whole group… not so much! It takes some getting used to. BUT I really feel like I know how to build relationships with these kids. I get that it’s college students as opposed to a 2nd grader…

I don’t know, I was on campus as well and I don’t think they’re all that different sometimes…

[Laughs] Well you certainly don’t have to win the kids over as much, they kind of love you already…sometimes. [Laughs again]

I think with FOCUS the biggest thing is relationship, and this school really emphasizes relationship. I think that’s what’s so beautiful about it. It has impacted me so much in my teaching to emphasize relationships, similarly to how I would with FOCUS.

Wow! I remember you were always die hard New York in our FOCUS days. What’s it like for you to be back in the city?

I love being back in New York. Though it’s very different than where I grew up because I’m in the Bronx now…[laughs] It’s actually very different.

While I do miss the openness of the country and the leaves, I have such a peace about being here. It can be hard sometimes, and I don’t know if I’ve said this before but it feels like I’m on mission everyday. You know what I mean? It’s like I’m in the atmosphere of mission.

That’s so interesting, in what way would you say this has been a mission for you?

I’d say there’s three big different aspects.

First off is obviously the kids. At El Camino we’re intentional about calling them all disciples instead of students or scholars. I love that because they are all disciples of Christ, and it’s important for them to know that. We are missionary disciples here literally in that we’re preaching the Gospel to them, by the way that we love them, by our lessons obviously, but also the way that we present ourselves to them. All the different things that fellows do in their lives we bring to them, our daily prayer, our visits to the sacraments, we try to give them everything we do to grow our own faith.

I think of the same verse FOCUS used to use, “Not only sharing the Gospel but also our very selves.” and I think that’s one of the biggest ways we can share Christ with these kids. Literally giving our very selves to them, our complete selves. I’ve noticed the kids that I have done that to, there’s such a difference in them, you can just see it come out.

A second aspect is the teachers that we work with. I used to have a co-teacher who was here two days a week, and that was really cool because she wasn’t Catholic, but she learned a lot from our lessons. She would ask me questions about them that I got the chance to tell her about. I’ve had other Brilla teachers during the day ask me about my cross [picks up the crucifix dangling from her necklace]. Or when Cardinal Dolan was visiting I had bunch of people ask me, “What’s a Cardinal?”, so I had the chance to tell them. I think most importantly though is loving them intentionally. I’m spending more time with the Brilla teachers that I’m close with, building relationships with them, and inviting them to things like the Young Adult Mass in the City.

The last way we live mission is in our own community. Sharing life with the fellows is awesome, and building them up as disciples is important, too! Even though they’re teaching as well, they need to be built up, too! I think they’re is such a special bond there…of suffering [laughs] that it really opens up a field of being able to be honest and build each other up.

Amazing. How has your prayer life developed since joining Seton Teaching Fellows?

Hmmm, yeah…that one’s hard [laughs].

I’ve really had to rework my schedule around to put prayer into different times of my day. Which was a challenge but rewarding in that it’s more similar to a routine work day. I’ve had to be really intentional with it in saying ‘I’m going to pray at this time” and do it!

I’ve had certain prayers while I was at school before…in moments of chaos or crisis [laughs] where I am very, very real with the Lord. I think that’s been really interesting for me. As a missionary I was too, but there’s days I get so many challenges that I just have to say “Jesus, what the heck is going on?” [laughs]

What’re some of the challenges you’ve had to face as a fellow this year?

When disciples have a hard time following directions, or acting out or misbehaving and me not knowing what they might do. I think that’s been really challenging because it’s hard to know what to say to them. You know what you’re doing and you can control what you’re going to do but they don’t know what they’re doing sometimes. If they’re ever out of control, you have to de-escalate them.

It’s moments like those you really grow in patience and love and mercy to bring the child back to focus and that’s really challenging because you just want be like “Nooo!” [shakes imaginary child]

I see. How’ve you been able to deal with some of the hurdles thrown your way?

One of the best ways is having the other fellows. I think that really helps with stress because they get it. They know what you’re going through, they listen to you. A lot of times when we get home, we’re talking about our days, and what happened. You get to just let it out, and there’s no judgement there. There’s no “Oh you should’ve done this, you should’ve said that.” It’s really helpful just to talk with them and well…commiserate [laughs].

It helps to do other things outside this job as well like we’ll go into the city and do things. I’ve been going through this new schedule actually that’s really been helping me with stress. In the mornings before work on Mondays and Wednesdays, I go to Mass at the Missionaries of Charity’s house before I go to the school. It is SO nice to start the day. I have been a lot more stress-free since starting that it’s just so nice. Tuesdays and Thursdays I go workout before school and that’s been great too. My new schedule I think has been great for me just to do something for myself.

Also when Cardinal Dolan came, it totally revitalized why I’m doing this and really lifted my spirits up so much.

brilla_cardinal_dolan_visit_1_by_jose_miranda-58

Wow, what was it about his visit? Was it something he said?

He just talked about why we’re doing this. Gosh, I wish I remembered every word he said because he was amazing! He talked about the kids with such deep care and was so grateful for what we were doing and reminded us that this is all about Christ in the end.

He told the fellows we might not know what becomes of these kids, but that for us to be here was a gift. It really helped in my heart for me to know that he appreciates what we do here, and that he supports us.

People give up on these kids and because people give up on these kids, the kids start to think that they’re not loved, or think that they’re not good enough.

It meant a lot to us that he came. His decision to spend time here and talk to our kids and ask them really great questions, you could tell that he was being really intentional and that He loves Christ, and that Christ was the reason he was here, and that Christ was the reason he’s the Cardinal. He was such a Christ centered man.

What would you say is the most important thing about being a Seton Teaching Fellow?

I would say it’s to show up everyday, hopeful for these kids.

People give up on these kids and because people give up on these kids, the kids start to think that they’re not loved, or think that they’re not good enough.

I think it’s so important for me, for all of our Fellows to show up everyday ready to love them, no matter what they do and to tell them that that’s Christ loving them. That Christ will never give up on them, that He will never leave them.That He has mercy, and even if you know you have a bad day, even if you’ve done the worst thing in the world, there are consequences, BUT that doesn’t mean that’s it, you can try again. I think that’s the most important thing for us that we always come back, every time, ready to love them, ready to forgive them, basically with open arms. I think The Prodigal Son is probably the most important lesson for our students in that they grow up knowing that they always have someone they can rely on, and that’s Jesus Christ.

Footnotes:

IEP (Individualized Education Program): is a written document that’s developed for each public school child who is eligible for special education. The IEP is created through a team effort and reviewed at least once a year. Before an IEP can be written, your child must be eligible for special education.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s