Brooke Copher

Both of my sons have been taught by Ms. Copher during their elementary school years. When my older son was her student, I walked into the classroom for the open house to meet his new teacher. As I sat there with the other parents, listening to her talk about all of our children, who were now her students, I instantly felt at ease with my son being in her classroom. She had this genuine love of teaching and this aura of sincerity that just enveloped the whole room. When she spoke of how our children had already become HER children, her eyes welled up with tears and she became very emotional. And so did I. I knew in that moment that she was going to be more than just my son’s teacher. She was going to be the comforter, the supporter, the nurturer, the caregiver, and the gentle, but firm hand that I couldn’t be for my son while he was at school each day, and not in my presence. She was going to take care of him academically and emotionally. She was going to be the alphabet soup for his little soul. I loved her instantly. She has become such a positive part of our lives and I can’t thank her enough for taking such loving care of my sons while they were fortunate enough to call her their teacher.

So when I began focusing on the many inspirational people who are around me and deciding who to interview, she was at the top of my list!

What is your full name? Brooke Candace Copher

Describe your family. I am a divorced mom and I have Harrison, who is 17, and Sydney, who is 15. (Sydney has autism and epilepsy, which we’ll talk on a little bit later) I have an older sister that lives here in Delaware and both of my parents. I’m blessed to still have them alive.

I have family still back in Michigan. I have been in Middletown for six years, so I still consider myself new to the Middletown area. I moved from Southfield, Michigan but my parents have been in Delaware for about 30 years. When I was younger we would always travel to Maryland and Delaware and it was when my father retired from Chrysler in Michigan that he decided to have a house built here in Delaware. My sister moved here with my parents, and I decided to stay in Michigan because I was just finishing my degree in teaching.

What is your occupation and what peaked your interest? I am an elementary teacher. This is my 24th year of teaching and I teach English Language Arts, so just the reading and the writing. I teach that to two separate classes twice a day. I love that because I can focus on my second graders, which I love. Second grade is just the best grade ever. Although I’ve taught K-6, second grade has been the one that I want to stay with. I’m excited about that but I think what peaked my interest in being a teacher were the teachers that I had growing up. They were the ones to helped me when I struggled with math. They were the ones who let me use their red pen on their desk to write something or the ones who knew that I was that anxious kid who worried that if my pencil broke, I had to have five sharpened ones ready to go. When we would play Round Robin Reading, I was anxious about my turn to read, and my second grade teacher would say, “Okay Brooke, you’re going to be reading in three more paragraphs.” She helped to ease my nervousness. And I just really loved reading, so I think it was the teachers that I had, the ones who saw something in me that I maybe didn’t see in myself. And I thought, wow, if I didn’t have those experiences, if I didn’t have teachers like that, would I have even wanted to go to college? Would I have even wanted to make anything out of my life? I don’t think so. So if I can do something for one child, because you can’t save them all, as much as you want to as a teacher, but if you can make a connection with one child and one child’s family, that’s what I wanted to give back.

What are some of the things that you love about your job? I have to say it’s the wonderful families. The children are not just my students, but they’re my kids! Literally, they become my children and that’s how I see them. When they hurt, I hurt. They know if I’m sick, they feel it. We have that relationship. It’s not the test scores, it’s not how well they do when they get to middle school and get their honors awards. You know, that’s fine, but it’s that I’ve been able to educate kids to make kind kids. And I’m hoping that these kids are going to be kind and be leaders. I’m hoping that they have learned empathy and love. That has been the biggest thing. And then, the families! When you make a connection with a kid and then you also make a connection with their family, you keep in contact. They’re still part of my family. So I think the biggest thing is, I don’t want accolades of teacher of the year and “Ms. Copher, you’re the best teacher ever” and all that stuff, it’s just seeing the kids and having that connection. It’s having that respect with the families and that interaction with the kiddos. That’s the best part of my job, it really is.

What are some of the challenges that you find with your job? The stress of the job with the class sizes, the mandatory state testing, preparing the children for lockdown drills all can take away from the beauty of teaching. When I went through the lockdown training, I learned how to barricade my door and was told to keep a large painter’s bucket from Home Depot and trash bags in the classroom in case we’re in a lockdown and kids need to use it as a toilet. Those types of things are things that I never thought I’d have to deal with. So that’s an added pressure on me. What would I do in a situation like that if it ever happened? These kids are looking to me and I’ve got to protect all of these kids. So that’s a huge stressor I think that I would’ve never thought about twenty years ago. So that weighs heavy on my heart every day that I go to school.

