Introduction: Anna Gratz Cockerille
As I write, I am surrounded by teeny, tiny clothes in yellow, grey, white, and green, books meant to be chewed on and read over and over, stuffed animals, soft blankets, and wooden toys. My husband jokes that it feels as if we have a third roommate moving in. In a sense, we do. Our first child is due to be born in about four weeks. A newborn baby is the epitome of new beginnings, in the most literal and grandest sense for the child, but of course also for the parents.
I am someone who gravitates toward beginnings, who invites them into my life and, frankly, who feels uncomfortable without one on the horizon. My mother likes to joke that about my being born three weeks early that it was because I couldn’t wait to start life. Looking at my CV, my proclivity for beginnings is clear. At the end of my undergraduate program at Indiana University Bloomington in Elementary Education, I did my student teaching in two places: Indianapolis, Indiana and Auckland, New Zealand. It was in New Zealand, immersed in an education philosophy influenced by the great Marie Clay, that I first fell in love with balanced literacy. I was stunned to see 35+ children in a classroom, each reading a book at an appropriate level, being supported by a single teacher.
Though I was invited to stay on at my school in Auckland, I yearned to see what the rest of the world had to offer, and to begin again. I took a third grade teaching position in San Pedro Sula, Honduras at an International School with an American Curriculum. I cut my teaching teeth, learned some Spanish, and traveled through Central America.
When I was small, we would visit my grandfather on New York City’s Upper West Side, a magical place to a girl from Indiana. When I debated where to stage my next beginning, a place like New York where one can begin again endlessly without having to go anywhere seemed perfect. I started as an upper grade teacher at a private school called the Studio School, then left teaching for a few years to write curriculum and train teachers at Kaplan Test Prep and Admissions, and then returned to teaching at Metropolitan Montessori School on the Upper West Side.
In what now seems my most important professional beginning, I enrolled in the Literacy Specialist Program with Lucy Calkins at Teachers College, Columbia University. Those of you who are fans of balanced literacy will know I am not overstating when I say that my teaching was transformed. I fell in love with the workshop method instantly, and was inspired in a way I had not been since leaving New Zealand and the influence of Marie Clay all those years before. I spent over three years slowly working my way through the program, applying all I was learning eagerly, and making connections with like-minded educators. (An interesting tidbit: Stacey and I were in some of the same classes. Though we never connected formally while at TC, I remember her because Lucy would often extol Stacey’s grant writing skills.) A connection for which I am very thankful was the one I made with Lucy toward the end of my time in the program (more on this to come).
In what is certainly my most important personal beginning, I met my now husband, James, who was offered a dream job in Sydney, Australia just six weeks after our first date. Luckily for both of us, I love to begin again, and I moved over after finishing my degree at TC. There, I worked as a Literacy Coach and, in addition to soaking up the sun, surf, and culture, I soaked up as much as I could from the smart Australian education system. I made sure to keep in touch with Lucy, and I worked on Units of Study for Teaching Reading 3-5 remotely from Sydney. Lucy and Kathleen Tolan joked that they loved working with me, not so much because my writing was so stellar, but because of the time difference. I wrote when they were asleep, and when they would wake up to emails with my attached submissions, they felt as if “the writing fairies had come.”
When James and I decided to begin again together in a place we only knew separately, New York City, the first person I got in touch with (after immediate family, of course) was Lucy Calkins. She offered me a position working for the Reading and Writing Project as a staff developer and writer/researcher and thus began the most intense, rewarding, growth-inducing time of my professional life. I spent my days traveling across New York City and the country, supporting teachers with balanced literacy work and writing curriculum and researching for books. I contributed to some of the Workshop Helpdesk Series, to Pathways to the Common Core, and to some of the books in Units of Study for Teaching Writing, Grade by Grade. I co-wrote with Lucy Bringing History to Life, part of the fourth grade Units of Study.
I still work with the Project on a part-time basis, and in addition, work part-time as a literacy coach at a school on the Upper West Side, an arrangement that enables me to mostly stay close to home while continuing to do what I love. My current interests include information writing, research, and note-taking, but, not surprisingly, my interests often evolve.
At Two Writing Teachers, six of us are embarking on a beginning together, five of us beginning to write for TWT, and Stacey beginning to write with a whole new team. This is also a beginning for TWT readers. As with most beginnings, all we can do is do our best, take it one step at a time, and hope that the “after” will be richer than the “before.” I look forward to working with and learning from my new co-writers, and from the entire TWT community. Thank you all for your warm welcome.