This is the sixth of an occasional series profiling Connecticut people who frequently share their insights, passions and opinions with fellow readers in CT Viewpoints commentaries.
“I’m starting to get into that area where my students can’t seem to differentiate age,” Thomas Broderick said. Sitting in a large black armchair at Frenchies Coffee Bar in Stratford, wearing blue shorts, a gray FiveThirtyEight T-shirt and a backwards green baseball cap, he laughs.
“Once you’re older than like 28, they’re like, ‘You’re old, in an indeterminate way. You could be 50. You could be 30. We’re not really sure.’ I’ve hit that dead zone as a teacher.”
Broderick is 37 years old — or as he described it, “dangerously close to 40” — and lives in Trumbull with his wife, Joanne. He is an eighth grade social studies teacher at Scotts Ridge Middle School in Ridgefield.
Though he is originally from Longmeadow, Mass., Broderick attended the Neag School of Education at the University of Connecticut. He graduated in 2009, and despite initially having “no intention of staying in Connecticut,” has been here ever since.
“I met a woman younger than myself, who had a couple of years left to graduate and was like, ‘I gotta stay in the area.’” he explained. “Now I’m married to her.”
Another reason for Broderick’s staying in Connecticut was that this just happened to be where he found a job after graduation.
“In 2009 — awful recession — there were no teaching jobs, so I got this job offer in Ridgefield, Connecticut and I was like, ‘Well I have no idea where that is,’” he said. Still, Broderick’s dad told him to accept the offer, which he did.
Despite the fears many might have about working with middle schoolers, Broderick loves what he does.
“It’s a fantastic age group, but it’s not for everyone. In fact, most teachers I think would avoid it like the plague,” he said.
“We were all disasters at that age — many of us are for much longer, too,” he joked. However, Broderick says the age group is not a problem to teach as long as you approach it remembering that you wouldn’t want to be judged as a person based on what you were like at 13.
His passions go beyond the classroom, of course. In his free time Broderick enjoys hiking and visiting craft breweries, and is a self-described “history nerd.”
Additionally, he is particularly interested in promoting liveable, walkable communities. This interest comes from growing up in what he described as an “atypical” community.
Where he grew up in Massachusetts, Broderick rode his bike everywhere. Nowadays, this is not possible in many places as “there’s way too many streets in Connecticut where you wouldn’t want your kid trying to navigate” on their own.
“When I wanted to visit a friend I never got in a car. My parents didn’t drive me places unless we left the town. There was this degree of freedom that was awesome,” he said. Upon leaving Longmeadow, he realized that the rest of the world wasn’t necessarily built like this.
Broderick lived without a car for his first few years at UConn and “didn’t miss it at all.” He recalled that walking through campus and taking the bus was “fantastic.”
After graduation, he experienced frustration with the lack of walkability in other communities.. Broderick found himself asking, “Why am I driving from banal strip mall to banal strip mall for, like, the basic needs of life?”
So, his writing for CT Mirror’s Viewpoints often focuses on promoting walkable communities and affordable housing. This means “trying to undo 100 years of car culture or 100 years of exclusionary, awful zoning.”
Ever the social studies teacher, he said that many of the issues the United States is facing today related to affordable housing and accessible communities have a significant historical context.
“One of the reasons our state and our country looks like this is because we’ve mandated that everything is spread out, and when you do that, so far, the only way to get around reasonably is with a car,” Broderick said.
These issues intersect with education through the thread of housing, he said.
“In theory, a place like Darien has a public school system, but it’s public as long as you can afford a $2 million house,” Broderick said. “In my mind that’s not really adhering to the public part of public schools.”
Recently, Broderick has refocused his interests toward local dynamics, and making change on a smaller level.
“I made a shift probably like six or seven years ago — I was reading probably way too much national news, which I have like no, or very little, influence — to reading a little bit more local stuff, and trying to know more about what happens at the state level,” Broderick said.
But he also balances being a very passionate writer with very deliberate interactions with his work after it is published.
“I read zero comments. If someone’s a troll on Twitter, I immediately block them,” he explained. “I don’t engage with it — that’s my way of dealing with it.”
As a teacher, he has not yet run into issues with parents reading and taking umbrage with his work — though he acknowledged that some may expect teachers to be “blank slates.” Often, a teacher is thought of as just a teacher, and therefore should have “no views.”
“It could just be that no one’s reading my articles, which is an easy solution to that,” Broderick said, laughing. “I have no delusions of grandeur.”
Even with this possibility, he still sees his writing as part of his duty as a teacher to be an active citizen, for his students.
Citing the College, Career, and Civic Life “C3” framework from the National Council for the Social Studies, Broderick highlights an inquiry arch of learning from this model. It states that social studies teachers must teach students to communicate and critique conclusions, and then take informed action.
As a teacher, the goal of this is to model the necessary skills for students to become more productive members of a “vibrant, democratic world.”
Because of this, Broderick, far from believing that teachers should be a blank slate, instead proposes teachers should be a model of civic action.
“How am I going to get my students to take informed civic action if I myself don’t take any?” he asked.