From Fellow to Teacher

Two years ago, I would have never thought that I would be a teacher. At the time, I was studying psychology at the University of Dallas and had plans to take a gap year before applying to medical school. That all changed when I met Tess Lane, Director of Talent and Recruitment for the Brilla Schools Network and Seton Teaching Fellows Program. After hearing Mrs. Lane speak about the program, I was intrigued and wanted to apply. Shortly thereafter, I interviewed, visited, and was given an offer. I didn’t know it then, but saying yes to the Seton Teaching Fellows Program would radically change my life for the better. The program brought me to the South Bronx, brought me dear friends and, most importantly, it brought me to Brilla.

Ms. Webster at the 2018-2019 Shine Awards.

Though the primary responsibility of a Seton Teaching Fellow is to teach catechism at El Camino Extended Day Faith Formation Program, Fellows spend the majority of their day serving at Brilla. At Brilla, they assist with a wide range of tasks including supporting classroom teachers, leading their own lessons, and helping out in the main office. Brilla and El Camino work together in order to accomplish the shared mission of encouraging our students to be the best that they can be in all areas of their life. In my Seton Teaching Fellows cohort, ten of us stayed on this year to work for Brilla in varying roles. I think I can speak on behalf of all ten of us by saying that Brilla and El Camino’s shared emphasis on whole child development was one of the major reasons that we chose to stay in Mott Haven after we completed our year as Fellows.

For the majority of us Fellows, the Seton Teaching Fellows Program is our first exposure to working in a school. During the Brilla day, I worked with third graders at Brilla College Prep Elementary School (BCPE). During El Camino, I also worked with third graders where I taught them catechism. My two classrooms—NYU (during the Brilla school day) and St. Martin de Porres (during El Camino)—are where I began to learn what it means to be an educator. One important trait of a good educator is flexibility, and we Fellows learn that quickly. Any previous (or current) Seton Teaching Fellow will tell you that being a Fellow is synonymous with being flexible! The kind of flexibility the job demands can be challenging but it brings with it immense joy. My year as a Fellow is when I experienced for the first time the pride of a student “getting it!” It was also during this time that I learned the importance of leaning on others for guidance and support. Seton Teaching Fellows are fortunate to have two supportive communities: the Seton Teaching Fellows shared housing community where we live for the year and the Brilla community which helps us to grow both personally and professionally. Thanks to the help I received from Brilla staff and the Fellows with whom I lived, I felt prepared to assume the role as a second grade teacher at BCPE this year.  

Ms. Webster helping out at this year’s Thanksgiving Food Drive.

I am grateful to Brilla for teaching me what it means to be a good educator. Both as a Fellow and now as a teacher, Brilla taught me that good educators are mission-driven. They strive for a common goal that is outside of themselves. This goal can perhaps best be summarized in the closing words of Brilla’s mission statement: leading scholars “to be prepared for excellence in high school, college, and beyond.” Not only can everyone who works at Brilla recite the mission statement by heart (which by itself is an impressive feat), they are serious about living it out. As a Fellow, I was inspired by Brilla teachers’ talent, dedication, and love. They showed me what it looks like to be a good educator and made me want to be one. The Seton Teaching Fellows Program gave me the help I needed to begin this journey of becoming an educator, and, for that, I am extremely grateful.

About the author: Ms. Sarah Webster is originally from Birmingham, Alabama. She graduated from the University of Dallas with a degree in psychology and a minor in French. She teaches second grade at Brilla College Prep Elementary School. In her free time, she enjoys hiking, fishing, and spending time with family and friends.  

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