Spotlight: Lindsay Murray (VA '16)March 1, 2017
On her desk in her classroom, Lindsay Murray (VA '16) keeps a silver bell—a cherished childhood gift from her aunt, an elementary school teacher and Lindsay's professional inspiration. "It reminds me that with hard work and dedication you can make all your dreams come true," says Lindsay. She received Virginia's Milken Educator Award at W.E.Cundiff Elementary School in Vinton on December 7, 2016.
Milken Educator Awards: How did you end up in education?
Lindsay Murray: From the time I was about four, I knew I wanted to be a teacher. My aunt was an elementary teacher who lived close to us growing up. I loved hearing her stories, helping her look over papers and watching her grade things. My parents helped me set up a mini-classroom in our basement. I had two student desks, a teacher's table and a chalk board. For my birthday and Christmas, everyone in the family would buy me posters, grade books, teacher planners, and other little knickknacks for my basement classroom. My aunt gave me a silver bell. My sister was my favorite student and such a good sport when it came to playing school with me every day.
I never changed my mind about wanting to be a teacher and even completed a teaching internship my senior year of high school. After graduating from high school, I entered James Madison University's teaching program. To this day, I still have that silver bell on my desk in my classroom as a reminder that with hard work and dedication you can make all your dreams come true. And my aunt and I now teach in the same district.
MEA: Why elementary school?
Lindsay: I chose to be an elementary school teacher for three reasons. First, my aunt was my role model. Second, I have always loved being around elementary-age children. They are fun-loving, carefree, and eager to learn new things. Their excitement for the simplest things always brought a smile to my face. And third, I had some amazing elementary school teachers who made teaching seem so exciting and rewarding. I wanted to do something with my life that made me feel that way too.
MEA: What was your first job?
Lindsay: The only job I had before becoming a teacher was babysitting. From the time I was a freshman in high school until I graduated from college, I kept the same two children every day, every summer. I also babysat most weekends. It wasn't until I stopped babysitting that I realized what an amazing experience it was. I was able to see how children develop and how each child is so different, even children raised in the same home with the same parents. I was also able to learn how to communicate well with parents and how to meet a child's individual needs. I became a part of the families that I babysat for and I learned that caring for and taking care of others is one of the most rewarding experiences.
MEA: Who was your most memorable elementary school teacher?
Lindsay: Ms. Duff, my fifth-grade teacher. She was a young teacher and in my eyes she walked on water and could do nothing wrong. I wanted to be just like her when I grew up. She made learning fun and hands-on. She challenged us to be problem-solvers and critical thinkers. She encouraged us to ask questions and helped us realize it was okay to fail because sometimes we learn more from our failures than our successes. She took an interest in all her students and really got to know each of us. She not only knew how we learned best, but she knew our favorite hobbies. She took the time to talk with us and allowed us to help her in the classroom.
The year I had Ms. Duff she got engaged, planned a wedding, and got married over spring break. She then became Mrs. Stanley. It's every little girl's dream to get married and I loved hearing about all the planning and details that year. I still have the wedding photo she gave me and the newspaper article about her wedding. Today, Mrs. Stanley and I both teach fourth grade in the same district. She is truly one of the reasons I became a teacher and I take every opportunity to thank her for making such a difference and impact in my life.
MEA: What subjects did you like (or not)?
Lindsay: My favorite subject was math. Numbers always made sense to me and it was my favorite part of the day from elementary school to high school. My least favorite subject in school was reading. I love to read for pleasure, but I hated reading in school because I never felt like I could just a read a book for enjoyment—there was always so much work that went along with it.
The hardest subject for me in school was writing. I really struggled with it and often needed help from my mom when writing papers for school. However, my senior year of high school, I had a teacher named Mrs. Jenkins. She was an amazing writer. The first week in her class, I failed a writing assignment. Mrs. Jenkins took me under her wing that year, taught me a lot about writing, and helped me become a more confident writer.
MEA: Tell us about your first class.
Lindsay: My first class was amazing. They were a great group of kids who loved school and wanted to learn. The most memorable moment that first year was when I got my SOL (Standard of Learning) scores back and every student had passed. I was completely shocked. We worked hard and I did my best to prepare them, but I never imagined that they would all pass, especially because some days I doubted everything I had done.
I think my other favorite memory was lunchtime. At least twice a week, a handful of students would have lunch with me in the classroom. It was a great way for me to get to know them better and build positive relationships with them. Those special lunch days quickly became a highlight for me each week. I hope they had the same impact on my students.
