A Family Tradition

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Professional and personal mix in Corcoran’s lesson plans

By Lydie Raschka

For parent Sophia Lee, Deirdre Corcoran’s classroom is a delicately balanced social structure that creates just the right climate for learning. A strong base of respect allows Corcoran to be “judiciously playful” with her students.

Deirdre Corcoran invites her Irish father to school to sing folk songs about the immigrant experience.

“She sings and dances with the class, laughs and cries with them, shares her family, heritage and passion with them,” Lee said.

From the perspective of student Julian Shapiro-Barnum, Corcoran is also a teacher who explains things “really, really well.” She was the first teacher to sit at his table after a lesson to make sure that he and his classmates understood the subject—not an easy task in a busy classroom of 27 students.

Corcoran is a Brooklyn native and experienced educator who was nervous about balancing home life and career when she and her husband started a family a decade ago. She thought it would be best to keep home and work separate.

“That’s not what happened and it was the wrong way to look at it,” she said.

On trips with her family, she found herself thinking about what she could bring back to the classroom and share with her students; on field trips with students, she was thinking about what she could bring home and share with family.

“They go hand in hand,” she said. “Just as I want to know about my students’ lives, I want them to know about mine.”

Students have therefore met her 2nd- and 4th-grade daughters, budding Irish step-dancers who join the class on Take Your Daughter to Work Day, and Corcoran’s Irish father, who comes in to sing Irish folk songs about the immigrant experience.

Teaching history through personal stories, whether via folk songs or the diary of a Civil War soldier, works well for this age group, Corcoran has found.

“Emotionally, 5th grade is just the right age to understand, to offer them personal interest stories. They have such empathy for the people of the time,” she said.

To help students further walk in another person’s shoes, she takes them to Plymouth Church of the Pilgrims in Brooklyn, to see a station on the Underground Railroad, and on a day trip to Gettysburg, Penn.

“It’s so fresh to hear these young people start to understand history and to see them empathize with people of the past,” Corcoran said.

Corcoran is married to a fire captain in the New York City Fire Department.

“We care a lot about our city,” she said. “It’s what attracted us to each other—the great reward we feel in helping others.”

The couple is surrounded by extended family in Brooklyn: parents, in-laws, sisters, nieces and nephews. They enjoy biking, relaxing at the beach and exploring New York City’s many playgrounds with their daughters.

Teaching is also a family tradition. Corcoran’s singer-songwriter father taught high school history and her sister is a teacher, too.

“It’s in our blood,” Corcoran said. “I think of it as a calling.”

Deirdre Corcoran
5th grade, P.S. 321

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