You have a blog! What is it called and how did it come to be? It’s called A Woman’s Work, it’s Brooke Basically Blogging. It started out with me just hitting all of my autism families. I was finally at a place where I had embraced autism and accepted it and I felt that someone has to hear our story. But then it went into other things, like going through a divorce and my faith in God, raising two kids by myself and moving from one state and going to a totally different state. So it started to be a bit of everything. It’s funny, I don’t really have a platform. Some people say that one day my blog will be Christian worthy and make people go read a scripture, and the next blog might be a ghetto fabulous post where I’m talking about being a badass and go kick ass today, and let’s drink wine, which is totally different from the one before that was talking about the Lord is my shepherd. But I’m just keeping it real, so I blog about things that happen to me, about things that are important, about things that I know someone else has experienced, or the mommy guilt, the dating again after divorce, all these little different things. I just share it with people and they like it (laughs)! People read it that day and they say, “Brooke, I read it today and I laughed. I needed that” and people say, “Wow, Brooke, I cried. I never knew you went through that.” So I’m never writing it for pity, or saying, “Woe is Brooke, she needs this and that,” it’s never that. It’s just that everyone who is smiling isn’t always happy and that smile might be a forced smile or a fake smile.   You never know what someone is going through. We’re all going through something. You’re either in the storm and it’s all around you or you’re coming out of your storm. Or life is good and you’re about to go into a storm and that’s the cycle we go through. And it’s just where you’re finding these people that you meet and where you are in your storm.

And you wrote a book! I wrote a book called I Am Enough, A Woman’s Work and it’s on Amazon. That was a labor of love, a book that I started probably seven years ago and I decided to publish it. Didn’t have a publisher. Didn’t have an editor. I was sending chapters to friends to read and edit, they’d send it back and say, “Yes, this sounds good,” and I just went with it. It was a memoir and I think everyone thought I was going to write an autism book first, because that was my platform. But I wanted people to know who I was, where I came from, how I got to the point where I am now, before I could share the autism book. I’m working on a second book now, which is the autism book.

Describe a difficult time in your life and how you got through it. I’d have to go with the divorce. Autism and getting the diagnosis for my daughter and then getting the epilepsy diagnosis two years later was devastating, but it wasn’t just one moment, because those moments just keep happening. It’s not going away. There’s no cure for autism. So yes, that was hard, but I think the hardest thing I ever went through was the divorce. I was married for 14 years and I’ve been divorced now for 6. Filing was difficult because I went to eight different lawyers, hoping that one would tell me to go work things out, but none of them told me that, of course. Moving my children away from their neighborhood, friends and church family was difficult. In January 2013, I made the tough decision to leave. I don’t remember making the decision to move here to Delaware. I think my parents made that decision for me, bless their hearts. I just remember them sending one of those Pods to my house and my mom came and I just watched them load up stuff. I wasn’t processing any of this. I had nothing set up here. I didn’t have a job here. I didn’t know where we were going to live. That was just a dark and rough time.

My parents, my sister, a good support system of girlfriends in Michigan and my faith in God helped me through that. I had to dig deep. It took me 4 years to finally be at peace after the divorce and I think I’m at a better place now. Each year I get to a better place.

What are some things that you learned about yourself through that process? I had to find Brooke again. I had to find peace. I realized that I said, “I’m sorry,” too much. My self-esteem and my self-worth were down. I look in the mirror now and I see gray and wrinkles and flaws and flabs and stretch marks and a muffin top and I love it. Whereas I looked in the mirror before and I didn’t like it. And I realized that I’m strong. I got my voice back, too. I don’t always just say, “Yes” or “I’m sorry” anymore.

What brings a smile to your face? A nice red blend of wine. I’m just going to keep it real! And the smiles of my children.

What makes you laugh? It would have to be the kids! We’ve come from a place where we were prisoners in our own home because of the autism and not getting out. We were always on high alert and hyper vigilant because we never knew what was going to happen. But we’ve just learned to laugh. They just make me laugh. I think that with some of the things that happen to us as a family, we just laugh, when we really should be crying at it, we just laugh. We just say, “Okay, here is just another test or trial and we’re just going to laugh it out!”

What saddens you? I can’t die. My kids need me. Sydney needs me because I don’t know if she’s going to be independent. I can’t have her in a group home. I can’t die and I know you’re not supposed to bargain with the Lord, but I say, “Look God, I don’t ask for much, but here’s a big one. I can not go and they can’t be left here.” And that saddens me. We all have to die and I know that and I get that, and that’s a part of life and I’m fine with that, but who’s going to take care of my kids. So that saddens me.

What fills your heart with joy? The beach. The water is so powerful and has such a therapeutic affect, and I’ve even seen it for my daughter. But for myself, it has been my go to place to write, to pray, to just breathe, to exhale, to just soak it all in. The whole sense of that never ending ocean out there and the smell of the sand and the salt and just taking all of that in just brings me the most joy. I think that’s where I’m at my calmest. That’s where I don’t feel so tense and stressed, when I’m down by the water.

What are your children’s personalities? Harrison is very loving, very caring and he has a heart of gold. He’s very accepting of others. I think that comes from, at a very early age, he was tagging around with me for all the appointments for Sydney. He was exposed to children who were nonverbal or verbal or children with physical disabilities or impairments and he sees them as equals, as if nothing is wrong. He’s concerned about others and is a great big brother. He goes above and beyond to make sure she’s safe and okay.