The hardest thing about my first year of teaching was communicating with parents. I didn't always feel like an effective communicator and often wasn't sure how to respond to questions or concerns. I taught in a school with some very affluent families who were very apprehensive in the beginning of the year that their child had a brand-new teacher. They were concerned that their children weren't going to be challenged enough and I struggled to reassure them that their children would be pushed. With the support of administration and my team, I was able to challenge these students and build positive relationships with their parents.
I learned a lot that year about listening and the power of communication that I've carried with me throughout my teaching career. It was also really hard being a first-year teacher outside the school in a trailer. I often felt disconnected and unsure about many things. I was fortunate, however, to have a wonderful team who made sure to help me every day after school, which made being in the trailer somewhat easier.
MEA: How did your surprise Milken Educator Award assembly affect your students?
Lindsay: It brought a lot of excitement. It was an experience that none of us had ever been a part of and was a great reminder of how important teachers are in our lives. Teachers truly are the reason why we have every other profession, and I don't think they are seen as the heroes they are often enough. The kids are still talking about the presentation and many of the kindergarteners pass me in the hall now and say "There is the bright one." The older kids continue to congratulate me and are quite concerned about how I am going to spend all that money that I won. I think the presentation made many of them think that being a teacher is one amazing and awesome job.
MEA: What do you hope students remember about their time with you?
Lindsay: I hope they remember me as an encourager and a person who believed in them. I hope they see me as the person who helped them to see potential in themselves that they never knew existed. I hope they see me as an awakener and the person that pushed them to become a better person.
MEA: How do you involve families in your classroom?
Lindsay: I love to involve parents in my students' learning. Each week I send home a weekly newsletter that lets parents know about upcoming events in the school, SOLs for the week, and test and quiz dates. I invite parents into my classroom for specials events, like dissecting owl pellets during our Animal unit in Science. Each year, parents are invited to attend our overnight field trip to Jamestown and Williamsburg. I also try to call parents the first week of school to introduce myself and learn more about their child. Every nine weeks I call parents or set up face-to-face conferences to discuss upcoming events and their child's progress. Around Valentine's Day I have each parent write an encouraging message to their child on a heart. I do the same thing and create a bulletin board that says, "You are so loved." At the end of the year, I create books for each of my students with pictures and handwritten letters about our year together. Finally, I always have a class picnic at the park for my students and their families to get to know one another better.
MEA: What's your favorite time of the school day?
Lindsay: The morning. I love when my students walk into my classroom and I get to smile at each of them and welcome them to a new day. I love to listen to their stories and just spend a little extra time with them before our day begins.
MEA: What's the biggest challenge you face in your classroom?
Lindsay: Finding ways to incorporate authentic 21st-century learning experiences for my students while still preparing them to take a multiple-choice Standard of Learning test at the end of the year.
MEA: If someone gave you a million dollars for your school, what would you do with it?
Lindsay: I would do a complete remodel of my school. We have not been remodeled in many, many years and it is becoming very evident that we need some upgrades. I would purchase all new furniture as well as make sure all the ceilings were replaced. I would put in new flooring and I would add a book room so we wouldn’t have to store all our Scholastic Readers on shelves in the hall. Finally, I would add more storage areas in each of the classrooms.
MEA: If you hadn't chosen a career in education, what would you be doing right now?
Lindsay: I'm not really sure. I've never really wanted to be anything but a teacher. If I had to choose something, it would probably be a wedding planner or an event planner. I had an amazing time planning my wedding and I enjoy helping others plan events and parties as well. I would also like to be a professional traveler because I love traveling and seeing the world.
MEA: What can our nation do better to encourage young, capable people to consider teaching as a career? How can we motivate new teachers to stay in the profession?
Lindsay: Our nation needs to value teachers more highly. I don't feel like we value the people who educate our children as much as we do professional athletes. Every parent dreams of their child becoming a professional athlete. How amazing would it be if we valued education so much that every parent dreamed of their child being a teacher? I also believe the nation needs to support teachers and build them up. We don't recognize our teachers enough for all their hard work or their commitment to our children. However, we easily judge them and we are quick to point out their flaws and mistakes. Teachers are doctors, parents, coaches, cheerleaders, problem-solvers, communicators, etc. and they need to be recognized. I would love to see everyone reach out to a teacher and thank them. Those two little words mean the world to an educator and could be all it takes to keep them in the teaching field.
MEA: Finish this sentence: "I know I'm succeeding as an educator when..."
Lindsay: ...when my students are excited to come back to school each day and want to know what they are going to learn next.
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