Learning to Think on My Feet

​By Danielle Brown

Working at St. James School has been tough, hectic and time consuming. On paper, the job description blatantly outlines the mandatory 12-hours days, but considering lesson planning, material checking, and Xeroxing, 12-hours days easily turn into 14-hours days with work on the weekends, too. The learning curb is incredibly steep; I must make three large mistakes daily. I am constantly asking my co-workers for advice or for quick grading, attendance checking, and other miscellaneous tutorials. There are days I am mentally exhausted, physically sick, and spiritually stretched to my limits. I am constantly treading water and sometimes I can only do enough to come up for air only every few minutes.
But I would not trade my placement for the world, and here are five reasons why.
One: I joined the Episcopal Service Corps to become closer to my faith, and to place Christianity at the forefront of my life. Although all Episcopal Service Corps programs incorporate high levels of faith formation and intentional community, the job placements do not always fall in line. However, St. James School begins each day with a prayer, each class with a prayer, every Thursday with a Mass, and hosts fieldtrips to weekly mass services at St. Marks. Furthermore, the school has an ordained priest who spiritually guides me, and a chaplain who helps me deeply understand different Christian rituals.
Two: In most Episcopal Service Corps programs, each member has different placements, but at the St. James School there are two volunteer Co-teachers from Servant Year, and this year it is Cory and me. Because of the job description, I do not always get to check with Cory daily, but as the other person in Servant Year who understands and is also coping with the demands of St. James School, he is an incredible support system. I without a doubt am lucky to have a placement with a guaranteed support system.
Three: I purposefully applied and chose to accept the Co-teaching placement at St. James School with the intention of discovering if teaching middle school students is truly my passion. Based on the time that I have spent as a teacher, I now know that I cannot get enough of teaching! The rush of leading students and watching them understand new and complicated material is thrilling and the actual instruction is the best part of my day. Additionally, I now have an understanding of all the nitty-gritty skills I need to have to effectively have my students focused, interested in class, and prepared for transitions, and moreover I have all year to perfect and add to those nitty-gritty skills. As an immeasurable bonus I am learning to think on my feet and am beginning to archive lessons and activities for my future students.
Four: No matter how difficult the job is, or how badly I mess up, being a positive, supportive and consistent role model for the students at St. James School is changing students’ lives. St. James School is purposefully placed and services students in one of the poorest neighborhoods in Philadelphia, by simply being present for these students and challenging them into academic rigor the students are stepping up and opening doors to competitive high schools, which in turn alters their long term success. At the end of the day my students are what matters most.

Five: No matter how difficult the students are each day, they are changing my life in unexpected and positive ways. Simply knowing the students at St. James School and their stories is incredibly humbling. The problems they face at such a young age are real, and recognizing how they cope and survive is mind blowing.

​Danielle serves as a co-teacher at the St. James School.