Ensworth Coffee Talk (Mary Catherine Bradshaw)

Ensworth GrindOne of the greatest strengths at the Ensworth School is our Faculty. The caliber of teaching that goes on inside the classroom  makes this place unique and special. In the education community Mary Catherine Bradshaw has made a name for herself as one of the most revered teachers in Nashville. When she decided to make the move back to the private sector and be a part of Ensworth it was like having a true celebrity on campus.

Mary Catherine Bradshaw 043You are quite the legend in the Nashville education community. Tell me a little bit about why the change to private schools, why Ensworth.

My transition to Ensworth really represents coming full circle. The first six years of my career were in independent schools in Nashville, Atlanta and Athens, Greece. In 1984 when I returned to Nashville, I wanted to work for and learn from Dr. Jean Litterer, who was the principal at Hillsboro High School at the time. I received a job offer, accepted it, and I worked in MNPS for the next thirty years. I am grateful for many great professional opportunities working with interesting, creative, resourceful students, colleagues and parents throughout my career, and I am simply taking advantage of the opportunity to continue my career at Ensworth based on shared beliefs and values. I believe that I have found a great fit at Ensworth.

My decision to join the Ensworth community was centered on the following considerations:

  • The opportunity to work with Ensworth students in the classroom- I enjoy the classroom and the students.
  • The Ensworth Mission begins with “In Search of Truth” and includes words such as “academic excellence…intellectually curious…talent…integrity… contributors to society.” –I share these values.
  • The value placed on Core Skills and “extensive exposure to all six major subject areas” at Ensworth- I believe that a K-12 educational experience should expose young people to all disciplines at the very highest level as well as maintaining a focus on cross-disciplinary skills.
  • The level of respect among, toward and between the staff on both campuses- The Ensworth community is structured to encourage community members to explore ideas and voice opinions. The Harkness table provides a great framework for cultivating civil discourse.
  • A coeducational setting
  • Snack everyday followed by great lunches…

Mary Catherine Bradshaw 027You have been teaching now for over 30 years, what do you see as the biggest challenge when teaching high school students?

Providing students with the opportunities and support to practice taking academic risks is a major challenge. High school is a great time to explore new ideas, to search for truth and to create the habits of mind that will help students become engaged, engaging people and citizens. My challenge is finding the best resources and framework to challenge, stimulate thinking and encourage intellectual curiosity.

Over the last 36 years of schoolwork in teaching, coaching and administration, I have seen a tighter and tighter focus on testing and measureable accountability cause too much anxiety for students and teachers. In many ways, although unintended, education reform has closed doors and narrowed the pathway rather than expanding opportunities and exposure. Closing the gap is noble, but when the “gap” is as narrowly defined as it is currently, too many opportunities are lost in physical education, arts, social studies, character education and other areas for the sake of scores on standardized tests. While accountability is important, too much of anything can have a negative impact. Too much pressure can thwart creative and academic risk taking for students and teachers.

At Ensworth I anticipated and am experiencing a much more balanced approach between measuring skill based on student achievement and inspiring students to think critically. I may change my mind about my greatest challenge being encouraging “risk taking” after a year at Ensworth, but that is my current answer based on the last several years.

What is your favorite section of history to teach, what do you think the students find the most interesting?

I always have a difficult time answering “what is my favorite anything” questions. If it is basketball season, I like basketball. If it is soccer season, I like soccer. If we are in the colonial period, I like that the best. When we are in the Cold War, I like that. If I were forced to pick a favorite section, I believe I would go with 1919-1939, the years between the world wars. That time period is full of hopes and dreams, successes and failures, heroes and villains …all of which lead to a great narrative.

Again “what do students enjoy” is a hard question to answer. Different students enjoy different time periods for different reasons so I try to support the investigations, exposure and study in a lively way so that each student is connected throughout the course of study for whatever reason.

Mary Catherine Bradshaw 051What is your favorite Ensworth event or day you are looking forward to this year?

Winning a State Championship in any sport, Great Performances in the Arts and the Techno dance.

What books would we find on your bedside table?

Great Question. I looked. This is what I found:

  • The Norton Anthology of American Literature– Volume 2
  • Beautiful Ruins– Jess Walter
  • World Peace and Other 4th Grade Achievements-John Hunter
  • Lord of the Flies-Golding
  • A Madman Dreams of Turing Machines- Janna Levin
  • Donny and Ursula Save the World- Sharon Weil
  • My I-Pad with a list too long to list
  • The Bible
  • Medicine Cards
  • Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking: A Memoir of Food and Longing- Bremzen
  • War and the American Difference: Theological Reflections on Violence and National Identity- Hauerwas
  • Why Teach?-Mark Edmundson
  • Two Crazy Pigs-Nagel

If you could be a fly on the wall in any Ensworth classroom which one would it be?

Cati Blitz- I intend to visit her classroom soon as well as others in the Arts building.

What new faculty member at the lower or middle school would you like to see featured next?

Leigh Bybee


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