Sydney is a fighter. She is fearless, not afraid of anything. And I think I’m a little jealous of that in her because she does have that spirit of, “If I want to walk like an Egyptian down the street or in the grocery store, I’m going to do it. If I feel like dancing and singing a song, I’m going to sing it.” And that’s her spirit. Both Harrison and Sydney have smiles that are contagious. Her silliness and their laughter are what fill my heart.

What are you most proud of achieving in your life so far? Writing a book is a huge achievement for me, but I think being a mom is my greatest achievement. Working a full time job and making sure they have everything they need, that’s my greatest achievement.

What is something that people would be surprised to know about you? I’ll have a dance party anywhere. When the music hits, I don’t care where I’m at, or who I’m with, I will drop it like it’s hot. I do let loose on the dance floor.

What is one piece of advice that you would give to young people? Stay out of debt. Be a better manager of your finances. And I love social media, but don’t let it define you. Don’t live that social media life because it’s not what it seems. I can take some pictures of some really nice stuff and make up a mystery husband and then post about it all and say, “That’s me and that’s my life!” So use your social media as a platform, and to share things, be funny and creative. Don’t be so consumed that you want to live your life through somebody else’s social media life. That’s for adults too!

If you won $1,000,000, what would you do with it? Go buy some groceries! I’d have that pantry stocked. We’d have all the food, toilet paper, paper towels, and food in the freezer that we’d need…I’d be so happy. I love the simple things. But after we go grocery shopping, I would donate to breast cancer research. My mom is a breast cancer survivor. And I would like to do some kind of scholarships for children with autism who are coming out of high school or even scholarships to families, because I think the sad part is that the cost of raising a child with autism is well beyond $60,000 a year. So I would like to offer some kind of stipend for the parents to have so they can use it for resources for their child. They could use it for horseback riding or swimming lessons that might not be covered, respite care, babysitters, help with after school programs, etc. The rest I would save and actually be able to retire…finally…at that point.

What would you like to see less of in this world? Hate. I don’t understand it. I just wish that people would be kind. It’s okay to have differences of opinions, and I’m not talking about Republicans and Democrats. For example, I’m not a gun owner, and I’m not a fan of guns, and I don’t want anyone to take away your right to own gun. But I think we have to look at what’s happening in our country versus why this doesn’t happen in other countries. Another example is that I’d like to see us bridging the gap between law enforcement and our communities. I am a big supporter of law enforcement. They put their life on the line. I respect law enforcement and I make sure my kids respect them as well. I also want to make sure they are mindful of how to interact with law enforcement, especially having a daughter with autism. She could be flailing or something and I don’t want that to be perceived as a threat on someone’s life. So that is something that I’d like to see, bridging the gap between law enforcement and the community.

What would you like to see more of in this world? Kindness. I’d like to see more kind people who pay it forward, who don’t feel the need to post about it.

Is there a quote or saying that has helped guide you in your life? “For the vision is yet for the appointed time.”-Habakkuk 2:3. Record your vision, make it plain and write it down. And that is how I’ve had to live my life when I battled with infertility and when I battled with autism and after the divorce and even in the struggles I have now. Record the vision, write it down, make it plain…but it’s for an appointed time.

How do you choose to live in the moment? A lot of times when we make plans, they don’t always work out. That’s hard for us. Just being more spontaneous is showing my children how to live in the moment. Another thing is to enjoy the people around you because tomorrow is not promised to anyone. I’m guilty of this sometimes: instead of calling you, I’ll text you. I’ll have a conversation for 30 minutes back and forth via text instead of picking up the phone to hear your voice. So living in the moment is calling that person or talking face to face instead of texting them.

How do you want people to remember you? A woman of faith. A woman who had no idea of where the road was taking her, but she just knew she had to follow it. She couldn’t go back, and some days she couldn’t go to the left or the right, she just had to keep going straight. An advocate for people with disabilities, being that voice when they didn’t have a voice. Not even being a teacher, because I think we’re all teachers in some aspect.

Is there anything else that you’d like to share about your life and where you’re going? I don’t really know where I’m going and I think that’s a good thing. I’m excited about the years to come, because I think I’m a lot wiser than I was 10 years ago. My vision has changed. My priorities have changed. My willingness and my ability to trust people have improved. So I think thing will get pretty exciting for me in the years to come.

Hope’s Thoughts: Whenever I am visiting the elementary school and Brooke is around, there are always children, of all ages, who are running up to hug her, as they yell out, “Hi Ms. Copher!!!” FYI, I’ve seen adults do this to her as well! She is one of the most caring and involved teachers that I’ve ever met and her gentle and loving nature towards everyone is something that I admire and respect. With all that she has grown through in her personal life, she comes to school every day and gives her all to her students and their families. She inspires me and those around her. We are so fortunate to have a teacher like Ms. Copher.

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