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My Teaching Identity: Reflecting on NCTE 2013

What inspires me? -The opportunity to share my stories with others. My children-grown now, with their own children- are the people they are because of who they were allowed to be in those elementary years. Their stories were valued and their teachers respected their expertise as authors. We all have many stories to tell. I feel blessed that my work enables me to continue to be inspired every day by educators, authors, and children.

My Teaching Identity: Reflecting on NCTE:

Becoming a teacher seemed only natural. It was and is, to this day, who I am –it defines me. I am also a learner of learning-curious and passionate about how children and adults learn.

In 1989 when my oldest daughter of 4 was entering third grade I decided to become a teacher. As the elementary school in the town we still live in today became part of Donald Graves’ research into the teaching of reading and writing, I had no idea how ground breaking his work was, and how life altering my decision would be. All I knew was that my children went to school each day and spent a good part of each day writing, reading and sharing their stories with teachers who listened and cared. This, I thought to myself, is important work. And so I began my Masters in Education journey at the University of New Hampshire and learned to tell my stories.


After more than fifteen years in public education, and a journey that led me to administration, technology integration and higher education, I have arrived at Heinemann Publishing-where you could say, my teaching journey began.


You see my children’s teachers worked with Donald Graves and the UNH Writing Lab. My children’s teachers wrote chapters for Heinemann books written by Heinemann authors on reading, writing and portfolios. My own children were interviewed, participated in and led reading and writing conferences, and evaluated their own work-twenty five years ago.


It took me more than five years to get hired as a teacher. I thought everybody taught like this.


“You would do better in a more process oriented classroom-we are more traditional.”


As I listened to Penny Kittle and Tom Newkirk help tell Don Graves’ story at NCTE last month,  as I listened to Nancie Atwell, Mary Ellen Giacobbe and Lucy Calkins, reflect on their work as young teachers, I thought, so this is why I am here.  My connections ran far and deep: to Jean Robbins who was my brother’s first grade teacher, and who was principal at Atkinson Academy when my mom worked there while we were growing up; to my children’s elementary education at Stratham Memorial School where they wrote their stories-every day and taught other teachers how to confer and evaluate as they worked with Don Graves and Jane Hanson, to Nancie Atwell and Georgia Heard- who presented the only two Heinemann workshops I ever attended as a teacher, but whose work inspired the teacher I became; to Ralph Fletcher who wrote a book that inspires my thinking to this day; (Walking Trees, Heinemann, 1995.)


My oldest daughter who is now 32 years old-was a first grader the year after Stratham Memorial School teachers threw out their Basal readers and decided to follow Donald Graves advice to let children write and let them learn to read by reading their own stories. Children do want to write. It is why I became a teacher-to listen and learn from children so that I could help them learn to read and write about the things that mattered most to them.


As I listened to Penny and Tom reflect on the importance of Donald Graves’ work-as I listened to teachers share their stories about how his work has influenced them-as I sat at NCTE surrounded by young, new teachers eager to lean in, listen and learn from our authors, I remembered being that young, new teacher that wanted to make a difference in the lives of children and I thought,


“This is why I am here.”


We do have a legacy to uphold and important work to be done.


Cathy Brophy • December 12, 2013

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